Before The Feast is the second novel by bestselling author Sasa Stanisic published in October 2015 by Pushkin Press, translated by Anthea Bell. I bought a copy of Before The Feast after its beautiful cover caught my eye when browsing in my local Waterstones. And intrigued by the blurb I was keen to read it as it promised an interesting tale with an even more interesting array of characters.
‘On this day the night wears three liveries: What was, what is, what is yet to be.’
The story centres around the German village of Furstenfelde with events taking place on the evening before the famous feast. And this seemingly quiet rural village is steeped in history and mystery and these stories are told throughout the book as we learn more about the village and its inhabitants and the evening’s events as they unfold. When I first picked up the book and the blurb mentioned the death of the ferryman on a night of mischief and misdeeds I expected the plot to follow the mystery surrounding his death as the villagers prepare for the feast. However, this book was a lot different from what I expected. The plot itself I found to be disjointed and I found it quite difficult to get into the story although this may be just my personal preference as I appreciate this was the authors chosen narrative style. The story was told in a unique way and it felt more like a collection of short stories and poetry rather than a straightforward novel and the writing had a whimsical quality to it.
‘By night: music and eternity, how shall we ever find peace?’
Whilst I found the book quite difficult to get into there were many fascinating characters and interesting things to discover over the course of the story. In terms of characters there is the feasts namesake, Anna, who is preparing to play her part in the festival, a village archivist, the ferryman and even a vixen on the hunt amongst others. Stanisic has skilfully combined the lives of these multiple characters and woven them together with various threads of memory and myth. Of all the characters I was perhaps most intrigued by Anna and her role in the feast, and as I love animals the sections of writing about the vixen appealed to me. The story switches back and forth through time as little snippets of village history are interspersed with fables and folklore. Individually these passages of writing were interesting but it was not really clear to me as I was reading how the story was going to progress, and there were times where I felt a little lost as I wasn’t sure what some sections of writing were referring to, so it certainly kept me guessing!
‘Once upon a time there was a ferryman who always had a light with him. And when he was dead a stone began to shine.’
Based on its premise I really wanted to love Before The Feast but unfortunately the style of the writing didn’t really appeal to me. That said it is clear that this author has produced a clever and imaginative tale, so for any readers happy to persevere with a more unusual structure there is plenty here to be uncovered and to ponder over.