Before the Feast
Publisher: Pushkin Press
Publishing year: 2015
Translator: Anthea Bell
Genre: Contemporary literature, magical realism
Before the Feast was….quite unlike any book I’ve read so far. There wasn’t much of a main character or even an actual plot, which makes it a little difficult to review this book. Still, I would like to make an attempt — despite the rating I have given this book, I still feel that it’s interesting to talk about.
Perhaps I should correct myself: this book doesn’t have a main character in the traditional sense. Though there are several recurring characters in this book whose POV you see, they are not main characters. I think that the village about which the story revolves, Fürstenfelde, is the actual main character of this book. The chapters simply narrate the thoughts and events involving its inhabitants (and a vixen living in the nearby forest) on one specific evening. Mostly. Because the narrative also includes events that have happened in the past, not only of the character, but the village as a whole. The result is a portrayal of an East German village — albeit a very disjointed one.
The prose is actually one of this book’s highlights. The voice tends to shift depending on which character a certain chapter features — if it features any character at all. One chapter solely consists of a menu. Another description of a certain character is mixed with instructions on how to build a chicken pen. The chicken pen is relevant for the character in question because this man actually keeps chickens (and also relevant for a chapter that takes place later on, involving the aforementioned vixen hunting eggs). Other than the shifting voice, there is also a lot of repetition and peculiar descriptions that convey the quirkiness of Fürstenfelde’s inhabitants and an underlying ‘strangeness’ that seemed part of the village. All this makes for a playful writing style, one that’s self-aware and a tiny bit ironic but never ‘edgy’.
Though I was initially interested in Before the Feast was going, this quickly faded. Though the disjointed nature of the book was what made Before the Feast interesting at first, its lack of focus made it difficult to care about Fürstenfelde’s inhabitants as I kept on reading. Though the inclusion of myths and stories was nice, there were also plenty of chapters that were just boring to read simply due to their lack of cohesion with anything else (other than the village itself). I think it would have helped had these separate elements been more interwoven with one another, but as it is the novel is all over the place and doesn’t actually go anywhere. Though I understand that a plot wasn’t the point of Before the Feast, I feel that some sort of focus would have made this more engaging to read.
Though the prose is beautiful and there are some interesting elements, the disjointed nature of Before the Feast makes it a little tedious to get through. A real shame…