John Saturnall’s Feast by Lawrence Norfolk - review by Elspeth Barker

Elspeth Barker

Grub Will Tear Us Apart

John Saturnall’s Feast


Bloomsbury 408pp £16.99

Once upon a time in a woodland palace overlooking the Vale of Buckland, a spirit or pagan goddess or genius loci called Buccla spread her tables with great feasts. Men and women sat together and exchanged their affections. In her gardens everything grew; fish and flesh and fowl willingly offered themselves. People were happy then to live together; they did not see life as necessary and thankless labour. But Jehovah’s man Coldcloak came: he enjoyed Buccla’s hospitality then tore up her gardens and chopped up her tables and burned her palace and denounced her as a witch.

Now it is 1625, and this is the story that John Saturnall’s mother tells him as they hide in the ruins of Buccla’s palace and hear drunken villagers baying for her death. His mother is a midwife and healer, but she is also the village witch, incapable of stemming the

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RLF - March