The Feast

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The Feast by Margaret Kennedy features a beach scene on the cover: two people sit on a cliff, watching the tide roll towards the other beach goers.

When The Hot Pot Lets You Down

Hot pot is a meal that we have when we’re busy, and exhausted, and its cold outside. Normally, I relish helping with the preparation and eating a comforting, pre-prepared meal for about a week. This time? Not so much. The recipe we chose meant we were in the kitchen for a couple of hours, and there was limited help that I could give my lovely spouse in the cooking process. Then when we were finally ready to eat, we found out that we made a slight miscalculation in terms of level of spiciness. A glass of milk was necessary for even basic digestion.

It’s so frustrating when a long recipe doesn’t work out. It’s more frustrating to be stuck eating the meal anyway for days on end. However, I hate food waste and that’s what it has come to. So I’ll be dreaming of any meal that isn’t spicy and buying next week’s groceries accordingly.

An orange tabby lurks in shadows behind a book with a picture of two people sitting by the sea.

The Last of Women’s History Month

For the last selection of Women’s History Month, I decided on a Margaret Kennedy recently reprinted by McNally: The Feast. It’s a complex story that starts where it ends — at the collapse of a cliff and the subsequent destruction of a hotel along with it. Though the reader is told that several guests died, exactly who they are remains a mystery to be solved by reading the events of the hotel’s last few days.

An orange tabby sniffs the corner of The Feast by Margaret Kennedy.

It’s very hard to slot this novel into a category. There are definitely comedic elements but the humour can only be considered bleak at best, absolutely dark at worst. There is also more than a hint of satire as Kennedy critiques the greed of the English upper crust, as well as intellectuals and all of those social strata in between. Part of the novel is a coming-of-age story. There are a couple of dashes of romance — both gone wrong and gone right. Some crime content.

There is nearly literally something for everyone, but at the same time the narrative doesn’t feel busy or chaotic. Instead, Kennedy encapsulates the complexity of mid-century modern life from a vast number of perspectives. She is skilled enough at it that, as the ending nears, the facets all narrow down to one neat yet meaningful conclusion.

An orange tabby peaks over the top edge of a book.

How To Handle a Large Cast

There are times when a large cast spells disaster for a novel. Different perspectives need to serve unique purposes and different voices must sound different, which is something a lot of writers ultimately struggle with. There are truly not many that can convincingly write a child, a middle-aged man, and a young woman (for example) at the same time. However, Kennedy manages to pull this off and to seamlessly switch between storylines, characters, and viewpoints. She also manages to handle intricate scenes and interactions between them — growing some relationships, stagnating others, making sure that attitudes towards people and events remain consistent throughout the text.

A tortoiseshell cat sleeps beside a book: The Feast by Margaret Kennedy.

Handling a large cast so well is one of those skills that can sometimes fly under the radar for the simple reason that, when a writer does it fantastically, the reader does not notice the number of characters they are presented with. The reader only notices an unwieldly amount of people when the writer has not succeeded in writing them properly or integrating them into the narrative. When characters are purposeless or poorly written, they stand out. Baldly.

A tortoiseshell cat sleep on a cat tree. Beside her is The Feat by Margaret Kennedy. The Feast has a muted beach scene on the cover.

Slow But Worth It

The Feast is not the fastest paced of novels. In fact, I would say that the majority of the book is nearly entirely a set up for the final forty-five pages. It’s not very often that I like books with this structure. Usually, I find that too much time was spent at the front end of the novel or that there was too much telling and not enough showing. Or that there was far too much backstory. Essentially, this structure makes it very likely for the reader to be disappointed by the ending — for the sole reason that they have spent so long waiting for it and, if it has any flaws at all, they are immediately obvious. Often the ending can feel too fast or too expected as well because of the dearth of wordcount put into the book’s conclusion.

An orange tabby stands behind a book. The back of the book reads: "Kennedy is not only a romantic but an anarchist." — Anita Brookner

I think Kennedy avoids most of these problems in The Feast. The investment in the backstories and in the set up is definitely worth the ending. However, I would say that I could have still had a bit more meat on that ending. It still felt a bit too abrupt and a bit too scant. I had to flip back and read the prologue again after I finished the book, which I think shouldn’t truly be necessary if the writer achieved the ideal structure.

A tortoiseshell cat and an orange tabby sleep on a cat tree. Between them is The Feast by Margaret Kennedy.

My Poor Stomach

Normally, I am perfectly fine with even a high level of spice, but there was something about this hot pot that my stomach did not like. I was fine at the time of the meal, but an hour later the indigestion arrived followed by a next day of just a vague ‘weird tummy’ feeling.  My lovely spouse, who does not like spice, has offered to finish off the rest of the leftovers and help me out, but I don’t think I can leave her to that fate. Even if it means that I’m now eating a soup that mysteriously turned purple after the first night we ate it. Though I guess I should have expected that when I decided it was okay to use purple carrots.

A cat shares a cat bed with a book, and she looks a bit put-out by it.

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