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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Feast

Margaret Kennedy

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To purchase The Feast

Title: The Feast
Author: Margaret Kennedy
Genre: Novel
Written: 1950
Length: 324 pages
Availability: The Feast - US
The Feast - UK
The Feast - Canada
Le Festin - France
Das Fest - Deutschland
La festa - Italia
La fiesta - España
from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • The Faber edition comes with an Introduction by Cathy Rentzenbrink

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Our Assessment:

B+ : enjoyable, busy mix of the dark and humorous

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. A 26/3/1950 Leo Lerman
Sunday Times . 26/1/1950 Ralph Straus
Time . 27/3/1950 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "(H)ere is The Feast, her most impressive novel, the one in which she has the most to say and has, fortunately, found her best way to say it. (...) Since Miss Kennedy makes you love, loathe, or just feel sorry for her people, the last fifty pages of The Feast pack more suspense than most current Hollywood thrillers." - Leo Lerman, The New York Times Book Review

  • "The Feast is so delightfully told that even if you refuse to accept all its implications you must, I think, enjoy it. (...) (P)rimarily a comedy of (generally ill) manners. Fortunately Miss Kennedy has the knack of investing even her "deadliest" characters with an interest which in real life could hardly have been theirs. And, as usual, her children are a joy." - Ralph Straus, Sunday Times

  • "(T)here is nothing in the book that has not been done already -- either much better by Thornton Wilder and Arnold Bennett or just as badly by Marguerite Steen, Taylor Caldwell and Daphne du Maurier." - Time

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Feast is set in just-post-war England, in late summer 1947. The catastrophe that the novel builds to is already revealed in the Prologue, as local Reverend Samuel Boot explains to a visiting colleague that he must prepare a funeral sermon. Weeks earlier:

(A) huge mass of cliff side had suddenly subsided. It had fallen into a small cove a couple of miles from St.Sody village, and obliterated a house which once stood on a spit of land on the east side of the cove. Every person inside the house had perished.
       The house isn't just someone's home, it is the Pendizack Manor Hotel and, as readers will learn, was fully booked at the time. But from the Prologue we learn the identity of only one of the deceased: the owner of the hotel, (Dick) Siddal: "And now he's under the cliff". And while there were other deaths, there were also survivors; Boot doesn't let on how many, much less who they were, but they spent the first night after the disaster with him, and:
They came here and they talked. They sat here talking all night. You know how people talk when they've had a shock. They say things they wouldn't say at any other time. They said the most astonishing things. They told me how they had escaped ... They told me a great deal too much. I wish they hadn't.
       All in all, not a bad hook to start a story with.
       The novel then turns back to the week before the catastrophe. It is presented in seven parts, one for each day from Saturday through the Friday on which the cliff comes down as the final curtain -- and yes, there are meant to be biblical echoes here, specifically with the seven deadly sins, examples of which abound as the story unfolds. Each part of the bustling book is further divided into short sections, ranging across many of the characters and including some letters and diary entries and the like but mostly of scenes omnisciently narrated.
       A large cast of characters is introduced, beginning with the Siddals, wife Barbara trying to run the hotel with three essentially grown sons, Gerry, Duff, and Robin pitching in (while her husband isn't much help). Two larger families are staying there: there's Sir Henry Gifford and his demanding, sickly wife, with their four children, with Lady Gifford and the young children having spent the war safely abroad in the United States but now returned to England; there's also Mrs. Cove, with her three daughters who have been: "kept back so. They don't know a thing about anything". One of the Gifford girls, the adopted Hebe, has founded a secret society -- the Noble Covenant of Spartans, which is Spartanly-demanding ("'Hebe's austerity,' said Lady Gifford, 'is really formidable'") -- and the over-protected Cove children eagerly hope to join in (including in taking dangerous childish risks). There are also the Paleys, who lost their daughter, and the fiery Canon Wraxton, whose "ill-temper had grown on him", and who had lost his position, his suffering daughter Evangeline forced to accompany him (and cracking under the pressure). And there's Anna Lechene, a bestselling writer and acquaintance of the Siddals (with Dick gleefully putting down her books -- "I hate 'em. But that doesn't mean I've any personal animus against the poor girl"), who moves her quarters up to the Pendizack as well, with her secretary-cum-chauffeur (and would-be writer himself), Bruce, whose terrible secret Anna knows. And there are several servants as well, some more helpful than others.
       It is still a time of rationing -- though sweets are to be had, as well, though Mrs. Cove won't have her girls enjoy them (lying that "they often sell their sweets to buy books" -- yet another thing she isn't generous with). The Cove-girls' great ambition then is to hold a party -- a feast, something they've never had the chance to enjoy (as this trip to Pendizack was already: "the supreme adventure of their lives"). They want to: "ask everybody" and they do, and while the enthusiasm of the adults is generally limited, the general attitude is to try to humor the kids. Hebe's "vehement patronage" helps build and keep the momentum -- and quite a few adults even go along with her additional twist of having everyone come in costume, whereby: "all the grown-up people were to be characters from Edward Lear".
       While things build towards the feast, especially towards the later part of the week, a great deal else goes one in the meantime, as is to be expected in such close and busy quarters, with such a mix of characters -- several of them quite extreme. The personal and family dynamics make for both drama and amusement, with some romance rolled in too. Except for the awe-struck Cove-girls, everyone seems irritated at least part of the time -- as some of those assembled do have a way about them of getting on others' nerves. Several of the characters could also do with some saving, from servant girl Nancibel with her suitors to Evangeline, who really needs to be saved from her overbearing father. And there are the Cove-girls, as we learn that Mrs. Cove "expected to get a big fortune and a title and this old family mansion" when she was widowed but found instead everything going to her daughters: "She's only got a life interest. Unless they die, of course. And they wouldn't all die. Not likely !" Hmmm ....
       The cliff looms large over the happenings -- not least because its danger isn't entirely unknown. Dick Siddal has been warned - by letter, no less -- but his attitude is one of being completely hands-off (so also in claiming that he doesn't open his mail). Typically, too, when he does act -- like trying to burn his papers -- he does a poor job of it. Even so, there's some knowledge of the widening cracks in the cliffs among those at the hotel -- but no one really acts on it.
       With its many characters and the constant crisscrossing of their many stories, The Feast is a crowded, busy novel, but it's all well-juggled by Kennedy. The many scenes -- as the narrative switches all about at a brisk pace -- are tight, but still rich. Helping to propel everything along is that one of the characteristics of many of the characters is how direct they are -- tending towards the forthright (or the rude, depending on how one sees it). If some try to be secretive, there aren't many secrets that don't emerge very quickly.
       It's all quite funny too -- though the humor tends to the very sharp and sometimes dark . Some of the characters may seem too outrageous to be true, but practically all the excess is believable, and the children -- Hebe and the Cove-trio -- are exceptionally well-drawn.
       The Feast is a good piece of entertainment, and a satisfying read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 9 August 2023

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The Feast: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction

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About the Author:

       British author Margaret Kennedy lived 1896 to 1967.

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© 2023 the complete review

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