Lawrence Norfolk wrote several historical novels, including Lempriere’s Dictionary and The Pope’s Rhinoceros. His first novel in a decade, John Saturnall’s Feast, is another richly-researched historical piece, set amid the religious and political turmoil of 17th-Century England. John Saturnall and his mother flee their village after she’s accused of witchcraft. While they hide in the woods, she teaches him what she knows of food and the earth’s bounty, but nonetheless starves to death over the winter. Saturnall survives, and eventually finds work as a kitchen boy, where his mother’s culinary gifts catch the notice of the head chef.
The many descriptions of the 17th century kitchen system make this novel alone worth reading. However the other story line about his feeling s for the daughter of the lord of the manor add another layer of both lushness and deprivation. It’s a great story, one that leaves your senses stunned and wanting more.