Friday, August 24, 2012

REVIEW: John Saturnall's Feast by Lawrence Norfolk


1625. In the remote village of Buckland, a mob chants of witchcraft and John Sandall and his mother are running for their lives. Taking refuge among the trees of Buccla's Wood, John's mother opens her book and begins to tell her son of an ancient Feast kept in secret down the generations. But as the rich dishes rise from the pages, the ground beneath them freezes. That winter John's mother dies.

The Feast is John's legacy. Taken as an orphan to Buckland Manor, the ancestral seat of Sir William Fremantle, John is put to work in its vast subterranean kitchens, the domain of Richard Scovell. Under the Master Cook's guidance, John climbs from the squalor of the Scullery to the great house above. There Sir William's headstrong daughter Lucretia defies her father by refusing to eat.

John's task is to tempt the girl from her fast. But as a bond forms between them, greater conflicts loom. The Civil War will throw John and Lucretia together in a passionate struggle for survival against the New Order's fanatical soldiers. Ancient legacies will pull them apart. To keep all he holds most dear, John must realise his mother's vision. He must serve the Feast.

An astounding work of historical fiction, John Saturnall's Feast charts the course of one man's life from steaming kitchens to illicit bedchambers, through battlefields and ancient magical woods. Expertly weaving fact with myth, Lawrence Norfolk creates a rich, complex and mesmerising story of seventeenth-century life, love and war.

Hardcover, 416 pages
Expected publication: September 4th 2012 by Grove/Atlantic, Inc. (first published August 1st 2012)
ISBN 0802120512 (ISBN13: 9780802120519)

About the Author
from Goodreads

Lawrence Norfolk (born 1963) is a British novelist known for historical works with complex plots and intricate detail. His novels are also known for their unusually large vocabulary.

He was born in London but lived in Iraq until 1967 and then in the West Country of England. He read English at King's College London and graduated in 1986. He worked briefly as a teacher and later as a freelance writer for reference book publishers.

In 1992, he won the Somerset Maugham Award for his first novel, Lemprière's Dictionary, about events surrounding the publication, in 1788, of John Lemprière's Bibliotheca Classica on classical mythology and history.

His second novel, The Pope's Rhinoceros, is based on the history of an actual animal also known as Dürer's Rhinoceros. Themes in the work include the lost city of Vineta, the sack of Prato, and the Benin bronze-making culture on the river Niger.

My Thoughts

Like The Dog Stars, I obtained this book through Netgalley, and the e-book expired before I had a chance to get my notes from it. So I have to try to do this review from memory without any of my notes, and my memory just ain't what it used to be!

John Saturnall is sent to Buckland Manor as a young orphan, in hopes that he will find work and a place where he can fit in, as it is his best chance for a decent life. John has a natural talent for smells and tastes. He can break the flavors down in their complexity, pulling them apart and identifying their individual parts. His talent reminded me of that of Moses in The Bells, except Moses' talent dealt with the sense of hearing and John's is that of taste and smell. 

Given John's talent, he quickly finds his place in the kitchen of the manor, where he excels. His first day at the manor is marked by an eventful meeting with the daughter of the manor, and this begins a remarkable relationship that goes through the years.

This story has an almost fairytale feel to it. The descriptions of the food is fantastical (seeming almost unreal). The characters have lovely, quirky little names (which I noted, but have now lost), and a lyrical way of speaking.

My final word: Tragic and charming, and with delicious descriptions, this story was an absolute delight. It is bound to be one of my favorites of the year, and will be earning a place on my permanent library shelves!

My Rating: 9.5 out of 10


I received a copy of this book to review through Netgalley, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel.

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