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BOOK BIZ: A book that finds a way to delight all the senses

"John Saturnall’s Feast" by Lawrence Norfolk is published by Grove Press ($26 hardcover).

“John Saturnall’s Feast” by Lawrence Norfolk is published by Grove Press ($26 hardcover).

Among the wonderful reasons to speak face-to-face with booksellers is learning of writers and books we didn’t previously know. Such was the case when I met Amanda Mallory at Square Books while on a recent visit to Oxford. A young, full-time bookseller, she’s been at Square Books two years.

Mallory’s enthusiasm for John Saturnall’s Feast was obvious. “I really like historical fiction and this book is so interesting,” she said. “It combines the history of England in the 1600s, romance, war and drama; it’s a nice combination.”

She also points out that it’s a great book for foodies as the book’s hero rises from a kitchen boy to the greatest cook of his generation, and it has beautiful food illustrations. “It delights all the senses,” she said.

The reviewer for Vanity Fair says of the book, “An enthralling tale of an orphan kitchen boy turned master of culinary arts, with sumptuous recipes and intoxicatingly gorgeous illustrations.”

When John Saturnall is orphaned, he becomes a kitchen helper at a large manor house. He is able to use some of the tools taught to him by his mother, who was a natural apothecary. As he rises through the kitchen ranks he falls on the wrong side of Lady Lucretia, the aristocratic daughter of the Lord of the Manor. To inherit the estate, she must wed but her fiancee is an arrogant buffoon. She goes on a hunger strike, hoping her father will call off the marriage. Saturnall is given the task of cooking delicious foods that might tempt her to break her fast.

In addition to food, star-crossed lovers and a rich story, the book also includes ancient myths and historical facts. Those are hallmarks of Norfolk’s novels. He is known for using complex plots, intricate detail and large vocabularies. John Saturnall’s Feast took 12 years to write. Norfolk’s first novel, Lempriere’s Dictionary, won the Somerset Maugham Award in 1992.

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