John Saturnall's Feast
by: Lawrence Norfolk
Twelve years in the writing, one of England's greatest living historical novelists has produced his most accessible and accomplished book to date. A beautiful, rich and sensuous historical novel, John Saturnall's "Feast" tells the story of a young orphan who becomes a kitchen boy at a manor house, and rises through the ranks to become the greatest Cook of his generation. It is a story of food, star-crossed lovers, ancient myths and one boy's rise from outcast to hero. It is the early 17th century, and John Saturnall is a young boy growing up in the village of Buckland. He is bullied by other children, who claim that his mother is a witch. When many of the children in the village are struck down with a sickness, John's mother is blamed, and he and she are chased out of the village. They go and live a hermit-like life in a nearby wood, where it is said a witch called Buccla once grew a legendary garden. Giving what little they find to eat to her son, John's mother dies of starvation, but sees to it that John be taken in at the Buckland Manor house, where he begins working in the kitchens. At the Manor, John quickly rises from kitchen-boy to Cook, and is known for his uniquely keen palate and natural cooking ability. However, he quickly gets on the wrong side of Lady Lucretia, the aristocratic daughter of the Lord of the Manor. In order to inherit the estate, Lucretia must wed, but her fiance is an arrogant buffoon whose face Lucretia thinks resembles a water-parsnip. When Lucretia takes on a vow of hunger until her father calls off her engagement to her insipid husband-to-be, it falls to John to try to cook her delicious foods that might tempt her to break her fast. As John serves meals to Lucretia, the pair forget their differences and become close, but fate is conspiring against them. Lucretia's betrothement cannot be undone, and soon the household is thrown into chaos as Cromwell's Roundheads go to war with the loyalist Cavaliers. Reminiscent of "Wolf Hall", Gould's "Book of Fish" and "The Debt to Pleasure", John Saturnall's "Feast" is a brilliant work from a writer at the top of his powers, and a delight for all the senses.