Over the Thanksgiving holiday I’ve been reading a gorgeous new book, John Saturnall’s Feast, by Lawrence Norfolk. The hardbound version is a feast for the eyes, lavishly designed and illustrated, unlike most novels these days (opening pages of chapter 1 shown here).
Each chapter opens with an old-style woodcut illustration, followed by a dropped capital on the facing page. The dropped capitals are styled in a way that’s reminiscent of illuminated manuscripts — a bit of a design conceit, given that the story is set in the first half of the 17th century, rather than the medieval period. (The story opens 5 years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.)
Surprisingly, this book is printed in 2 colors on every page — a feature you don’t see in very many eBooks… Headers, footers (page numbers) and dingbats appear in red, along with a dropped capital at the beginning of each chapter.
Even the Kindle version has a bit more visual panache than usual, as shown in this photo of page 1.
A Story to Savor
John Saturnall’s Feast is anything but action-packed pulp fiction, intended to kill time on long plane rides. The story is set at a time when life moved at a slower pace, when journeys took place on foot or on horseback. When meals took hours and many people to prepare.
This is a book to savor. The words and imagery are dense, complex and juicy. They reward slow, attentive reading.
And that’s appropriate because the story touches on sensory themes — sights, smells, tastes — such as gardening, cooking (slow cooking over wood fires), herbal lore, rural vistas, the sounds and smells of woodlands — or the stink of 17th century sanitation.
The author’s language is lush, emulating older styles of storytelling from centuries ago. The story takes you back in time, back to the days when the English countryside was covered with thatch-roofed cottages and dense woodlands.
John scrambled up and down the terraces and banks, hunting out the secret breaks in the thickets or crawling through hollows woven from sharp-spined stems. Blackberries lured him into sun-pricked chambers. Old byways closed and new ones opened, drifts of nettles surging forward then dying back.
If you can find time during the busy holiday season to relax, sit by the fire, maybe with your favorite glass of wine — this is a book to keep close at hand.
Slow cooking, slow reading — for a life well-savored.