John Saturnall's Feast.

Author:Norfolk, Lawrence
Position:Book review

By Lawrence Norfolk

British novelist Lawrence Norfolk is the author of three previous historical novels, including Lempriere's Dictionary (1992) and In the Shape of a Boar (2000).


THE STORY: John Sandall, a peasant boy living in 17th-century England, is orphaned after his mother is accused of witchcraft and the two are cast from their village. Before her death from starvation, John's mother shares with him magical recipes harkening back to the ancient Roman god Saturn. John lands a low-level job in the kitchens of Buckland Manor, where his culinary talents quickly propel him up the ranks. He falls in love with the lord of the manor's daughter, who is staging a hunger strike to protest her betrothal to her dimwitted cousin, and John must ply her into eating with ever-more delightful recipes. The novel spans the reign of Charles I through the English Civil War and the rule of Oliver Cromwell. But the historical events are merely a backdrop to the main attraction: devilish descriptions of John's sumptuous meals.

Grove Press. 416 pages. $26. ISBN: 9780802120519

Guardian (UK) ****

"If the novel is less determinedly unusual than Norfolk's Lempriere's Dictionary or The Pope's Rhinoceros, its focus lends it clarity, and the material is fascinating. Classically informed, globally supplied and rich in local ingredients, the pre-civil war era is revealed as a golden age for English cuisine." JUSTINE JORDAN

Telegraph (UK) ****

"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." MARK SANDERSON

Wall Street Journal ****

"For the book's first half, Mr. Norfolk's use of child's-eye view and lush, incantatory prose give the narrative a hushed air of magic, as though Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden were being recounted by the hero of Patrick Suskind's Perfume. Then, like light through a crack in a wall, the real world breaks in on the boy's enchanted castle." JUDITH FLANDERS

Washington Post ****

"There's not a lot of intellectual or thematic coherence in the revelation that Norfolk offers in the novel's final pages, but that doesn't really matter. Shimmering with wonder, suffused with an intense and infectious appreciation for the gifts of bountiful nature, John Saturnall's Feast is a banquet for the senses and...

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