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John Saturnall's Feast (2012)

by Lawrence Norfolk

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4253246,445 (3.54)27
Taken in at the kitchens at Buckland Manor after the cruel death of his mother, young John quickly rises from kitchen boy to cook before catching the attention of the daughter of the lord of the manor, who resolves to starve herself until her father calls off her unwanted engagement.
  1. 00
    Taste: The Story of Britain Through Its Cooking by Kate Colquhoun (wandering_star)
    wandering_star: The Kate Colquhoun book inspired Lawrence Norfolk to start thinking up the story which became John Saturnall's Feast.

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John Saturnall's Feast by Lawrence Norfolk

John Sandall and his mother are both outsiders. His mother, a healer and herbalist, is rumored to be a witch, and although no one knows who John's father was, he was obviously a black man. John's mother tries to teach him everything she knows, reading from a book she carries with her everywhere. Things get worse for them when a radical puritan preacher comes to town, and when people start to fall ill of a strange fever, of course it is blamed on "the witch." Their house burned, John and his mother escape to the woods, where she tells him the ancient story of a beautiful queen whose people lived in peace and plenty until an invader came and destroyed everything in sight. Without food, the people survived on memories of their annual feast, a feast where everyone was welcomed, and John and his mother feed off their imagining of that feast.

But dreams of food can only take one so far. John's mother dies, and he takes to the road until he is picked up by a man sent to take him to Buckland Manor, where is is to join the kitchen staff, changing his last name to Saturnall to avoid persecution by the witch-hunting puritans. Starting out with the lowest tasks, he eventually works his way up to becoming the the best cook in the kingdom, in part by using his memories of the great feast described by his mother. It's not an easy journey, especially in the years building up to the English Civil War and Cromwell's Commonwealth. And John has to deal with Coates, a jealous kitchen boy who constantly harasses him and tries to spoil his every success, and with Lady Lucretia, Lord Fremantle's haughty daughter.

John's story is told in between the chapters of his own cookbook. Each is headed by a particular recipe made for a particular event, accompanied by woodcuts. As the novel progresses, John (and the reader) learns more about his own past and the connections between his family and that of the Fremantles. I am not a big fan of fantasy, so the "magical" element put me off at first, as did the overly long, detailed descriptions of food being prepared. Still, the novel won me over in time, and in the course of the 30+ years it covers, there's plenty of action, intrigue, and even a little romance. I liked it well enough that I will be looking into this author's other works. ( )
  Cariola | Mar 6, 2021 |
If you have read Lempriere's Dictionary then I need to say no more. If you haven't then why are you just standing there? Go and read it right now!

As trite as that sounds I am also sincere. This novel is an extravaganza of mythology and cooking. Not cooking like all the mind dead shite on television but cooking in the sense of alchemy, the taking of the core elements and understanding their narartives before using them to create a mystery that always has a happy ending.

Whilst this review is drivel, the book is not. I found it gripping because the story unfolds across many spheres, the characters call us by name and the smell of everything pulls you by the nose into another world.

The kitchen scenes reminded me of Gormenghast and The Sorceror's Apprentice. A coming of age, heroes journey that is wonderfully rounded. Loved it. ( )
  Ken-Me-Old-Mate | Sep 24, 2020 |
Eh. not much of a story really. I liked the time period but I felt like it got lost in endless food descriptions, too many characters, flashbacks, etc. One story arc is completely undeveloped and the other one - well, you can pretty much guess at after the first few chapters. No excitement, no tension.

Also, I didn't like the romance. At all.

And I am still not sure what the Feast actually was.

Somewhere inside this book, is a much shorter, much better book. ( )
  laurenbufferd | Nov 14, 2016 |
I'd looked forward to reading this one for a long time, but it didn't end up doing much of anything for me, I'm sorry to say. Just couldn't keep my interest in the fairly boring plot. ( )
  JBD1 | Oct 15, 2016 |
John Saturnall's Feast is a book to savor. Or, savour, as it's spelled in this very authentic feeling historical novel set in seventeenth century England. John Saturnall's rise from fatherless exile to master cook is mixed with the history of the Puritan revolution and the Restoration, then served with a side of romance. Each chapter is prefaced with a recipe (or receipt, the word used the book) complete with Middle English spelling and script. The hardcover will also include original illustrations for the chapter openings and will be printed in two colors of ink. My copy was an advance proof that I received free from Goodreads First Read program. As I turned the pages, I was sad to see the end of the book coming closer and closer. ( )
  wandaly | Jun 30, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
Het feestmaal van John Saturnall is een historische roman die een levensecht beeld geeft van dat epoque. Norfolk lijkt met een collectie Caran d’Ache-potloden te schrijven en biedt meeslepende taferelen van Johns demarche in de kasteelkeuken, waar de jongen mede dankzij de kennis van wijlen zijn moeder een talent heeft ontwikkeld voor koken.
added by SimoneA | editnu.nl, Anne Jongeling (Dec 4, 2012)

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From The Book of John Saturnall, with the Particulars of that famous Cook's most Privy Arts, including the Receipts for his notorious Feast, Printed in the Year of Our Lord, Sixteen Hundred and Eighty-one.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Taken in at the kitchens at Buckland Manor after the cruel death of his mother, young John quickly rises from kitchen boy to cook before catching the attention of the daughter of the lord of the manor, who resolves to starve herself until her father calls off her unwanted engagement.

No library descriptions found.

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From kitchen boy to
master cook: John Saturnall
recreates the Feast.

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