Friday, October 19, 2012

John Saturnall's Feast, Lawrence Norfolk

How Saturnus created the first Garden and when, this humble Cook does not pretend to know. Nor the Name writ over its Gates, be it Paradise or  Eden. But every green Thing grew in that ancient Plantation. Palm Trees gave Dates and Honey flowed from the Hives. Grapes swelled on the Vine and every Creature thrived.

Rest assured, the whole book isn't written like this. It's the story of John Saturnall, who lives in the remote village of Buckland. His mother, a local healer, is branded a witch, forcing them to run for their lives and hide out in the woods. John's mother teaches him to forage meager sustenance from the wood. She also shows him the Book, and tells him of an Feast. But it gets colder and colder and John's mother dies. John is brought to Buckland Manor, and put to work in the kitchens. Under the guidance of the Master Cook, John rises from the Scullery to the great house above. When the King of England visits the Manor, it is John who cooks for him. Sir William, lord of the manor, wants to marry his daughter off to a horrible man. Lucretia vows to fast until the engagement is called off. John is supposed to create a dish to tempt the girl to eat, and they become attracted to one another. But Civil War looms as well.

This was an okay book, though the first hundred pages or so were very confusing. It took me a while to get into the actual story, but once I did, I kind of enjoyed it. I was kind of confused about the whole Feast thing. Are the dishes real? This isn't a fantasy, so I'm guessing not. I guess the dishes are more like "food for thought", providing John and his mother with mental sustenance. I liked Lawrence Norfolk's writing style, and the middle sections of the book were much better. The later parts were not that compelling though. I guess I just couldn't connect with the characters. I didn't really like John or Lucretia at all at the end. They seemed kind of selfish to me. However, I'm glad that I tried this one, which I got from Grove Press. Maybe some of Norfolk's other fiction is better. And it was interesting to see what life was like in this period.

Read John Saturnall's Feast:
  • if you like historical fiction
  • if you like books about food
  • if you like books set in England
410 pages.
Okay book, but it left me wanting more!

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