Over the coming weeks you can read The Fountain in the Forest in synch with the French Republican Calendar, as each of the novel’s thirty chapters correspond to a day in the Republican Calendar. I started posting daily updates here and on Twitter on Monday 2 March, and these will continue for the next twenty-six days.

Conversion between the Republican and Gregorian Calendars is imprecise, but by common reckoning, today’s date Thursday 5 March 2020 converts to Sextidi 16 Ventôse CCXXVIII in the Revolutionary Calendar.

The French Republican Calendar is secular and non-hierarchical, and – as many readers will know – instead of each day being dedicated to a particular saint or to a religious or royal holiday, or named after an ancient god, the Republican Calendar dedicates each of 360 days of the year to an item of everyday rural life, thus 16 Ventôse CCXXVIII and Chapter 4 of the novel are dedicated to spinach.

If you want to celebrate the day of spinach in style, I can think of few things finer than a homemade saag aloo – potato and spinach – with some rice or chapati, and some spicy mango pickle on the side.

The recipe I’ve been using since forever (Sheffield, mid-1980s) is from a battered paperback of Jack Santa Maria’s pretty dependable Indian Vegetarian Cookery, that a good friend of mine recommended many years ago, and which is still available for Kindle. To give you a rough idea, Santa Maria’s Saag Aloo uses approximately a pound each (500g) of potatoes and spinach, so you’d need a large, heavy pan. He suggests beginning by frying chopped onion, garlic and ginger in ghee, before adding turmeric, chilli, and ground coriander (other recipes also include cumin and mustard seeds) and salt, and then the roughly chopped potatoes, which he suggests you fry until half-cooked – you may want to it leave a little longer – before adding the spinach and cooking until tender – add a splash of water if necessary to loosen things up – then garnishing with a sprinkle of garam masala. Vary the amounts to your own taste of course. And there are plenty of alternative recipes available online.

Good luck. If you try it, let me know – either here or on Twitter.


ICYMI The Fountain in the Forest is published by Faber and Faber, and now out in paperback, with Luke Bird’s striking, blue-liveried cover. Here’s the blurb:

When a brutally murdered man is found hanging in a Covent Garden theatre, Detective Sergeant Rex King becomes obsessed with the case. But as Rex explores the crime scene further, he finds himself confronting his own secret history instead. Who, more importantly, is Rex King?


Buy The Fountain in the Forest direct from publisher Faber and Faber 

The Fountain in the Forest was a Guardian ‘Book of the Day’ – read Sukhdev Sandhu’s review

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