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John Saturnall's Feast

3.54  ·  Rating details ·  2,050 ratings  ·  376 reviews
A beautiful, rich and sensuous historical novel, John Saturnall's Feast tells 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.

Orphaned when his mother dies of starvation, having
Hardcover, 409 pages
Published September 4th 2012 by Grove Press (first published September 1st 2012)
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Average rating 3.54  · 
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Maya Panika
Aug 16, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a delightful book that I liked very much, but not without reservation. The premise of a universal Feast, the feast of life that dates back to a time before the Romans was a fascinating one, but it got lost in the welter of detail about the many more mundane feasts of a great house in the seventeenth century. The everyday story, of John’s slow rise from scullery boy to head cook and his unrequited love for the spoiled and wilful lady of the house was slow to unfold, but quietly fascinatin ...more
Vit Babenco
Mar 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
“Kings raise their Statues and Churchmen build Cathedrals. A Cook leaves no Monument save Crumbs. His rarest Creations are scraped by Scullions. His greatest Dishes are destined for the Dung-heap.”
John Saturnall's Feast is a witch’s brew of a novel…
With its plenitude of culinary adventures and the mystery of the fatherhood it lies somewhere between Wilhelm Hauff’s fairytale Dwarf Long-Nose and The Quincunx by Charles Palliser
Also it is a story of the forbidden love… The forbidden fruit from the
Aug 31, 2013 rated it liked it
The merits of this book first. It really is quite evocative in its descriptions of a cornucopian, heavily populated seventeenth-century kitchen. A lot of research has gone into this, but you don't get the 'dead hand of research effect' so common in historical novels: the details of food preparation, ingredients, recipes, arcane kitchen roles and duties are brought together in a convincing and imaginatively compelling brew (it's impossible to avoid food metaphors talking about this book). I felt ...more
Sep 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
‘John Saturnall’s Feast’ is set near the start of the English Civil War. John is the child of a woman who is a sort of outcast; an herbalist and midwife, she lives on the outskirts of the village and doesn’t go to church. Of course this means she is thought of as a witch. When a plague runs through the village, she is blamed and they are run out of town. They take up living in a deserted house in the woods, living on late season fruit and chestnuts. She is dying, of both starvation and disease, ...more
Since his very notable debut some 20 years ago with Lempriere's Dictionary, Mr. Norfolk has written only one another major novel, Pope's Rhinoceros which was what I expected and more - I read it only twice across the years, but I am rereading it too now starting when I heard a few days ago about his upcoming new novel, this one, John Saturnall's Feast; as for Lempriere, maybe this time (it's at least my 10th try at it) I will manage to get into it...

Anyway, I saw the upcoming John Saturnall's Fe
Kate Mayfield
Aug 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Lawrence Norfolk's elegantly written JOHN SATURNALL'S FEAST is utterly
captivating. An interest in history or the 17th century is not necessary to
become completely swept away by the story - a testament to Norfolk's magic.
One needs only a desire to read a beautifully constructed story of a boy who
desperately struggles to stay alive in his young life. He is the boy who
emerges from a tragedy in ancient woods only to be thrown into the kitchen
of Buckland Manor where he must earn the right to use his
Lydia Presley
Aug 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
It's interesting, because I've come across a controversial subject two days in a row in reading. John Saturnall's Feast, while being a fabulous story (and one that had me drooling), carries the honor of being a historical novel and as such, will get a little more leeway from me.

So what is that controversial subject? It's rape, folks. It happens in books, I get it. My issue is when it happens and we're supposed to just forget about it and move on, much like the women characters who experience it
Aug 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book had all of the elements that I love in historical fiction, the most important being that as I read the story I felt like I was there in the 17th century kitchen beside John watching him and all of the other workers prepare the food. I love it when I become so engrossed in a story that I feel I am right there with the characters and Norfolk does a wonderful job of bringing this story to life.

Each chapter begins with a recipe written by John that he prepared for the feasts. They were fun
Jenny (Reading Envy)
May 31, 2012 marked it as did-not-finish  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
Basically, i just don't have enough patience for books like this. The idea of a magical feast that saves the princess is interesting but I'm 200 pages in and nothing has happened yet... Lots of imaginary food descriptions.
Mar 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My second time reading this book I both enjoyed it more and also saw more of its flaws. I loved the 17th century kitchen, seeing how things were prepared and following John's journey through the ranks, through the war, making his way.

My criticisms would be that the story is too good for characters so under-developed. I wanted to know more about John and Philip and Gemma and Lucretia, they were fleshed out but only to a certain point, only so far as their roles in the story needed them to be, it
Mar 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
Who would have thought a book about food could be so exciting?

Exciting might not be the right word. The novel builds up slowly, and it took me a while to get caught up in the story, but when I finally did, it was a sensory, aesthetic feast that awaited me, intoxicating the senses but also giving me an insight into the time before and surrounding the Restoration in England.

Occasionally, it read a bit like a young adult novel (overcoming small obstacles and conquering enemies, making new friends,
Elvina Barclay
Jul 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Reading that this book was about food and history I was intrigued have a copy to read. I had not read anything by this author before. I was quickly captivated by the language and descriptions of plants, animals and the life lived by the main characters.
Young John Sandall lives with his mother in the village of Buckland is early 17th century England. He is an outcast as others in the village believe his mother to be a witch, but they still come to her for cures and advise. As young children begi
Feb 22, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: on-the-shelf
This is one of the books I got for the cover and in that aspect I don't regret buying it for the full price which is almost the same as a hard cover. For the cover and overall packaging alone I'd give this a five-star rating. Alas, you should never judge a book by its cover. Lol.

I'm not saying this is not a good book. It is. I liked that it was ambitious in a way that it talked about religion and that it's a historical fiction but I thought it had a weak ending. I suppose it was my fault becaus
May 03, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A rare DNF for me. After a hundred pages the book just wasnt engaging enough. Events where happening but just weren't being presented in an interesting enough way.
A quarter of the way in I just couldn't motivate myself to push on. Two stars rather than one a it wasnt horrendous writing but I've read similar concept historical novels and the others draw you in a lot quicker and this failed to weave that web
Nov 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: europa, wine-and-food
despite some predictable romancey stuff, there is enough surprises, grit, and historical atmosphere that i just loved this book. i coulda swore i already did this review once. i think gr;s is eating my reviews. anyway, can you imagine washing the dishes in a huge castle kitchen in 1620? it werent pretty.
Rob Atkinson
Jan 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Historical fiction of a very high order, set in the days immediately before, during, and after the English Civil War. Norfolk delivers a suspenseful and gripping novel, with some romance and humor to leaven the many harrowing elements in the tale. He’s a great wordsmith, and the book is a feast of sorts in itself, bitter, sweet, and saucy by turns, and thoroughly imbued with its time and place. Memorable and sympathetic characters, truly despicable villains, and a dash of pagan lore add their ow ...more
Jun 01, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an electronic advanced reader copy from NetGalley.

I have never read anything by this author before, but asked for the ARC based on the book's description on NetGalley and I received it. It wasn't until I was more than half way through the book that I decided to look up Lawrence Norfolk and learn a little bit more about this writer, and was impressed with his credentials, although I can hardly claim to have a strong interest in reading his other works, as they sound way above what I woul
Non-trashy historical fiction, yay! And even better, historical fiction about food which obviously I'll love... I especially liked the receipts/extects from Saturnall's book at the beginning of chapters, one thing I'd never really considered before was not having thermometers, or even ovens with temperature settings, so descriptions of heating something until it 'shivers' or even 'so you can touch it but only for a second' (obviously I'm paraphrasing, I don't have my copy with me atm...). Also i ...more
Jul 14, 2012 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
It's not a fantastic book, but I enjoyed it a bit. It follows much of the life of John Saturnall from being cast out of his village with his mother for witchcraft to rising to Master Cook of a noble household. All set to the backdrop of the English Civil War between Charles I and Parliament. The plot and characterization are often simplistic and the author never really follows through on some ideas.

On the other hand I thought Norfolk was quite restrained with certain aspects of the story such a
Oct 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourite-shelf
My best read of the year so far. I loved the layers of story telling, the descriptions of the food and the whole ambience. I've read quite a few good books this year, but this earns the extra accolade of being one for the favourite shelf and will perhaps stand a re-read to examine some of the layers I didn't quite get this time around.
Carey Combe
I would have given this 1* but I liked the historical bits. However, in general not my kind of book - single mum dies, poor orphan boy with amazing qualities (in this case cooking) who eventually falls in love with lady of the manor .... You can imagine the rest.
Dec 19, 2019 rated it liked it
Norfolk's most "approachable" novel, which is to say, it's disappointing for those of us who read him for his altiloquence. It is nevertheless evocative at moments. The historical details are as well chosen as they are researched, and his prose is as piquant as ever. Unfortunately, the story is a little too familiar, not in the archetypal mythological manner we're used to from Norfolk, but in the manner of popular historical romance novels. It's not at all a bad book, but it reads like Norfolk l ...more
Sonia Jackett
Jan 09, 2018 rated it liked it
3.5 really enjoyable story with amazing descriptions of food. I think the book was poorly edited however as sometimes the sentences don’t quite flow and allusions to things are a bit too loose meaning you have to re-read quite a few times in order to try and guess what is going on.

Also, the 10 years or so of the commonwealth brushed over quite a lot and the end felt a bit rushed, considering the build up a depth of the previous chapters.

STILL an enjoyable read.
Jeremy Hornik
Jul 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Novel of romance, succession, thievery, and cooking. I quite like Norfolk, and enjoyed this historical potboiler thoroughly, ‘receipts’ and all. It almost made some of those weird old dishes sound edible... thoroughly British.
Sep 29, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The novel begins in 1625 where, in the remote English village of Buckland, John Sandall and his mother Susan are fleeing from a vicious mob, who taunt the pair with cries of witchcraft: ‘John, John, the Witch’s Son!/Duck him and prick him and make him run’. Their escape is fraught with danger and rather frightening for eleven-year-old John, particularly with elements such as ‘the long grass whipping their legs as they scrambled for the safety of the slopes’.

His mother, Susan, is a Goodwoman, a m
Jan 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: british
“Norfolk, the author of ornate period novels, here uses his talent for detail to evoke the life of a cook at a seventeenth-century British manor. . . . Norfolk creates a Manichaean struggle between Christian and pagan traditions, but this is ultimately less rewarding than the completeness of the physical world he describes.”—The New Yorker

“Lawrence Norfolk, historical novelist extraordinaire, inhabits the 17th century through its food. From the reign of Charles I through civil war, Cromwell's pr
Anna Janelle
Aug 05, 2012 rated it really liked it

Even though it took me nearly a MONTH to finish reading (*shakes fist angerly at graduate school assignments*), it was an bewitching story of love, old traditions, religion, history and food. And yes, pun intended.

Young John is orphaned by his mother, who is chased out of her village due to embracing old traditions (see also: accusations of witchcraft) that contradict with the prevailing Christian sentiment of the times. While starving to death so John might eat, she passes on the tradition of "
Judith Starkston
Sep 10, 2012 rated it liked it
John Saturnall’s Feast is an odd but intriguing book. Richly sensuous language describes elaborate 17th century foods and every imaginable smell. Arcane vocabulary, possibly not used in print since Jacobean times, proliferates in these descriptions. The intricacies of food preparation in a great English castle of the period are on full and detailed display while we follow John’s life story. He spends childhood in an obscure village and later arrives in Sir William’s kitchen where his nose and hi ...more
Dana ⚢
John Saturnall is an Englishman in the 17th century who starts from being nothing to becoming a chef who even cooks for kings. He grows up in a small and highly superstitious village where he is ridiculed because the villagers believe his mum to be a witch. One night they flee their home and his mother tries to teach him the secrets of an ancient feast which not only involves the mythology and recipes but also teaching him the advanced skills to keep the feast alive. The English Reformation begi ...more
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Lawrence Norfolk (born 1963) is a British novelist known for historical works with complex plots and intricate detail. His novels are also known for their unusually large vocabulary.

He was born in London but lived in Iraq until 1967 and then in the West Country of England. He read English at King's College London and graduated in 1986. He worked briefly as a teacher and later as a freelance writer

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“Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world.” That’s Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani human rights...
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“They drank from a spring which filled an ancient stone trough behind the ruin. Beyond it lay overgrown beds and plants John had never set eyes on before: tall resinous fronds, prickly shrubs, long grey-green leaves hot to the tongue. Nestling among them he found the root whose scent drifted among the trees like a ghost, sweet and tarry. He knelt and pressed it to his nose.
'That was called silphium.' His mother stood behind him. 'It grew in Saturnus's first garden.'
She showed him the most ancient trees in the orchards, their gnarled trunks cloaked in grey lichen. Palm trees had grown there too once, she claimed. Now even their stumps had gone.
Each day, John left the hearth to forage in the wreckage of Belicca's gardens. His nose guided him through the woods. Beyond the chestnut avenue, the wild skirrets, alexanders and broom grew in drifts. John chased after rabbits or climbed trees in search of birds' eggs. He returned with mallow seeds or chestnuts that they pounded into meal then mixed with water and baked on sticks. The unseasonal orchards yielded tiny red and gold-streaked apples, hard green pears and sour yellow cherries.”
“Now alongside Scovell, John eased preserved peaches out of galliot pots of syrup and picked husked walnuts from puncheons of salt. He clarified butter and poured it into rye-paste coffins. From the Master Cook, John learned to set creams with calves' feet, then isinglass, then hartshorn, pouring decoctions into egg-molds to set and be placed in nests of shredded lemon peel. To make cabbage cream he let the thick liquid clot, lifted off the top layer, folded it then repeated the process until the cabbage was sprinkled with rose water and dusted with sugar, ginger and nutmeg. He carved apples into animals and birds. The birds themselves he roasted, minced and folded into beaten egg whites in a foaming forcemeat of fowls.
John boiled, coddled, simmered and warmed. He roasted, seared, fried and braised. He poached stock-fish and minced the meats of smoked herrings while Scovell's pans steamed with ancient sauces: black chawdron and bukkenade, sweet and sour egredouce, camelade and peppery gauncil. For the feasts above he cut castellations into pie-coffins and filled them with meats dyed in the colors of Sir William's titled guests. He fashioned palaces from wafers of spiced batter and paste royale, glazing their walls with panes of sugar. For the Bishop of Carrboro they concocted a cathedral.
'Sprinkle salt on the syrup,' Scovell told him, bent over the chafing dish in his chamber. A golden liquor swirled in the pan. 'Very slowly.'
'It will taint the sugar,' John objected.
But Scovell shook his head. A day later they lifted off the cold clear crust and John split off a sharp-edged shard. 'Salt,' he said as it slid over his tongue. But little by little the crisp flake sweetened on his tongue. Sugary juices trickled down his throat. He turned to the Master Cook with a puzzled look.
'Brine floats,' Scovell said. 'Syrup sinks.' The Master Cook smiled. 'Patience, remember? Now, to the glaze...”
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