In Emily O’Grady’s Feast, Alison is 48 years old and pregnant. Her partner, Patrick, has a daughter, Neve, who is staying with them in Scotland on her gap year. What follows from this domestic set-up, which mostly takes place in Alison’s home in the few days around Neve’s birthday party, is a sense of unease. This unease arises from social awkwardness, unspoken personal histories and an unspecific dread about what is going to happen next.
The significant foreshadowing in O’Grady’s intriguing prose piques a morbid curiosity. Readers know that something disturbing is coming and it’s impossible to look away. The slow revelation of secrets gives the narrative a strong, well-paced drive, even though many of those revelations occur through flashbacks.
Pervasive discomforts are sustained throughout Feast, one of which is the constant feeling of being watched. Patrick is recognised in public, while Alison, a famous actor in her own right, is receiving threatening emails. People are recorded and filmed without their knowledge; the characters rifle through and steal each other’s possessions. And, yet, nobody knows exactly what anyone else knows because questions give way to changes of subjects, cryptic responses, lies, a refusal to talk about it, yet another walk.
For all the narrative tension and empathetically honed anxiety that is deftly sustained, Feast feels a little wanting in terms of its overall arc. Some of the distressing themes that are revealed – including various forms of abuse, the impact of death – are left hanging. Narratives do not have to be tidily resolved to be impactful, but more exploration of the outcomes of these revelations may have made the stakes less hypothetical.
Nonetheless, O’Grady masterfully evokes an infectiously tense mood and the complex balance of cruelty and kindness that exists within us and our relationships.
Feast, Emily O’Grady
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Pages: 304 pg
Publication date: 2023