Since the ending to this novel is revealed on page two, you might question reading it at all. Ahhh…but in Margaret Kennedy’s The Feast, it’s the getting there that’s all the fun. The story opens with two English clergymen about to enjoy their annual summer retreat. But first, one of them has a dreary task to do—write a funeral sermon. A few days before, an entire cliff side fell on a coastal hotel killing the guests within. It’s no ordinary funeral since the deceased are already buried, says the Reverend. And this is no ordinary story.
Post Format: Top Five Reasons I Love This Book
1. The plot structure: This author grabbed me by starting with the catastrophic ending. Because you see, there were survivors. Some of the guests were enjoying an outdoors party on a nearby cliff when the horrific event happened. Their flashback stories, along with diary entries of other guests and various letters paint a colorful picture of the lodgers and the week leading up to the disaster. Kennedy doesn’t reveal who lives and who dies until the last pages. The suspense she builds on this point, including one guest who left the inn for the party at the last minute, had me biting my fingernails.
2. The setting: I have an affinity for English novels. If they are set along a craggy coast like this one, that’s even better.
3. The Characters: Let’s see, by my count there are 16 main characters. That is a lot for a mere 300-page book. It is testament to Kennedy’s writing that all are well formed and unforgettable.
The author includes many noble characters like Nancibel, the hardworking young house maid. Then there are the three Cove sisters whose good hearts and hospitality make possible “The Feast,” the party that ends up saving the lives of those who attend.
But it’s Kennedy’s nasty characters that really make the story. After all, who doesn’t like a good villain or two or three… Take for instance Mrs. Cove, a mother so twisted by greed, she puts her three young daughters in danger more than once in hopes they will perish and she’ll get their inheritance. Then there is the Cannon Braxton who is banned from preaching for life because of his brutal tirades. Finally there is the self-absorbed, bed-ridden Lady Gifford. Though a wife and a mother, she knowingly swallows a tapeworm to achieve an unhealthy weight loss. We later learn she’s guilty of even worse deeds.
4. The Real-Time History: I’ve read many books set in World War II, but few set in its aftermath. Kennedy published this book in 1950. Post War England was her life, and it naturally made its way into The Feast. I learned that English citizens were still dealing with food rationing years after the war. Also, the devastation wrought by the constant bombing caused extreme housing shortages. The war also lead to financial ruin for some privileged families like the Siddals in this tale. They were forced to turn their stately home into a hotel for income.
5. The Writing. Many of the world’s greatest female writers hail from England: The Bronte Sisters, Mary Shelley, and George Elliot to name a few. But there are also a great many overlooked authors like Kennedy who wove marvelous tales with impeccable prose. Furrowed Middlebrow, Off the Beaten Page: Lesser Known British Women Writers 1910-1960 is a great web site that celebrates these authors.
QUESTION: Do you know a novel with a nail-biting ending?