Book Review: John Saturnall’s Feast by Lawrence Norfolk (DNF)
September 1, 2012 18 Comments
Number of pages: 416
First published: 2012
I got this book: from Grove/Atlantic, Inc. via Netgalley (ebook)
Genre: historical fiction
John Saturnal’s Feast: What it is about
From Netgalley: “A beautiful, rich, and sensuous historical novel, John Saturnall’s Feasttells 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-seventeenth 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 become sick, John’s mother is blamed, and she and her son are chased out of the village. They move to a forest, where it is said a witch called Buccla once grew a legendary garden. Giving what little she can forage to her son, John’s mother soon dies of starvation, but sees to it that John is taken in at the Buckland Manor house, where he begins working in the kitchen.
At the manor, John’s keen palate and natural cooking ability allow him to quickly rise from kitchen boy to cook. However, he soon 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 fiancé is an arrogant buffoon whose face Lucretia thinks resembles a water parsnip. When Lucretia takes a vow of fasting until her father calls off her engagement, it falls on John to try to cook her delicious food that might tempt her to break her fast. As John serves meals to Lucretia, an illicit attraction grows between the pair, but fate is conspiring against them. Lucretia’s betrothal cannot be undone, and soon the household is thrown into chaos as Cromwell’s Roundheads go to war with the loyalist Cavaliers and the English Civil War begins.
Reminiscent of Wolf Hall, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, and works by David Mitchell and Peter Carey, John Saturnall’s Feast is a brilliant work by a writer at the top of his powers, and a delight for all the senses.”
John Saturnal’s Feast: What I thought
I read, many years ago, Lemprière’s Dictionary by this author. I remember enjoying the book so I was keen to try this new book. But I found it really hard to get into the story. In fact, after 100 pages I still wasn’t interested in John and his story, so I gave up.
The story switched between John living in a village with his mother, being bullied by the other children as his mother is suspected of being a witch, and a journey by cart at a later time, where John is being brought to the local manor house, in order to get a job there.
I found the story of John and his mother very confusing. I didn’t understand half of what I was reading. Now I’m the first to admit I’m not always a careful reader, but I wasn’t sure whether there was more to be read between the lines, or whether it was left vague on purpose. It was especially the story about the witch Buccla that I found hard to follow.
Other things I probably should have understood: why was John’s mother first considered a witch, then not, and then again was? And I didn’t quite follow what the story was with the two guys that were taking John to the manor house (a journey of several days).
The story felt a little supernatural, but probably wasn’t. I would have loved to find out more about John as a cook in the manor house, but since the first 100 pages didn’t grab me, I decided to stop reading.
Have you read this book?
Did you enjoy it?