Saturday, October 10, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Netgalley. This did not influence my review.

I’ve long thought King David would make a marvelous protagonist for a historical novel. What a life! And when I heard that Geraldine Brooks had taken on the challenge, I couldn’t wait to read The Secret Chord. It’s newly released, and it is superb.

David’s life story is recounted by the prophet, Natan. Younger than David by several years, Natan came into David’s service while still a boy. He had his first vision when his father was killed by David and his band of rebels because he refused them provisions. Though it was odd under the circumstances to join the rebels, Natan saw no option. He was drawn to the young leader who would one day be king.

Natan is in a unique position. Rarely far from David’s side, he is able to describe in detail the various life stages of the man. And when David assigns him the task of chronicling his tale, Natan is able to visit with and interview important figures from his earlier days. As Natan is a prophet and David’s conscience, we are able to get an in depth look at the psychology of the king.

The story is fascinating. The rise from shepherd boy to King Saul’s (Shaul’s) favorite to shunned, hunted rebel, to king of Israel– and then that king’s downfall, is exciting and poignant. Brooks (through Natan’s eyes) does not sugarcoat the violent, brutal nature of David’s rise to prominence. He did what was necessary to forge a united kingdom. And he took what he wanted along the way, including many beautiful wives and concubines. His treatment of women is appalling in modern eyes, and it doesn’t help much to say: well, those were just the times. But Natan’s recognition of the injustices softens the impact. Just because David got away with it, doesn’t make it right. And, of course, David doesn’t get away with it. This very flawed man suffers very real consequences.

David is a biblical king, and the story does not shy away from his devotion or Natan’s. Though God’s presence is only distantly felt, there is no doubt He is present. The plot plays out according to a greater plan, and when David sins, his retribution is terrible. There is nothing he can do to atone.

Geraldine Brooks has received acclaim for her previous novels and her writing is gorgeous in this one as well. The Secret Chord is highly recommended.