Too many stories in Below the Salt

Below the Salt is a story within a story within a story—which is two stories too many even for an accomplished historical yarn-spinner like Thomas B. Costain.

The outside story is about a would-be novelist, John Foraday. Senator Richard O’Rawn, a man who jilted John’s grandmother years before, takes John on a jaunt to Ireland and England. John falls for the last of the O’Rawn family, a descendant of the Plantagenet kings. John also ghostwrites the Senator’s tale about an earlier Richard O’Rawn who was involved in the events that resulted in King John signing the Magna Charta and limiting his own powers.

Within that story is another story about an earlier Charta signed an earlier king and hidden by the O’Rawns for safekeeping.

Below the Salt gives a fascinating glimpse of medieval history, but as a novel, it’s a dud. Except for the historical figures, none of the novel’s characters is plausible.

The Senator says he wants his story to be a warning to modern Americans, but it’s never clear what the warning is.

As for the idea that the Senator is the reincarnation of a 12th century squire, well, even the Senator gives up on that before the book ends.

Below the Salt
By Thomas B. Costain
Doubleday, 1957
480 pages
#9 bestseller of 1957
My grade: C-
© 2007 Linda Gorton Aragoni