It's rare, in my experience, that a book has a visceral pull over you in the way that a place or a person does; a hold which means that when you turn the final page and leave the world you've inhabited for so many hours and days, you feel that parting keenly.
John Saturnall's Feast is such a book, and approaching the end this morning I found myself slowing down, trying to make its conclusion last a little longer, wishing that somehow I could linger within the story. Lawrence Norfolk's literary historical novel is a triumph of technique but it's also a very affecting work, a magical one, a banquet for the thinking reader, a sensuous delight. Lay hands on a copy and read it as soon as you may and you'll find something truly worth savouring - every image, every detail, inspired, its full and fascinating depths inviting exploration and providing pleasure of the most satisfying kind.
It is set in seventeenth century England and is the story of one man, the eponymous John Saturnall, from his boyhood as the son of a woman hounded as a witch, to his life in the kitchens of a great house - Buckland Manor - and his relationship with the headstrong daughter of the house, Lady Lucretia Fremantle. It is a complex tale of its time, when the Civil War shattered the old order and in place of comfort and plenty came stricture and hardship, but it's in the rendering of life below stairs in the regimented and hierarchical world of the vast kitchens - scenes of almighty labour and the highest expertise - that the book's world truly lives.
And yet there is so much more to it than the tale of a boy's rise from the squalor of the scullery to the lofty position of Master Cook. It encompasses myth and legend, allegory and arcane knowledge, love, war and entrancing storytelling, combining these ingredients to make no mere culinary conceit or kickshaw but a readers' feast of the highest order.
I confess I am now at a loss as to what to read next - the book has spoiled me for anything less; if ever I meet Lawrence Norfolk I shall kiss his ring.