Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Reimagining King David: The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks

Here is a man who is both great and flawed, just like those tragic heroes Oedipus and King Lear. Meredith Jaffe, The Guardian

When I read Geraldine Brooks' Year of Wonders:A Novel of the Plague   it changed my mind about historical fiction. I read every one of her novels as they came out: March which won the Pulitzer Prize, The People of the Book, and Caleb's Crossing. I was thrilled to get an ARC through NetGalley of her new book The Secret Chord.

The Secret Chord is a novelization about the life of King David, informed by the Bible and re-imagined from a 21st century understanding. It is narrated by the prophet Natan (Nathan) who channels the Name (Yahweh).

The book begins in the middle of David's life. Natan wants to write the story of David's life and David sends Natan to interview people from his past. With Natan we hear long pages of  David's back story, intermixed with his own memories. We learn about David through other's eyes.

The book skips through time before following a consistent chronology starting with David's rape of Batsheva and murder of her husband. The Name requires a fourfold atonement and King David suffers a series of  devastating losses. His son rapes and disfigures his half-sister, his favorite son Avshalom (Absolom )prepares an army to takeover kingship and is killed. Because of his warfare David is not allowed to build a tabernacle for the Ark of the Covenant, but Natan prophesies that David is to make his youngest son Slomo (Solomon) king, and he will build the temple and lead their people into peace.


The Old Testament, or New for that matter, is a record of faith (mythos, stories with meaning), not a scientific, verifiable history. I will warn that this a novel, story telling, a re-imagining for entertainment. Brooks has a great story to work with: there is jealousy, warfare and takeovers of cities; there is rape and lust and abandonment of women; there is fratricide and incest and every kind of dysfunctional family problem. Brooks makes Jonathan and David sexual lovers and allows the women to tell of the brutality men inflicted on them. The rape and disfigurement of Tamar and the rape of Batsheva are particularly disturbing, especially as we are aware women still are victims to this day. This isn't your Sunday School David. Even Brooks says the story is "very Game of Thrones."

I didn't enjoy reading this novel. The vividly described carnage of battle, the disjointed narrative, the layering of 21st century sensibilities (such as David's bisexuality), the raw sexual and emotional abuse of the women, left me struggling to continue reading it. Then, I am not a Game of Thrones fan.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

The Secret Chord
Geraldine Brooks
Viking
Publication October 6, 2015
$27.95 hard cover
ISBN: 9780670025770