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May 2011 Book of the Month: As Meat Loves Salt

A monthly discussion on varying themes guided by our members. (Book of the Month discussions through December 2011 can be found in this section too.)
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sweetpotatoboy
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Post by sweetpotatoboy » Mon May 9th, 2011, 1:19 pm

[quote=""Vanessa""]I enjoyed the beginning and then it got a bit bogged down in the Civil War, but it's now picking up. [/quote]

That was my reaction (a few months ago). Loved the opening parts. The actual Civil War bits in the New Model Army were actually the least engaging for me. When they come back to London and the plot narrows to the very personal level, that was the mind-blowing part of the book for me and it feels like all that precedes is just the set-up that gets us to that bit.

[quote=""Vanessa""]It could be one of those memorable sort of books where you think back on it later and decide that you actually rather enjoyed it.[/quote]

That's it. Even months later, it comes back to me a lot. And seeing all these comments about it now, I'm reliving the experience. Not an easy read; not an easy plot; not particularly sympathetic characters - but nothing any less human and disturbing for all that.

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Vanessa
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Post by Vanessa » Mon May 9th, 2011, 2:08 pm

No, Jacob isn't a very likeable man. He seems to cause trouble wherever he goes!
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annis
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Post by annis » Mon May 9th, 2011, 11:16 pm

Posted by Ludmilla

Spoiler alert
Yes, the ending is very disturbing. I didn't interpret Jacob in that scene as taking voluptuous pleasure, though. Jacob did plan on having his vengeance and abandoning Ferris and the community to the landowner's thugs, but he did not plan on being there to witness it.
It's certainly possible to interpret Jacob's response in different ways. I did feel that he shared a sense of complicit recognition with the other watcher which had a sort of voluptuous pleasure in it. I think that Ferris' presumed death gave Jacob a sense of release, not necessarily in a sexual sense, but perhaps of freedom from his own obsession or vengeance fulfilled.

Was anyone else struck by the misogynistic treatment of women in this novel, particularly at the hands of the Roundheads? Does this stem from repressive religion which sees women as a temptation ,and therefore a threat? I hadn't before come across the story of the murder and mutilation of the Royalist women camp-followers after the Battle of Naseby, and interestingly, I've found it gets a very brief mention (if any) in military histories. The murder of the Welshwomen I can maybe understand, especially given the dread of Irish Catholics for which the Roundhead soldiers mistook them as being, but what hatred for women in general there must have been to deliberately destroy the faces of the others in that way.
Last edited by annis on Tue May 10th, 2011, 7:46 pm, edited 8 times in total.

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Margaret
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Post by Margaret » Tue May 10th, 2011, 8:44 am

So do you think Ferris really loved Jacob? Or was Jacob as replacable as Nathan or even Joanna? Ferris's relationship with Jacob reminded me a little of Frankenstein with his monster. He may not have created him, but he bore a certain responsibility for him. No matter how much Jacob tried for normalcy and love, he was never going to be able to deny the beast when circumstances pushed him beyond the brink. I did wonder who was more the serpent in the relationship -- Ferris or Jacob? This is definitely a story that leaves you wondering who is the ultimate betrayer.
I think Ferris suffered from boundary issues. In other words, he felt a compulsive need to take care of other people to the point of finding it excruciatingly difficult to say no when they wanted his care and love, even when they could not return his feelings in a normal, acceptable way. In modern therapeutic language, Jacob violated Ferris's personal boundaries by insisting on a relationship with him that could never be healthy because of Jacob's inability to reciprocate by giving the kind of love he demanded from Ferris. Perhaps one of the reasons I found this novel so compelling is that I have been too much like Ferris myself through most of my life. People with the type of boundary problem Ferris has tend to attract people with the type of boundary problem Jacob has.

On the one hand, Ferris's willingness to engage with Jacob, treat him as a human being, and be direct and honest with Jacob about how Jacob's violence affected him probably helped Jacob to grow a little bit. On the other hand, Jacob simply was not capable of growing enough to ever remotely be a satisfying lover for Ferris, so Ferris is misleading Jacob simply by accepting him as a lover.

It rings true to me that someone with a utopian dream like the leaders of the Diggers movement had would also be unrealistic in his personal relationships in the way Ferris was. The Diggers could never have succeeded, because they simply closed their eyes to the degree of rage their behavior was guaranteed to induce in the people who benefited from the status quo.

Perhaps one of the things McCann was saying in this novel is that both Cromwell's army and the aristocrats they were trying to displace functioned in a sociological way very much as Jacob functioned on a personal level. They wanted what they wanted, and if someone was standing in their way, their instinctive response was to use violence to induce people to give it to them, even when the violence was totally unproductive, destroying the very thing they coveted. The Diggers were like Ferris in their blind innocence, which assumed they could induce social change without recognizing the level of violence endemic to the system they were trying to change and protecting themselves from it.
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Madeleine
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Post by Madeleine » Tue May 10th, 2011, 10:15 am

[quote=""annis""]Posted by Ludmilla

Spoiler alert



Was anyone else struck by the misogynistic treatment of women in this novel, particularly at the hands of the Roundheads? Does this stem from repressive religion which sees women as a temptation.[/quote]

I haven't got to this point in the book yet - only read about 30 pages - but sadly this type of treatment of women seems to have always happened, even today you still of women being raped during times of conflict, all over the world: I think the men do it because they can? I wonder if any of our male contributors have any thoughts on this.
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Ludmilla
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Post by Ludmilla » Tue May 10th, 2011, 1:17 pm

[quote=""Margaret""]I think Ferris suffered from boundary issues. In other words, he felt a compulsive need to take care of other people to the point of finding it excruciatingly difficult to say no when they wanted his care and love, even when they could not return his feelings in a normal, acceptable way.[/quote]

I can see that, but I think it went deeper than that. That old saying, hell is paved with good intentions, could really apply to Ferris. I think Ferris is one of those people with a savior complex (and doesn't seem to be motivated by religion or even ego). He's attracted by the fallen, the downtrodden, and the social outcasts further complicated by the fact that he's a man leading a double life as evidenced by his sexual orientation. How long has he known about his sexual desires for other men? We don't know this, because Jacob doesn't and Jacob's view of everyone is distorted by his own emotional limitations and paranoia.

I agree about Jacob's growth while he was with Ferris in London. He begins to see outside himself just enough to at least want to repress his impulses and understand, but while Ferris understands Jacob's proclivity for impulsive, reactionary violence, he doesn't realize the extent of Jacob's derangement nor what a powder keg he has set off by inviting Jacob into a committed relationship. After a time, I did find myself actively distrusting Ferris and questioning his motives (which I realize still does not justify Jacob's actions toward Ferris or his retaliation in the end). I think it was part of his double life that Ferris was good at rationalizing his choices and not above playing his own little games in spite of having the more morally grounded center.

One reviewer described Jacob's mentality as moral autism which I thought was the most fitting description I could find to describe his nature.

I guess another example of Ferris's inability to say no would be in his behavior toward the doctor (was his name Blott?). No one liked him or felt comfortable with being treated by him, but Ferris didn't have the courage to turn him away, which partly contributed to their disaster when they forced him out of the community. It wasn't long after that the landowner was stirred up by their presence, which I assumed was the doctor's revenge.

Re the misogynistic treatment of women in the novel... The combined force of religious zeal with the ecstasy of bloodlust during war is deadly. It did seem to be a more extreme form of puritan persecution of the fallen woman, a more lasting symbol than a scarlet letter or shaved head.

I did wonder if Jacob's mother was a fallen woman. There was a hint that one of the brothers was a bastard (I assume Izzy). Was their father deceived into marriage by her or did he do it to save her reputation? Given the description of his dissolute behavior, gambling away their fortune and leaving them indebted, it was hard for me to get a true picture of their father and his formative influence on his children. Regardless, I think part of the tragedy of this story is that Jacob's nature from birth more than likely had more influence over him than nurtue. Even in the best of circumstances, Jacob's dark angel was lurking.
Last edited by Ludmilla on Tue May 10th, 2011, 2:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.

annis
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Post by annis » Tue May 10th, 2011, 7:41 pm

Jacob's mother comes across as particularly ineffectual and deferent to men, whose opinion she always puts ahead of her own. Is this a conditioned cultural response or as Ludmilla suggests, her own sense that she has been devalued as a person by past impropriety?

Jacob's improvement in London seems to me to be a direct response to the attention paid him by Ferris' aunt. She manages to get through to him in a way that others fail to do.

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Madeleine
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Post by Madeleine » Wed May 11th, 2011, 8:46 am

Only 40 pages in and Jacob seems to be some kind of control freak, to put it crudely! Or maybe it was the fear of being discovered ie the pamphlets, which made him that way.
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Vanessa
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Post by Vanessa » Thu May 12th, 2011, 9:44 pm

I've finally finished this book now - it's quite a slow read! I enjoyed the first part, although I did have to re-read to make sure I was reading it correctly - that Jacob had killed the boy in the pond. So I found him quite scary to start with. Then when Jacob joined the New Model Army, I lost interest a little. However, when Jacob and Ferris travelled to London, the story started to become more interesting. The idea of them getting a band together to build a colony was fascinating. It was almost like one of these obscure religious sects.

I agree that Jacob had an obsessive personality and he had a bit of a temper! He seemed to lose the plot if he didn't get his own way. He was as mad as a March hare! Not a likeable character. But, I wasn't too keen on Ferris, either. He seemed quite weak and fickle to me. Any port in a storm! I think Ferris had second thoughts about Jacob before the attack and as the idea of the colony progressed. I think he decided he didn't need him any more.

No, I don't think Jacob took pleasure in seeing Ferris being beaten up by the landowners at the end as, as someone points out, the attack came a day early and he thought he'd be on his way to London by then. He was still crying when he boarded the ship for New England. Jacob could certainly hold a grudge, though! You wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of him. However, I think he did things on the spur of the moment without any thought to the future. He was irrational.

I couldn't quite get my head round Caro/Jane either. There were quite a few loose ends, weren't there? I think I'll be thinking about this book for a while.
Last edited by Vanessa on Thu May 12th, 2011, 9:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Ash
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Post by Ash » Fri May 13th, 2011, 12:40 am

[quote=""Madeleine""]even today you still of women being raped during times of conflict, all over the world: I think the men do it because they can? I wonder if any of our male contributors have any thoughts on this.[/quote]

Im not sure its because men can; many could and chose not to. The violence of rape is much less about sex than it is about having power over another human being.

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