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British novelist Lawrence Norfolk to read from his new novel tonight at Hallwalls

One of English-speaking literary world's most innovative and virtuosic narrative artists, British novelist Lawrence Norfolk, visits Buffalo today to read from his latest novel “John Saturnall's Feast” (Grove Press, 2012) at 7 p.m. tonight in Hallwalls Cinema, 341 Delaware Ave. (near Tupper St.) as sponsored by the University at Buffalo English Department's Exhibit X Fiction Series.

Norfolk, whose richly-descriptive, baroquely-structured, and frequently metatextual historical novels have won extravagant praise and comparisons to the densest, most encyclopedic work of James Joyce, Vladimir Nabokov, Thomas Pynchon, and Umberto Eco, but perhaps find their closest contemporary kindred spirit in the films of director Peter Greenaway, is the author of the Somerset Maugham Award-winning “Lemprière's Dictionary” (1991), “The Pope's Rhinoceros” (1996)--a book which famously opens with a description of the creation of the Baltic Sea from the narrative point-of-view of successive generations of its resident herring--, and “In the Shape of a Boar” (2000), which tracks the disappeared history of a hunt and the hunted from pre-Homeric Greece to the modern civilization's darkest hours in the middle of the 20th century.

“John Saturnall's Feast” is described as “a sweeping and sensuous novel set in seventeenth century England, weaving myth and fact, full of food, history, politics and romance.”  About its inspiration, Norfolk has written:

The starting-point for John Saturnall’s Feast was a chapter in Kate Colqhoun’s “Taste: the Story of Britain through its Cooking”. After describing the glories and excesses of Elizabethan and Jacobean cooking, we arrive at the English Civil War. Suddenly the cuisine of the past is swept away together with the social order that sustained it. In a few short months in 1642, a world collapses. What, I wondered, if you were a cook? What would you do? How would you cope?  John Saturnall’s Feast grew forwards and back from that point. The food became the language of a vexed love story between John and Lucretia. The dishes became how they expressed their emotions across the social divide: quaking puddings, rose-flavoured sugar syrups simmered for hours, quails roasted and dusted in bay-salt then stuffed with pistachio-cream and set in ‘nests’ woven from parsley stalks… 

The last time Norfolk visited Buffalo four years ago, he reportedly decided to abandon an 800 page novel upon which he had been working on for the better part of a decade, according to UB associate professor of English Christina Milletti, the founder and co-director of the Exhibit X Fiction Series.  The mere fact that he has decided to return to the site of one of his more consequential artistic decisions speaks well for the direction of his subsequent work, including the new novel.  In addition to his fiction writing, Norfolk is also a working journalist and radio commentator frequently heard on BBC Radio 3 and Radio 4.

Tonight's reading is free and open to the public. 

--R.D. Pohl                                                     

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