John Saturnall's Feast
by Lawrence Norfolk
Like other readers, I really wanted to like this novel. It had so much buzz at BEA, and they did a beautiful job with the production of the novel, with lovely illustrations, beautiful endpapers, and red ink accents throughout. Alas, despite my optimism, I found Lawrence Norfolk’s latest a real slog.
John Saturnall’s Feast is the story of John Sandall (who rechristens himself Saturnall for reasons of his own), on his journey from social outcast to kitchen boy to master chef of a 17th century British estate. Moreover, it is a love story between servant and mistress. And finally, it is the story of a struggle to preserve the custom of an ancient feast (but I’d be lying if I pretended I fully understood anything about that sub-plot).
I never connected with either John or Lucy emotionally. I didn’t find them especially likable, which made it hard to care about their romance. Nor did I feel that I ever truly understood who they were as people. I will admit that the second half of the novel was more compelling than the first, but that’s not really saying that much.
Regular readers of my reviews know that it’s rare for me to be so negative, especially for a novel of literary merit. Clearly this book did not work for me, but seems to have resonated far more with other readers. I am sure it’s a fine book, but I am happy to at last move on.