Maria McCann enters the fray of 1640s England and Civil War with considerable gusto in this ambitious first novel. A coldly gruesome murder committed by her youthful narrator opens his account, and the bloody siege of his lover's Diggers colony ends it. Narrator Jacob Cullen, educated but now a servant, flees his royalist household, taking his bride of just an hour and his brother. In a second act of terrible brutality, he beats and rapes his wife. Becoming a pikeman in Cromwell's New Model Army, he befriends Christopher Ferris, an idealist disaffected by the Army and in search of a less tainted freedom. And so the two desert and head for London and the pleasures of Cheapside--and each other. Jacob becomes "a fornicator of unnatural appetite, in thrall to an Atheist... I was in love". But Ferris is intent on establishing a commune, a prospect Jacob reviles, yet to keep his lover he has no choice but to join the motley band.
McCann's writing is rich in detail and colour--the muck and mud of battlefields, London's crowded stench, and the colonists' back-breaking work on the land; she manoeuvres her large cast of characters adeptly, and her dialogue is nicely pithy. The flaw that blights the plot is a yawning gap of credibility: Jacob's acts of violence--the murder, the rape and much more--which occur almost out of the blue simply don't fit his persona. His motives are too thin; nor is he presented as an unbridled brute masquerading as sanity itself. So how are we to "read" him? Even Ferris's accusation--"A man's own evil is his devil and yours, Jacob, is mastery"--suggests too little and comes too late. Jacob's pivotal place in the narrative is discredited by the lack of psychic underpinning and this mars an otherwise robust debut. --Ruth Petrie
"Compelling.. the writing is flawless. Ms McCann captures the flavour of 17th century English, but never at the expense of comprehension; these pages flow like claret..Absorbing and historically meticulous, Ms McCann's AS MEAT LOVES SALT is a fat, juicy masterpiece" The Economist
‘This is an outstanding debut novel, a fresh and unusual achievement. Yes, this might be how such people thought and saw the world. As the title implies, it has all the dirt, stink, rasp and flavour of the time, as much as Simon Schama at his best. This is a brave attempt to break into a world few of us could imagine. It deserves to be a great success.’ Andrew Marr, Daily Telegraph
'Maria McCann conjures up 1640s England during the Civil War in earthy prose, making this novel a triumphant piece of historical evocation… McCann's unflinching descriptions of battle are matched by the power of her depiction of London in all its fetid splendour. And in the character of Jacob himself, a strong but selfish man weakened by a violent temper and haunted by guilty dreams, McCann shows the imaginative empathy that is the hallmark of a true novelist.' Katie Owen, Vogue
'A marvellous storyteller… A certain splendour in the writing makes this novel a tour de force of sensational scenes, an anatomy of violence and an elegy for lost kinship… Forbidden sensuality is searingly described by chiaroscuro candlelight. Rich in secrets and surprises, this novel has its own fierce poetry.'
'It's a true delight to encounter such a novel, vivid, well-written and, best of all, accessible. We are likely to hear a lot more of Maria McCann.'