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John Saturnall's Feast Hardcover – 13 Sep 2012

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (13 Sept. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1408805960
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408805961
  • Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 3.8 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 287,294 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


A brilliant, erudite tale of cookery and witchcraft in 1681 (A.S. Byatt Guardian, Books of the Year)

Lawrence Norfolk is a genius (Louis de Bernieres)

Glorious ... The whole book is an extended fantasia on the idea of taste itself. Like all the best historical novels, John Saturnall's Feast is not just a novel set in some point in history ... but a novel about how histories infect stories (Stuart Kelly The Times)

Lawrence Norfolk is just about ahead of everyone in his generation of English novelists (Observer)

As vivid as it is mouth-watering ... This glorious, multilayered banquet of a book is clever and finely wrought, and the prose, steeped in the arcane language of 17th-century cuisine, brings it vividly and sensually to life (Metro)

Scrumptious foodie tale of a low-born master cook and his survival (Boyd Tonkin Independent Books of the Year)

In Norfolk's skilful hands, there is no danger of verbal indigestion. John Saturnall's Feast is the most accessible of his works. A grown-up fairy tale ... Fantastical architecture and weird botany are a vivid background to the bloody conflict and swooning romance. 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 (Sunday Telegraph)

Witchcraft, cookery and war in seventeenth-century England ... from the master of the historical behemoth (Guardian)

A lyrical tale of historical havoc set in the English Civil War, with cookery as salvation. Class, war and folk tales are the themes of this ambitious, elegant novel (Marie Claire)

A fabulous novel. I was totally wrapped up in it, reading it on planes and trains and automobiles when it really should be read in front of a roaring fire with a huge mug of claret. It does what he has always done, which is wrap you totally into a world; utterly convincingly into that world ... extremely, extremely moving (Alex Preston BBC Radio 4, Saturday Review)

A triumph of technique but it's also a very affecting work, a magical one, a banquet for the thinking reader, a sensuous delight. Lay hands on a copy and read it as soon as you may and you'll find something truly worth savouring - every image, every detail, inspired, its full and fascinating depths inviting exploration and providing pleasure of the most satisfying kind (Cornflower Blog)

On the cusp of an autumn glut, the publication of a novel about a sublime cook in a great house 380 years ago is perfectly timed ... The kitchen vocabulary is rich, and Norfolk relishes it ... the feast itself is a triumph (The Lady)

One of the finest novels of the Nineties ... Lemprière's Dictionary is a novel quite comparable in scale, intelligence and literary playfulness to the work of Thomas Pynchon or Umberto Eco (Malcolm Bradbury, The Modern British Novel 1878-2001)

A welcome return from one of the deepest historical novelists around ... it sings ... delectable (Hermione Eyre Evening Standard)

Book Description

From the bestselling author of Lemprière's Dictionary, Lawrence Norfolk is back with an astounding new historical novel

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By S Riaz HALL OF FAMETOP 10 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 28 Aug. 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a beautiful, descriptive novel which is hard to define, but glorious to read. It is partly a historical novel, set in and around the time of the English Civil War, partly a tale of mythology and also, perhaps mostly, a love story. The book begins with John Sandall and his mother Susan, who grow up in a small village. Preachers accuse John's mother of witchcraft, the local boys bully him and he feels an outcast. Driven from the village, his mother dead, John is taken to Buckland Manor to the care of Sir William Freemantle. Sir William is an embittered man, who has lost his beloved wife, Lady Anne, in childbirth, giving birth to his daughter Lucretia. Lucretia herself is an unhappy young girl, who starves herself and lives in a world of make believe. Yet Buckland Manor cannot be left to a daughter and Sir William is forced to look outward and invite distant relatives who are as "penniless as shepherds", Sir Hector, Lady Caroline and their son Piers to the Manor, hoping for a marriage alliance.

This is a story of Civil War, of John's rise as a cook under Master Scovell, of John's history and of the relationship between a penniless young man and the Lady of the Manor. John's mother always read to him about the Feast of Saturnall and the Master Cook tells him that "every true cook carries a feast inside him." When Lady Lucretia refuses to eat, then John must tempt her appetite. When the King visits, then he must create a feast fit for Royalty and, when starvation threatens, he must feed the troops. This story follows all the twists and turns that history throws at Lucretia and John, as they cope with religious intolerance, war and the impossibility of being together.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Mrs. K. A. P. Wright TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 5 Sept. 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I had just finished another novel set in the mid-seventeenth century when I started to read this. It was like eating the richest of fruitcakes after a cold poptart. This is such a rich book with so many layers of meaning written in beautiful dense prose. It is impossible to read this book quickly, you have to savour each sentence.

The book is set in a remote valley, I imagine somewhere in the east of England. John lives with his mother,Susan, the village wise woman. Marpot, an extreme puritan, becomes church warden, and with his followers, burns John and his mother out of their house. They take refuge in Buccla's Wood in the ruins of Bellica's tower. There Susan tells John about the feast and teaches him everything in her book - recreating her book in him.

John makes his way to Buckland Manor at the other end of the valley. One of the first people he meets is Lucretia, daughter of Sir William Fremantle. Susan had been midwife at her birth. He gains work in the sculleries of the kitchen as the Civil War draws nearer and eventually overwhelms the valley and the whole country.

Those are the bare bones of the beginning of the story, but they are not really important. What is important is the images you see and the thoughts you think as you read. The plot is merely a vehicle to carry you along. Entangled in the narrative you will find allegory, myth, fable, philosophy, humour . . .

I said at the beginning that it is impossible to read this book quickly. It is also very nearly impossible to put it down once you have started. I have not read any of Lawrence Norfolk's books before. I shall now search them out, but I shall wait a bit before I read the next so that I can fully relish this one.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By K. Mayfield on 4 Sept. 2012
Format: Hardcover
Lawrence Norfolk's elegantly written JOHN SATURNALL'S FEAST is utterly
captivating. An interest in history or the 17th century is not necessary to
become completely swept away by the story - a testament to Norfolk's magic.
One needs only a desire to read a beautifully constructed story of a boy who
desperately struggles to stay alive in his young life. He is the boy who
emerges from a tragedy in ancient woods only to be thrown into the kitchen
of Buckland Manor where he must earn the right to use his talent. We cheer
him on as he labours to become the greatest chef, to create the most
complicated and magnificent dish, to oversee the most important feast. John
Saturnall is the boy who becomes a man in the face of another struggle for
the love a forbidden woman and their survival amidst his enemies and the backdrop of the
Civil War.

This is an artful, carefully wrought novel. The extraordinary
descriptiveness on each page is a joy. Each character is authentic. Norfolk
has written a book that lingers and enthrals.
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By anonyme on 21 Oct. 2012
Format: Hardcover
John Saturnall's Feast

I have never written a review on Amazon before, but felt a need to do so for this book, to insert a sceptical note in what is otherwise (in these early days since its publication) an almost uninterrupted litany of praise. I noticed a couple of people who gave it five-star reviews inserted some line about it perhaps not being to everyone's taste. I can offer living evidence of that.

The merits of the book first. It really is quite evocative in its descriptions of a cornucopian, heavily populated seventeenth-century kitchen. A lot of research has gone into this, but you don't get the 'dead hand of research effect' so common in historical novels: the details of food preparation, ingredients, recipes, arcane kitchen roles and duties are brought together in a convincing and imaginatively compelling brew (it's impossible to avoid culinary metaphors talking about this book). I felt that this was probably the heart of the author's vision for the book, and he brings it off superbly.

The problem for me was that this frankly isn't enough to make a novel, or not a novel of this conventional kind, anyway. A plot is needed. Norfolk does supply us with one, of a fairly conventional ilk (protagonist emerges from hideous childhood bearing the odd scar; love triumphs across class barriers; the undeserving get their dues; the deserving live happily ever after) but it's all fairly formulaic and not especially engaging. I never at any point reading this novel felt a strong desire to find out what happened next, which has to be a bad sign.

The characterisation is especially weak.
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