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John Saturnall's Feast [Paperback]

Lawrence Norfolk
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
RRP: £8.99
Price: £6.29 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over £10. Details
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Book Description

9 May 2013
In the remote village of Buckland, a mob chants of witchcraft. It is 1625, and John 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. Little does he know that one day, to keep hold of all that he holds most dear, he most realize his mother's vision - he must serve the Saturnall Feast.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Paperbacks (9 May 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1408831163
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408831168
  • Product Dimensions: 19.2 x 13 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 204,155 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

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

A story of politics, pageantry but above all food, described with mouth-watering precision. No one else could have written it (Mark Sanderson Daily Telegraph Books of the Year)

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)

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)

Book Description

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

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars John Saturnall's Feast 28 Aug 2012
By S Riaz HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
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
5.0 out of 5 stars A Sumptuous Feast 5 Sep 2012
By Mrs. K. A. P. Wright TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
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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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars more of a curate's egg than a feast 21 Oct 2012
By anonyme
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
I'm still thinking this through.
Published 17 days ago by Greg Law
5.0 out of 5 stars ... usual choice but someone suggested it and I really enjoyed it.
Not my usual choice but someone suggested it and I really enjoyed it. different
Published 1 month ago by Michelle
5.0 out of 5 stars Difficult to Classify
Impossible to slot this novel into any genre, I'll try. .It is an historical,romantic,food memoir with touches of the paranormal. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Book addict
3.0 out of 5 stars To read or not to read that is the question!
I don't exactly know what to think about this book. The prose is beautifully written and very descriptive when Norfolk describes the food and the atmosphere surrounding kitchen... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Wendy
3.0 out of 5 stars Good idea but didnt live up to expectations
This book was very widely written up and I looked forward to reading it. However, although the idea was good, it somehow failed to grip me as expected. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Cook Book
5.0 out of 5 stars Rich, aromatic and satisfying
Fascinating book, all the more so for being based on a true story set around the time of the civil war.
Published 13 months ago by Julia Lloyd
5.0 out of 5 stars Feast
A recipe book, a social history of the time, a love story, a garden, witches, the church, civil war. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Chiara
5.0 out of 5 stars Successfully interwoven strands to make a good read.
An successful innovative story, which has several interwoven strands, including a fascinating insight to 17th century food, the impact of the Commonwealth soldiery and religious... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Mr K Dawson
5.0 out of 5 stars The British have always been able to cook.
Recently a radio programme announced the cookery TV programmes had vastly improved cooking in my country. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Mr. G. E. Webb
5.0 out of 5 stars Something a little different.
Obviously much research has gone into this book. A real change which was enjoyable. I would recommend giving it a try.
Published 15 months ago by M.J. Weirman
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