John Saturnall’s Feast by Lawrence Norfolk
Grove Press, New York, 2012
Borrowed from my local library. I first read about this one on Cornflower Books.
John Saturnall’s Feast is beautiful to look at and a wonder to read. Each chapter is headed by an illustration followed by a recipe or a description of a garden, perhaps a garden called Eden. The language is lush and deep, filled with smells and tastes and surrounded by the clatter of a busy castle kitchen. It reads like a fantasy, but fantasy based in the history, people and culture of 17th century Britain.
From Lawrence Norfolk’s webpage:
1625. In the remote village of Buckland, a mob chants of witchcraft. John Sandall and his mother Susan are driven out to take refuge among the trees of Buccla’s Wood. There, John’s mother opens her book and begins to tell her son of an ancient Feast kept in secret down the generations.
Driven from the village after his mother’s death, John ends up being put to work in the kitchens of Buckland Manor. His skills bring him to the attention of the master chief and he eventually creates dishes for Sir William Fremantle. Sir William’s daughter, Lucretia, forced to accept a marriage because she can not inherit her father’s title, Manor and all its properties, is refusing to eat. John is charged with preparing her meals and enticing her to give up her fast.
Norfolk writes that:
The starting-point for John Saturnall’s Feast was a chapter in Kate Colqhoun’s “Taste: the Story of Britain through its Cooking”.
This history of Britain is one thread of this novel, the relationship between John and Lucy is the tapestry. Made up of legend, myth and recipes culled from many records of the time, John Saturnall’s Feast is, well, a feast. It is one of my top ten books from 2012.