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on 4 June 2016
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.

It is a gripping portrait of England beset by war. It is also a moving portrait of a man on the brink of madness.

It is narrated by a brooding, intermittently violent young man named Jacob who does not know himself. In flight from a murder and a brief, disastrous marriage, he joins Cromwell's New Model Army, from which he and his new friend, Ferris, eventually go AWOL. It isn't until halfway through the novel that Jacob realizes, and we realize, that the tension between the two men is sexual, and they embark on a torrid affair. Yet in the 1640s, the mild, accepting term "gay" had yet to be coined; bookshops didn't have whole sections cheerfully devoted to "gay literature." Rather, homosexuality was a hanging offense. Jacob and Ferris' passionate, fractious relationship courts calamity.

In the seventeenth century, the English Revolution is under way. The nation, seething with religious and political discontent, has erupted into violence and terror. Jacob Cullen and his fellow soldiers dream of rebuilding their lives when the fighting is over. But the shattering events of war will overtake them.
A darkly erotic tale of passion and obsession,

The world of this “gay” novel is far removed from the comfortable modern one in which such books command their own section in bookshops. In Cromwellian England, homosexuality was a hanging offence, and the lovers' fierce, obsessive relations are whetted by risk. Aptly, each man struggles for dominance over the other, much as royalist and parliamentary forces struggle for England.

After reading Psalm 115, which had been cited by Cromwell in his address to the troops before the assault on Basing, Jacob reflects on its meaning, "We were to leave them like unto their idols, utterly unable to see, hear, smell, touch, walk," and then thinks, "I knew what it was to send a soul down into silence."

If Jacob is "The Bad Angel," Ferris personifies the good one, moderate and thoughtful, respectful of the feelings of others. Ferris hopes to teach Jacob the finer points of self-control and temperance, although Jacob is single-mindedly incapable of subtlety. Yet Ferris is himself seduced by Jacob's dark desire until they are engaged in a constant struggle for dominance. Part love story, part exploration of the darkness at the heart of a man's soul, this novel tackles the most difficult aspects of human nature, exposing the many sides of love/obsession. Engaged in a battle between Heaven and Hell, consumed by their endless erotic adventures, Jacob and Ferris' humanity is stripped to its bare bones and the author dares the reader to flinch.

Ferris, however, is an atheist. It’s interesting to note that this long ago there were people who used religious language to describe their secular hopes to build a new Jerusalem.

The title comes from a Jewish story: Many years ago in Poland, there lived a rabbi who had a wife and three daughters. One day, the rabbi asks his children a powerful question: "How much do you love me?" His older daughters profess their love in gold and diamonds, but his youngest daughter, Mireleh, declares she loves her father the way meat loves salt. For this remark, she is banished from her father's home.

Apparently, McCann was a schoolteacher when she wrote this novel, and used to get up at 5 a.m. every weekday to write a few more pages. As one reviewer said: 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.
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on 16 August 2015
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 would be more than enough man-on-man action to keep my interest if the plot wore thin. It's hard to be disappointed on either count.
Vicious scenes of war and bloodlust are described in just enough detail to make you grateful you are not there. Similarly, McCann finds it easy to expose her characters' feelings, whether it's the overbearing lust between the two main characters or the gentle sympathy of a minor character close to the final pages. Her writing, particularly in the 'will-they-won't-they' part of the story is painfully succinct. You'd have to have a heart of stone not to wish for a happy ending.
Other reviewers have found the physical relationship between two men too graphic; well, they've not read de Sade! Personally I thought there was enough detail in the sex scenes to get hot under the collar but not grossed out. No matter what your persuasion, everyone loves reading about the act of steamy lovemaking, but not cleaning up afterwards.
Far more worrying though was the extent to which I found myself identifying with Cullen, something I'd read in a lot of other reviews. I put down the book at last, ill at ease with the world and myself. Over the course of a little over five hundred pages I had not only had a damn good read, but also examined my own life and relationships to realise that there was perhaps more of Jacob Cullen in all of us than makes me feel comfortable. McCann's creation is the sort of character who wants to stay in your mind with you and never leave, in real life as in the book. He can only be got out by throwing yourself into another good yarn.
Shortly after, I felt inspired enough to write this review of the book which had preyed upon my mind. Having nothing to write with at hand I smiled, realising that I had been carrying my mobile phone on me all day. I had meant to charge it earlier but was so determined to finish this book I had forgotten everything else. The phone however did not respond to my touch. Like me, it was empty inside.
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on 27 May 2017
A really good novelist covering this era, deep thoughtful book, very well written. Practical consideration of 'The Diggers' and such movements not seen in many history books of the time. Strong characters and motivations, this author brings the seventeenth century into our age, or possibly reminds us that some things remain the same.
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on 24 February 2001
It's set in the English Civil War and narrated by Jacob, an immensely strong, short-tempered but oddly pitiable psychopath whose version of events is unreliable to say the least. In Cromwell's New Model Army, hiding from the law, Jacob meets a flawed but charismatic idealist, Ferris, who dreams of a new order of justice and equality. Despite or maybe because they're opposite and incompatible they fall passionately in love. But passion doesn't stop them constantly striving for mastery, Ferris via his skill with words, Jacob via his fists. They're doomed, basically.... Anyone who likes historical novels (the meaty kind not the pretty kind) would love this. So, I think, would most slash fans.
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on 8 October 2016
Book arrived within 3 days of purchase. Excellent.
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on 15 December 2016
heard the review on radio 4 and ordered it on that basis, it does not disapoint
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on 30 July 2015
Excellent.
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on 6 April 2001
An incredibly impressive first novel, 'As Meat Loves Salt' bodily transports the reader into another, and nastier, time. Full of gritty physical details, this is no historical romance but a deeply disturbing tale of different types of obsession. The author neatly manages to gain the reader's empathy for a character whose actions verge on psychotic. Recommended.
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on 26 February 2013
Seemed to go on a bit. I loved the Wilding but not this book, too dark when I wanted more history and intrigue I think.
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The premise of this book sounded very intriguing - set in England in the 1640s, in the midst of civil war, Jacob Cullen, son of a family fallen from better times, is a manservant to a local lord whose political leanings he disdains. Jacob and his fellow servants largely hope for the success of the Parliament forces in their struggle against the King and the Cavalier forces. But Jacob has made a very big mistake, and on his wedding day he flees with his new wife and younger brother. But Jacob's miseries are only just starting.

This book took a very long time to get started and get moving with the narrative; for the first fifty or so pages I wondered, often, just what on earth was going to happen and where the story was even going. And it's not helped by the fact that Jacob is really not a very likeable character at all. He is prudish, judgemental, arrogant, yet he hides a brutality which only starts to come out when he is forced to change his way of life.

Overall, I found this book somewhat frustrating. It does not really seem to have a journey that we are following; it just goes on with Jacob's life, but without any real clear purpose or resolution. The concentration required to read the book seemed to be heightened due to the fact that Jacob is just really not a likeable person; or even an unlikeable person about whom I wanted to know what happened to him. The story did not seem grounded in any historical reality I could recognise. I think maybe the book would have benefited from being a shorter, more succinct book with a clearer agenda in its narrative. It seemed all a bit clever for its own good. Okay, but definitely not great.
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