Before the Feast by Sasa Stanisic and Anthea Bell (translator)

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Before the Feast by Sasa Stanisic and Anthea Bell (translator)

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 2.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Rich in evoking a rural place, this book really left me seeking more in the way of plot and resolution.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 320 Date: October 2015
Publisher: Pushkin Press
ISBN: 9781782271291

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Deep in the heart of Germany sits the village of Furstenfelde. It lies on a spit of land that, legend has it, a giant created, between two lakes – the Great Lake, and the Deep Lake. All around is forest. The village is enjoying summer, and we can see the inhabitants as they go about their lazy life on the last hot day and night before the seasons change, from the teenage lads fishing and crashing cars or preparing for a bell-ringing exam, to the girl who wants out, to the middle-aged man who made a pub out of a garage and some curtains, to the older man (a retired soldier) who is watching his last piece of titillating TV before going out to either fetch cigarettes or shoot himself, to the older still lady painting a portrait of the town ready to auction it off on the morrow. For the morrow is the annual fete, and all those people are, one way or another, reacting to its imminent arrival.

And that's it for plot. No, not just for my plot summary – that's it for plot. I'd like to say there is more, and of course I'm being partly facetious, but there isn't much. That isn't the point of this award-winning book, which is much heavier on style. The whole works as a pointillist impressionist painting to build up its picture – dipping from here to there, from colour to colour and from character to character to resolve into less than twenty-four hours of pre-festival happenings. I haven't mentioned all the characters, for sure, and the range is really quite something – even, due to the attention the book pays her, a vixen fox is one. The whole narration (bar some reportage and four or five other pages) is from a collective, spiritual, ethereal plural – the spirits of the village seeing everything from some height. This diaphanous 'we' is yet one more character.

And it's not an easy character to live with. The narrative style is too languid for you to pay close attention, even when it seems to need it – especially when it breaks out into multiple threads. The chap with his cigarette machine is conveyed in separate paragraphs alternating between not one but two flash-back stories. A character is defined alongside lessons in building chicken runs. Worse, the depth to the colours on the painting reach to smell, and you will soon despair at it – it's not just the vixen's nose which is hypersensitive to smell. This smells, that smells – the church smells like Great-Aunt Elsbeth's wig! When some trees – yes, trees – became to be characters and smelled the humans I felt like going there and chopping them down.

Equally ludicrous, to my mind, and I regret having to say things relating to the end but they are important, is the complete lack of resolution. The book stops, and the final freeze-frame answers some things but hardly rounds off any section of the narrative. Throughout we've been given glimpses of the local legends and lore, ranging from the days of the witch-hunts – the reportage I mentioned earlier – and they're there for no reason, other than, it seems, to make the place alive to the author, coming as they do from real-life historical archives.

That real-life is here, I will concede, for I could see (if not smell!) the place, and I can easily imagine the village, all the people in it, and the rich history of it – it seems to have caught fire every few decades and needed a rebuild. The community spirit is on the page, but not a lot else for me. Its appeal is the way the one landscape picture can be representative of generations of life – take away the references to football on satellite TV and this could have been written a hundred years ago. I was definitely taken to Furstenfelde – but I wished to use my return ticket far too quickly.

I must still thank the publishers for my review copy.

I can see fans of Satantango by Laszlo Krasznahorkai enjoying this book. For the best look at the way the place can be character and narrative of its own story, delve into the trilogy starting with [[Blue Flame (Perfect Fire Trilogy) by Katie Grant] – you will not fail to love it by the end.

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Buy Before the Feast by Sasa Stanisic and Anthea Bell (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Before the Feast by Sasa Stanisic and Anthea Bell (translator) at


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