John Saturnall's Feast

Lawrence Norfolk

John Saturnall's Feast

The village of Buckland, 1625. A boy and his mother run for their lives. Behind them a mob chants of witchcraft. Taking refuge among the trees of Buccla's Wood, the mother opens her book and tells her son of an ancient Feast kept in secret down the generations. But as exquisite dishes rise from the page, the ground beneath them freezes. That winter, the boy's mother dies. Taken to Buckland Manor, John is put to work in the house's vast subterranean kitchens where his talent raises him from the scullery to the great house above. A complex dish served to King Charles brings him before Lady Lucretia Fremantle, the headstrong daughter of the house. He must tempt her from her fast. But both encounters will imperil him. As the Civil War begins and the New Order's fanatical soldiers march, John and Lucretia are thrown together into a passionate struggle for survival. To keep all he holds most dear, John must realise his mother's vision. He must serve the Saturnall Feast. 3.0 out of 5 based on 10 reviews
John Saturnall's Feast

Omniscore:

Classification Fiction
Genre General Fiction
Format Paperback
Pages 416
RRP
Date of Publication September 2012
ISBN 978-1408832479
Publisher Bloomsbury
 

The village of Buckland, 1625. A boy and his mother run for their lives. Behind them a mob chants of witchcraft. Taking refuge among the trees of Buccla's Wood, the mother opens her book and tells her son of an ancient Feast kept in secret down the generations. But as exquisite dishes rise from the page, the ground beneath them freezes. That winter, the boy's mother dies. Taken to Buckland Manor, John is put to work in the house's vast subterranean kitchens where his talent raises him from the scullery to the great house above. A complex dish served to King Charles brings him before Lady Lucretia Fremantle, the headstrong daughter of the house. He must tempt her from her fast. But both encounters will imperil him. As the Civil War begins and the New Order's fanatical soldiers march, John and Lucretia are thrown together into a passionate struggle for survival. To keep all he holds most dear, John must realise his mother's vision. He must serve the Saturnall Feast.

Reviews

The Times

Stuart Kelly

While the omission of Zadie Smith from this year’s Man Booker longlist seems to have raised the most eyebrows, the overlooking of Lawrence Norfolk’s first book in 12 years seems to me the more grievous exclusion … What unites this glorious book with Norfolk’s previous works is a tremendous encyclopaedism. The arcane vocabulary of archaic cooking gives an intangible poetry to the novel.

26/08/2012

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The Sunday Telegraph

Mark Sanderson

… the most accessible of his works … Norfolk is an expert on obscure sources as well as sauces. His blend of horrid history and oddly credible fantasy deserves to be consumed by the masses.

13/09/2012

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The Guardian

Justine Jordan

In terms of plot and character, John Saturnall's Feast could be any historical novel with a well-packed bodice or silhouetted clash of swords on the cover … But if the novel is less determinedly unusual than Norfolk's Lempriere's Dictionary or The Pope's Rhinoceros, its focus lends it clarity, and the material is fascinating ... The food writing is sensuous and exact

22/09/2012

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The Daily Mail

John Harding

Beginning slowly, Norfolk’s first novel for 12 years thankfully quickens in pace as the plot evolves. While mouth-watering and quite beautifully written descriptions of luxury dishes will appeal to foodies, they also tend to slow the action. Nevertheless, the random violence and lawlessness of the times - England’s own reign of terror - are convincingly drawn and the final chapters become almost unbearably tense.

13/09/2012

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The New Yorker

Books Briefly Noted

Norfolk creates a Manichaean struggle between Christian and pagan traditions, but this is ultimately less rewarding than the completeness of the physical world he describes — for instance, the way dishes are washed in the scullery troughs, which are "built of jointed elm planks and lined with thick yellow grease."

01/10/2012

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The Observer

Natasha Tripney

... it skillfully entangles folklore and foodlore ... The earlier child's-eye chapters, though more opulent in tone, are less compelling than the later accounts of the battlefield but Norfolk's writing is at its strongest when he's describing the symbolic significance of certain dishes: spiced wine, delicate curls of spun sugar, slivers of almonds, and the flaking flesh of river fish.

16/09/2012

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The Independent

Diane Purkiss

Some reviewers worry that they should know more history to relish novelists' treatment of the past. In this case, it would be better to know less ... For Norfolk, the Civil War is bad because all Puritans are bad, and the idea that some decent people were attracted to the Parliamentarian side because it stood for the liberties they were denied is unexamined. Norfolk especially loathes Cromwell, but his portrayal of Cromwell is all legend ... A little more research might make for less myth and more truth.

22/09/2012

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The Literary Review

Elspeth Barker

The detail is interesting, but it doesn't live. Sentences ramble and clunk … Of greater importance to the writer seem the descriptions of food — cooked, uncooked, imagined, perfected, but rarely at all tempting, apart from the fabulous creations in pastry and marchpane. The recipes are horrible or impractical or both ... Norfolk delights in taxonomies at the expense of narrative, even though most readers prefer stories to lists ... It is all too much.

01/09/2012

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The Sunday Times

Andrew Holgate

Norfolk delights in the historical minutiae of cooking, but there is something entirely unsurprising about the plot, which is riddled with clichés, and something lifeless about the characters. Nor does the language offer compensation. Often shimmmering in his earlier novels, it feels so earthbound here that neither it, nor the book in general, ever really takes flight.

16/09/2012

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The Spectator

James Walton

For students of 17th-century English cuisine, this will presumably be an invaluable resource. For the rest of us, the law of diminishing returns can’t help but set in ... Only with the outbreak of the Civil War on page 269 does the cooking temporarily fade into the background — and I’m pretty sure I won’t be the only reader who greets the total disintegration of English society with some relief. The other problem with the book is the mythological stuff. Norfolk’s idea of a lost pagan Britain, and of the eponymous feast itself, often feels both sentimental and over-solemn, which in turn creates the always-uncomfortable sense that what we’re reading is more significant for the author than for us. (Think Graham Greene at his most extravagantly Catholic.)

15/09/2012

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