With her first book, As Meat Loves Salt
, Maria McCann joins a small, esteemed company of writers--Umberto Eco and Gore Vidal among them--whose historical novels are meticulously researched, politically acute, and rattling good reads. Set in the 17th century, during the English civil war, As Meat Loves Salt
follows the misadventures of Jacob, born a gentleman but raised a servant, whose overdeveloped sense of personal dignity leads him from one crisis to another. When the book opens, he is already a murderer. Within a hundred pages he becomes a rapist and a thief. All this is perfect training for a military career, and Jacob soon finds himself in Cromwell's New Model army and in thrall to a charismatic man named Ferris. "It was all pre-ordained," says Jacob later, when the men have deserted together, "there had never been a place where I could have leapt free of the net." Rich with period detail, multilayered, and erotic, this is a big, delicious novel with a hint of crunchy intellection. Expect a lost weekend. --Regina Marler
From Publishers Weekly
The 17th-century English revolution serves as backdrop to this brilliant, ambitious epic, the story of a compelling antihero who struggles against his own violent tendencies to little avail. Jacob Cullen, the well-intentioned but volatile narrator, is forced to flee his wedding ceremony with bride Caro and brother Zebedee when he learns that he is about to be accused of a murder he rashly committed, perhaps in self-defense. Shocked by Jacob's brutality, Caro takes off with Zeb, and the bereft Jacob is forced to become a soldier in Cromwell's army after being rescued by a soldier named Christopher Ferris. When Christopher deserts, he brings Jacob with him, giving him shelter in his family home in London. Their friendship, already charged, slips gradually into clandestine romance, and the two become passionate lovers. The trajectory of their relationship shapes the second half of the novel, as does a utopian project undertaken by Christopher with Jacob's help. Disillusioned with society, Christopher attempts to cobble together a tiny, independent farming colony, an effort that brings out the bully in Jacob and strains their relationship as the authorities move in to break up the group. Jacob, meanwhile, edges closer to learning the fate of Caro and Zebedee. The first half of McCann's narrative is rather slow moving, but she does a superb job of mustering historical detail and atmosphere in the service of a stunning character portrait of the troubled but charismatic Jacob. The scope of the narrative, the unusual conceit and the resonant writing combine to make this a powerful, unusual debut.
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