Regular readers of my ramblings will know that I love tales set in the wild and woolly West of England and most especially in Cornwall. It was a happy day recently when someone who’s literary tastes I respect, mentioned this quite unusual mystery tale The Feast written by Margaret Kennedy who was prolific and popular in her day. The story was originally published in a shortened form called Never Look Back in a 1949 Ladies Home Journal magazine. The full version now entitled The Feast was Kennedy’s ninth novel published in 1950 and perhaps her most ingenious. Sadly the author’s fame, like so many others, faded and the book was ‘lost’ until Faber & Faber re-issued it earlier this year with a new forward written by the Cornish writer and journalist Cathy Rentzenbrink. This new writing is a very worthy addition to the book but my word of caution here might be to read the book first, avoiding any spoilers. Then you should most definitely read the forward.
The sleeve notes set the scene for us: Cornwall, Midsummer 1947. Pendizack Manor Hotel has just been buried in the rubble of a collapsed cliff. Seven guests have perished, but what brought this strange assembly together for a moonlit feast before this Act of God – or Man? Over the week before the landslide, we meet the hotel guests in all their eccentric glory: the selfish aristocrat; slothful hotelier; snooping housekeeper; bereaved couple; bohemian authoress; and as friendships form and romances blossom, sins are revealed, and the cracks widen …
While I was waiting for my copy to arrive I read several reviews and realised that the book was often pitched to the contemporary market as the ideal staycation summer read, but in my opinion this greatly diminishes it and makes it sound like some lightweight easy read which it most certainly is not. The other surprising thing in many of the reviews was the omission of any mention of the Seven Deadly Sins which were the whole basis for the characters and the plot. It seems that as early as 1937 the author and a group of literary friends were discussing the notion of the Seven Deadly Sins. some suggested that seven authors should each write a story about the one of the sins, but Kennedy had a different, allegorical approach and instead bestowed one sin on each of the seven characters who were, after seven days together, to die in the final catastrophe.
This is both a delightful, clever book and an utterly enrossing read. It is an artful character study with a morality tale and much social comedy at it’s heart. It is without doubt a dark psychological suspense novel which would be much enjoyed by readers of Agatha Christie or Daphne du Maurier.
Well worth reading!