At one point in Feast Days, Ian MacKenzie’s impressive second novel, Emma, the narrator, goes to an exhibition at a converted hospital in São Paulo. On one wall, the words Havia mais futuro no passado (‘there was more future in the past’) are written – in Helvetica, as she can’t resist pointing out. This could be taken as a swipe at the complacency and cynicism of the Brazilian elite, a subtle nod to the unfulfilled potential of a country Stefan Zweig once called the ‘land of the future’, or, indeed, confirmation of Emma’s own feeling of stasis. Hints such as these are typical of the arch narration and vision of Feast Days. The book is peppered with dry, thought-provoking observations and asides that amuse and probe without ever slipping into moralism or preachiness.
From a brief look at the synopsis and even the title – Emma’s life in São Paulo is one long, movable feast – you could be forgiven for having preconceived notions about the kind of American expat novel that might be in store. MacKenzie has fun playing with