Customer Reviews


52 Reviews
5 star:
 (28)
4 star:
 (11)
3 star:
 (10)
2 star:
 (3)
1 star:    (0)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favourable review
The most helpful critical review


30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars John Saturnall's Feast
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...
Published on 28 Aug 2012 by S Riaz

versus
35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars more of a curate's egg than a feast
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...
Published 22 months ago by anonyme


‹ Previous | 1 26 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

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 "S Riaz" (England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 10 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)    (HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)   
This review is from: John Saturnall's Feast (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (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. In some ways, it might have been beneficial to have reigned this novel in, but personally I adored the rambling richness of the prose and the detail given to the creations of the kitchens. From the narrow minded behaviour of a small community, to the running of a large house, through the confusion of the battlefield, the author has created a real feast of a novel; and, although I sense it may not appeal to everyone, I thought it a wonderful read.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


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 - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: John Saturnall's Feast (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (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.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


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
This review is from: John Saturnall's Feast (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. There are a lot of characters, but quite large numbers of them, especially in the Fremantle household in which the bulk of the novel is set, never really establish themselves as anything more than names. Of the more worked-up characters, none struck me as especially memorable. Lucretia is particularly underdeveloped, in a way that is problematic for the whole romantic element. She seems to me entirely a cipher, doing exactly what is needed for the plot at any given moment, but without any coherent character that I could discern. Some elements of her story are simply laughable, such as the supposed climactic moment near the end where she deliberately masquerades as a whorish seductress in order to put Saturnall off her and hence spare his feelings (at least, I think that's supposed to be what happens ... I must say I had rather given up on the novel by that point).

The villains are also a weak point: Clough, Marpot, Piers Callock. I didn't think anyone did completely unregenerate 'baddies', without a hint of redemptive complexity any more - or at least not three of them in a single novel. Frankly, they are clichés. Marpot is even given the arch-villainous characteristic of 'cold blue eyes' at one point, just in case we were in any doubt of his general iniquity.

I found it interesting that Nofolk's end note spoke of the book having had a 'long and strange' route to publication, and wonder whether the very mixed quality of the resulting work has anything to do with that. It IS genuinely mixed - there are some very good things amid the less good, as I said. To be honest, though, I wouldn't say the language or the evocation of seventeenth century life were any stronger at their best than what is found in Maria McCann's 'As Meat Loves Salt', for example, and I found that a far superior novel to this in terms of character and plot. The Civil War background is also better exploited in McCann. It seemed rather perfunctory here.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Utterly Captivating, 4 Sep 2012
By 
K. Mayfield (London, England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: John Saturnall's Feast (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.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good on the food, less so on the history, 11 Sep 2012
By 
Sensible Cat (Manchester, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: John Saturnall's Feast (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
So much praise has been heaped on this novel that I'm reluctant to add a dissenting voice. Norfolk is a fine and clever writer, perhaps a bit too clever at times. It is the mythological dimension of this book that fails to satisfy me - the old legend of the pagan Bellica's feast displaced by the Christian fundamentalism of Coldcloak, which is woven both into the life story of John Saturnall and the religious and political upheavals of seventeenth-century England. At times the fit appears to be an uneasy one, with John and his noblewoman lover Lucretia forced to impersonate the warring factions of the past in their own unconventional relationship.

There is a great deal to savour in this book. I doubt if you'd find a better evocation of the exhausting, deeply hierarchical, and richly sensual closed world of the kitchen of a great house anywhere in fiction. Clearly, this is where Norfolk's heart lies and he tells it wonderfully, as the unconventional, mixed-race outsider John Saturnall works his way up from penniless orphan to the greatest chef of his age. Your jaw will drop at the complexity and sheer audaciousness of the Heston Blumenthal-like creations in the pages of this book. It's well worth reading for that alone.

John Saturnall and his beloved Lucretia are living, breathing characters and you will be drawn into their world and end up really caring about their fates. They live in turbulent times and suffer accordingly. I'm not sure if I can quite articulate what bothered me about this book, except that the Civil War appears to come from absolutely nowhere, with virtually no build-up or background to its causes and effects. Perhaps that's Norfolk's intention - and after all, we arguably don't need to be experts in nineteenth-century American history to appreciate the social upheavals depicted in "Gone With the Wind", which in some fundamental respects this story resembles. Yet the richly textured evocation of daily life contrasts oddly with the apparent indifference to even the most significant historical events of the period.

So, a flawed book which leaves the readers to do a lot of the orientation work themselves, but still a fascinating and deeply satisfying read, and an absolute must for anyone interested in Britain's remarkable culinary heritage.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars John Saturnall's Feast, 28 Aug 2012
By 
R. Gardner "Corriebob" (Scotland) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: John Saturnall's Feast (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is a book that is very different from anything I've read before. The basic premise is that said John Saturnall's life is followed thru from childhood to mature adult hood. This all based around the fact that he becomes a cook, the one thing that really made this book for me was the Author in my mind created the world around the main character in enough detail to make me feel I was there and it was not just made up, We follow the turmoil and the times in the 1600s around the time of Cromwell and how this affects John and the royalist family he eventually works for..There is a love interest thru the story which I found added to the depth of the story. Also the detail put into how much work and the diverse menus they produced then, In many ways it puts our current Chefs to shame considering things were more basic then...There is a fair amount of heart break and violence thru the story, but, Don't let this put you off.
If your looking for a mature story with a different feel and story line, Give this one a go!!!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Quite an interesting read, 27 Dec 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I quite enjoyed the first two thirds of this book but it seemed to me to run out of steam and I got the distinct impression that the author didn't really know how to finish it. It has a lot of story but not much plot - it just sort of keeps going until it gets to the end. It promises to be thought provoking and subtle, but doesn't manage to be either. However it does have some good ideas and it's worth giving it a go if you don't want to read anything too demanding.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars John Saturnall's Feast by Lawrence Norfolk, 29 Nov 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: John Saturnall's Feast (Hardcover)
The story of John Saturnall, opens in 1625 with echoes of witchcraft and mob violence. As John and his mother flee their village to live hidden in ancient woods in a remote corner of England John Saturnall learns the recipes of a secret timeless feast. After his mother dies John, now an orphan, is taken to Buckland Manor, the ancestral seat of Sir William Fremantle. There, he is put to work in its subterranean kitchens. There, life is ruled by a fierce master cook who is impressed by John's gift of smell, his mysterious heritage and his talent for cooking. So, of course, John moves from the lowliest job scrubbing dishes to cooking fabulous dishes for the great house where he meets Sir William's daughter,Lucretia, a girl who is imaginative and headstrong and who insists on fasting. John's personal destiny is set in motion as it becomes entangled with that of this family, persuading Lucy to eat and the looming English Civil War. On the eve of the war, a marriage is made for Lucretia and the story takes further twists and turns. As the dark winters of the war grip hold and the mansion is threatened by puritan militia, the story teases the reader into wondering where, when and how this skating rink of a narrative will come to rest.

The characters who inhabit Norfolk's story are absolutely engaging, original, quirky as people can be, multilayered, and who always possess, to lesser or greater degrees, universal human traits of ambition, jealousy, a sense of duty, honour and the need to love and be loved. At times I felt I had entered a new Gormenghast. Yet, this novel is no fantasy. Rather, it is rooted in folk traditions that penetrated the seventeenth century consciousness. Importantly, too, for the lover of the historical novel, it is firmly set, with realism, against a fascinating history, the course of the English Civil War, its aftermath and how it impacted on the lives of a small gallery of real and imagined characters. Norfolk's characterisation is totally faithful to history and the story itself is written with fabulous imagination, a perfect combination. I found the point of view of a chef a brilliant perspective on these great events and at all times felt myself present at Naseby or in the woods or at the manor as Saturnall cooked up rabbits and woodland foragings for the vanquished cavalier leaders. The civil war was notable for inhabitants of a manor or village following the local magnate's sympathies without question. That was where their loyalty lay. But this novel is also a love story and an extremely unpredictable one too. In this it compares to other great love stories captured by the sorrow of war and its aftermath.

Finally, the structure and presentation of this novel is beautiful.Norfolk's prose is as delicious to read as many of the culinary elements that weave through his narrative. The chapters are intersected with recipes from the ancient feast and these guide the reader through the story's developing events. The book is one of those special novels that a reader reluctantly leaves because everything about it, characters, narrative twists and turns, structure all gell together into a very rich and, may I say it, deliciously layered and perfect whole.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gorgeous book in every way, 5 Nov 2012
By 
Mrs. K. A. Wheatley "katywheatley" (Leicester, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: John Saturnall's Feast (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is a gorgeous book which was utterly compelling and a delight to read. Norfolk has made this story a real sensory feast, and I have devoured it over two days. It tells the story of a young boy, John Saturnall, growing up in the reign of Charles I in a small village where his mother is considered to be a witch. Her knowledge of plants and her understanding of the land she inhabits is passed on to her son, and he makes use of it in a different way over the eventful course of his life, as he eventually finds himself in the kitchens of an aristocratic family. There is an air of magical realism to this work which adds an interesting flavour to the novel without overpowering the main story. The historical backdrop of the chaos of the civil war, the years of Cromwell's rule and life under Charles II is beautifully utilised and well written, and the whole book is a triumph.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Veritable Cornucopia, 31 Oct 2012
By 
M. J. Saxton (Dewsbury, West Yorkshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: John Saturnall's Feast (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I was predisposed to this novel, anyway, because it is set in my favourite historical period (mid seventeenth century), but it was much more of a treat than I had imagined. It is one of those thoroughly enjoyable historical novels written by a master of the form.

Susan Sandall keeps her book close and secret, not even her young son John may see it. Once the villagers begin to intimidate him because they think his mother is a witch she knows it is time to share her secret: The Feast. John gradually learns to read using his mother's book; she teaches him it all by heart. When the witch hunters return with a vengeance and the two are chased to Buccla's Wood it is time for his final lesson.

Soon John is taken on in the kitchens at Buckland Manor when his extraordinary sense of smell and distinction is revealed. From here his rise is inevitable, and his doom is set. In the Lady Lucretia he meets his match in more ways than one.

The wealth of domestic detail throughout this novel is its greatest strength: people and places are vividly evoked. The great celebratory meals are conjured brilliantly in the imagination via sight and smell. Every character becomes comfortably familiar and the mystery of Buccla and Saint Clodock winds around them all.

The sequence during the Civil War and the Protectorate is telling in its resonance with the older story of the Vale, but also in the description of Naseby and the deprivation under Puritan rule. Lawrence Norfolk has imagined vividly and written with clarity creating here a spread of narrative to satisfy many appetites. Well worth a read.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 26 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

This product

Only search this product's reviews