As Meat Loves Salt Hardcover – 19 Feb 2001
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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.'
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Top Customer Reviews
Everything about this story hit my buttons. The raw passion between Jacob and Ferris - at times beautiful, at times whincingly disturbing - left me breathless. It ranks right up there with the intensity of literature's famous love-hate relationship, that between Wuthering Heights' Heathcliff and Cathy.
There were times when I could almost smell the putridness of the battlefield, the fragrance of splendidly cooked game in Ferris' Cheapside home and the filth of the sweaty, unwashed colonists as they vainly toiled away for their New Jerusalem. Also a delight was McCann's attention to the everyday detail of the characters lives. It is a book that certainly reads as if the author has done her homework and is a truly rich evocation of a superstitious, socially repressive and violent England.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Hurry up and read it!
Sound terrible? Well, it was, but in the best kind of way. I suffered through everything with Jacob Cullen, Maria McCann's fascinating narrator. Jacob is somewhat schizophrenic and completely obsessed with violence, but like most people he has his own (flawed) reasons for what he does. He doesn't hate himself, so in seeing everything from his perspective it becomes difficult to hate him for his actions. One also becomes aware of every possibility he has to improve himself and his life. Christopher Ferris, Jacob's lover, is the kind of person and man or woman could (and does) fall for, passionately. This makes it all the more horrifying to be trapped in Jacob's mind as he watches everything good in his life come to ruin. The ending, as gut-wrenching as it is, seems inevitable given that it's brought on by Jacob and Ferris both being true to who they are. There's no escape.
So much could have gone wrong in the craft of this book. Not only is there the difficulty of narrating from Jacob's point of view (the mystery that is Jacob is dribbled out in the smallest hints, dreams or passing thoughts, never given out too quickly), but also the story stretches from a manor house to London to the common fields, and it's all covered in compelling detail. The language, too, never falters in successfully blending 17th-century and modern. The underlying motif of hellfire/desire could come across as overused, but in the circumstances it's the right metaphor.Read more ›
That the author did her homework on the period in history is obvious. It is helpful to keep one of those electronic dictionaries handy to look up unfamiliar (to Americans) words like "lief", "syllabub", "hustling".
Count me in as a fan of the unlikeable Jacob Cullens and an admirer of the first-time author, Maria McCann. She has written a masterpiece.
Excuse me as I go for second helpings of As Meat Loves Salt.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
While we worry about the advance of ISIL DAESH, we do well to remember that England used to be in the grip of religious people who killed in the name of their god. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Mr. D. P. Jay
Having just finished reading the author’s third novel I thought I’d just add another top review for one of my all-time favourite novels. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Greta
A difficult novel in some ways, not a comfortable read. this shouts honesty and insight. wonderful conjuring up of the period and complicated, real characters. Read morePublished 4 months ago by M. Julian
The story started off with many interesting twists, and I quite appreciated the Civil war aspects, which I didn't expect to. Read morePublished 8 months ago by moobox
I've always been interested in the English Civil War, but have not read fiction set in the period. Having read few enough reviews not to spoil anything, I was also convinced there... Read morePublished 12 months ago by leemid
This is undoubtedly a brilliant book but it's very emotionally challenging and truly harrowing in places, I had to take regular breaks when reading because at times the story took... Read morePublished 20 months ago by Ms. A. J. Fielding
I read this novel several yers ago and its power has stayed with me. In her eloquent prose the author makes you feel you are at the side of the characters, seeing, smelling and... Read morePublished 23 months ago by David Morley
I find it incredible that this is Maria McCann's first novel. To choose to write about such a difficult and dangerous man,[imagine Heathcliffe], in the first person shows great... Read morePublished on 16 Aug. 2014 by Gillyvote