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The Feast (1950)

by Margaret Kennedy

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1325172,389 (4.23)11
This 'superb' (Elizabeth Bowen) rediscovered gem will make you nostalgic for 1940s seaside holidays: a Cornish hotel is mysteriously buried by a landslide, but what brought its eccentric guests together?
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» See also 11 mentions

Showing 5 of 5
how did I find this? know I got if from Blackwells but how? suppose I could look up bank record from September - bought to read while I was recovering from surgery - so glad I saved it til January - I loved it !!! ( )
  Overgaard | Jan 29, 2022 |
Best for:
Fans of Liane Moriarty-style books.

In a nutshell:
In 1947 in Cornwall, England, a very small hotel has welcomed a variety of guests for the week. At the start, we learn that a cliff-side collapse has completely destroyed the hotel, burying and killing at least some of the guests. We then return to the start of the week to learn about the guests themselves, ultimately discovering who has survived.

Worth quoting:
“You don’t want to face facts.” “Not in story books, I don’t. I face plenty between Monday and Saturday without reading about them.”

Why I chose it:
This was recommended to me during my Book Spa visit as a pretty easy read that went along with what I called my general enjoyment of ‘middle aged white lady fiction’ (e.g. the aforementioned Liane Moriarty of Big Little Lies and Nine Perfect Strangers fame).

Review:
I did enjoy this book, and am happy with the recommendation, but it was probably 100 pages too long for me. There are a LOT of characters to follow (nearly two dozen), and while I appreciate that each one gets time and treatment to develop their character, it’s a lot to keep track of and frankly not all of it seemed necessary. It was a fun book, but at times reading it was a bit of a chore.

I appreciate how author Kennedy brought people together who were from different backgrounds, and explored (not directly, but through the plot) some different types of travelers and those who interact with them. There are the owners and staff at small, family-run places like this, who have their own lives outside of fulfilling the wishes and whims of people who are just passing through. There are those who are hoping to recover, either from a physical illness or from tragedy that is perhaps too difficult to be around at home. There are those looking for an adventure, or a story, and those who simply want to enjoy being somewhere new.

The book is definitely a bit dark. I mean, obviously, given the subject matter, but basically (and as the person who recommended it to me pointed out), the reader spends 400 pages sort of hoping some people die (and some people don’t). No one deserves to die under a pile of hillside, but the author has told us from the start that some of her characters will. The question is who, and are there any whose death will bring less of a tear to the reader’s eye than others? For this reader, that answer is definitely yes.

Recommend to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Donate it ( )
  ASKelmore | Aug 22, 2021 |
I was forced to read this lovely novel quite slowly, I was very, very busy last week and my reading time was frustratingly limited. The only upside of that was I got to spend far longer with The Feast Margaret Kennedy’s eighth novel, set in a Cornish hotel in 1947 – than I may have done otherwise.

The novel opens with a prologue, two clergymen settling in for a few days’ holiday together, one is paying a visit to his old friend Revd Bott of St. Sody, North Cornwall. The Revd Bott has a sermon to write – despite having supposed to have taken time off to entertain his friend. The sermon is for a funeral service – a funeral service with a difference. A dramatic cliff fall recently swallowed up a local hotel, burying everyone inside in a pile of rocks. The dead were unable to be recovered. There were however some survivors, those fortunate enough to be attending a picnic – and the story which follows is the story of the final week of life in that hotel, of all the people who were staying or working at the hotel at the time of the disaster. Who died? who survived?

“The fallen cliff had filled up the entire cove, like stones in a basin. No trace was left of the house, the little platform of land where it had stood, or of anything else that had ever been.”

There are a lot of characters – the family who own the hotel – formerly a private family home – their guests, locals and the servants who work there. There are over twenty characters and their stories are woven together brilliantly, the selfish, bullying, damaged and cruel. In the personalities of her characters Margaret Kennedy explores the seven deadly sins. I’m not sure I would have immediately picked up on this though, had it not been for some very handy scribbled notes by a former reader in the back of my old edition. One of the reasons I love old books – the notes and inscriptions left behind by readers of the past.

We meet several of the hotel guests as they are preparing for their journey – setting out for a holiday, squeezing into an overcrowded train. The two main families staying at the Pendizack hotel – the Giffords and the Coves. Lady Gifford, her husband Sir Henry, their daughter Caroline, and three other adopted children will be holidaying in the hotel the children despatched by train, Lady G and her husband driving down. Sharing the train, and vying for seats with the Gifford children are the Coves, a widow and her three daughters. Mrs Cove – it is soon apparent is not a particularly nice woman, unsmiling and dour, she observes her children with a weary unaffectionate eye. The Gifford children kept safe in America during the war, have been somewhat indulged by their mother – though they are generally nice children – and this indulgence is evident to their fellow passengers.

“Sentiment among their travelling companions had been on the side of the widow, and nothing about the Giffords was likely to change it. They had an unusually well-nourished look, and no family could have been so faultlessly dressed on its legal clothing coupons. They belonged quite clearly to the kind of people who feed in the Black Market, who wear smuggled nylons and who, in an epoch of shortages, do not scruple to secure more than their share.
But mankind is strangely tolerant, especially to children, and the sins of their parents would not have been visited upon the Giffords if they had not behaved as though they owned the train.”

Already installed at the hotel are the Paleys, a married couple, their lives and marriage stilted by a tragedy years earlier, which Mr Paley particularly seems unable to speak about or get past. The hotel owners are the Siddals, Mrs Siddal who occupies the worst room in the house – her husband who is dreadfully lazy, mostly conspicuous by his absence – and their three adult sons. Gerry, despite being a qualified doctor, works hard, his big heart and great capacity for love is not rewarded as his mother favours his handsome brothers. After this season is over, Gerry and his brothers must decide on their future. Snobby, gossip, Miss Ellis, the housekeeper, believes emptying slops is beneath her, pretty good hearted Nancibel formerly of the ATS, and young Fred must prepare the way for the guests’ arrival. Ten guests due to arrive – with two already in residence, and not enough bathrooms means a lot of work for the hotel staff.

Lady Gifford sees herself as something as an invalid, taking to her bed soon after her arrival. She insists upon a very rich diet – despite the strictures of rationing – and there is a rumbling discontent between her and her husband over things which happened during the war. Mrs Cove, pleads poverty, presents herself as a good little martyr – we soon enough see her true colours. Collecting all the sweets coupons together she sends her children to different shops for marshmallows and other hard to get treats – which she will sell to Lady Gifford. Both of these women are slowly revealed to be different kinds of monsters.

The hotel is further rocked by the arrival of Canon Wraxton, and his nervous, bullied daughter Evageline. The Canon is a very difficult, unpleasant man, who having caused great upset, refuses to quit the hotel until his week is up.
Writer, Anna Lechene is installed in the garden room, while her chauffeur/secretary Bruce must sleep above the stables, their relationship raises eyebrows, especially as Bruce seems to have taken a bit of a shine to Nancibel.

The feast of the title takes place on the last day, the day of the disaster. The feast has been dreamed about by the children, planned for and finally brought to fruition by the kind, affectionate grown-ups who have taken the seven children to their hearts.

This is definitely my favourite Margaret Kennedy novel to date, she deftly weaves together these various stories, gradually revealing the secrets of the past, the deficient personalities. There are romances, and transformations, hope for the future and Margaret Kennedy’s very own brand of biblical style retribution to those deserving of punishment. ( )
1 vote Heaven-Ali | Oct 15, 2016 |
I might describe The Feast, Margaret Kennedy’s ninth novel in many ways: a character study, a morality tale, a social comedy, an allegory. But, above all of that, I would describe it as very readable novel.

The setting is a cliff-top hotel on the north coast of Cornwall, not long after the war. It is a hotel that will be destroyed when the edge of the cliff crumbles. These things happen: there’s coastal erosion, and in this case there was a washed-up mine too. I knew all of this because two clergymen, meeting for their annual holiday, told me so in the prologue.

And so this is the story of the last seven days of the hotel at Pendizack Point.

There’s not much plot, but the story is driven very well by the disparate band of characters: visitors, hoteliers, and locals.

Mr and Mrs Siddal are the proprietors, and she’s nearly worn out trying to keep things going, because her husband is bone idle. She couldn’t manage without her boys, but they’re grown now, and ready to strike out on their own once the season is over. They do have a housekeeper, an impoverished gentlewoman, but Miss Ellis is a terrible snob, a vicious gossip and very selective about what she will and will not do. But they also have Nanciblel, who comes in daily from the village, and is a lovely girl, a real treasure.

Lady Gifford had sent very details before she arrived with her husband and her four children in tow. She was in poor health, the kind of poor health that required comfort, fine food, attention, and having everything her own way. Mrs Cove had no time for such things. She had lived through the blitz, she had kept her three children by her side, and now she was going to give them a good holiday. She presented herself as a paragon, but she was quite the opposite, and before the week was over she would reveal her true colours.

And then there was a quiet couple who had survived a terrible tragedy; a militant clergyman and his downtrodden daughter; and a hack novelist, accompanied by her very sociable secretary.

Margaret Kennedy had a wonderful talent for presenting characters simply, clearly, objectively, just showing them and leaving you to draw your own conclusions. She does that perfectly here, slowly revealing details and true natures, and her style and the ideas she is exploring in this book work together beautifully.

I loved the way that Lady Gifford and Mrs Cove were both revealed as monsters.

So much happened n in those seven days: two romances develop, a theft is uncovered, two daughters defy a parent for the first time, a dramatic intervention in at mass in the village church, the ground shifts in more than one marriage, a secret society recruits new members …

Margaret Kennedy understood the time, the place, and the people, and she handled everything – from the big dramatic scenes to the small but significant moments – with aplomb.

Everything was significant, everything worked together beautifully, and I found much to appreciate.

Most of all, I was caught up with the characters; loving some, infuriated by others, wishing and hoping for so many things.

On the seventh day … there was a feast!

The Cove children had dreamed of a feast, and some of the adults, who had seen how good they were and how dreadful their mother was took it upon themselves to organise one. It would be the grandest beach party you could imagine. There would be food, drink, balloons, fancy dress, and the Coves were so lovely that they invited absolutely everybody. Though, of course, not everybody came.

They were having a lovely, lovely time.

And then the cliff crumbled.

There were fatalities and there would be survivors.

But that was the end … ( )
1 vote BeyondEdenRock | Nov 15, 2013 |
Showing 5 of 5
EXCERPT: There is readily imagined symbolism here, and more than a suggestion of comparison with The Bridge of San Luis Rey. But there is a tenuous thread of good, and now here, now there, a softening influence emerges, ultimately to bring part of the group together for ""the feast"" .... A haunting sort of story.
 

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Margaret Kennedyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Kirkhov, SigridTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Löfroth, CurtTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Løvland, HeddaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Monrad, KnutTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Moppès, Denise VanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Margot Street
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In September, 1947, the Reverend Gerald Seddon, of St. Frideswide, Hoxton, paid his annual visit to the Reverend Samuel Bott, of St. Sody, North Cornwall.
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This 'superb' (Elizabeth Bowen) rediscovered gem will make you nostalgic for 1940s seaside holidays: a Cornish hotel is mysteriously buried by a landslide, but what brought its eccentric guests together?

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from the dust jacket:
In the first few pages of Margaret Kennedy's The Feast her reader will discover the disaster that brings death to some of the people in the book, and makes life possible for many others. It is not the disaster that enchains the reader, but the characters as they march toward it.
No such completely realized characters have appeared in Miss Kennedy's work since The Constant Nymph was published in the twenties. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------EXCERPT from Curtis Brown website page on The Feast:
The germ of the idea for The Feast - Margaret Kennedy’s ninth novel and perhaps her most ingenious - came to the author in 1937 when she and a social gathering of literary friends were discussing the Medieval Masque of the Seven Deadly Sins. The talk turned excitedly to the notion that a collection of stories might be fashioned from seven different authors, each re-imagining one of the Sins through the medium of a modern-day character. That notion fell away, but something more considerable stayed in Margaret Kennedy’s mind over the next ten years, and so she conceived of a story that would gather the Sins all under the roof of a Cornish seaside hotel managed by the unhappy wife of Sloth ...
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