The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks

Posted On 15 November 2015

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The Secret Chord is Geraldine Brooks latest story and brings to us a fresh look at King David.  I confess that I know very little of King David – apart from the very well know episode of David and Goliath of course – and this is a retelling of history and myth that is really intriguing to read told by an author who is an expert at delivering a well told tale.

The story begins with David, as an older man, sending Natan (his prophet) out to meet people from his life to record his story and so we begin with David’s mother and move on from there.  As I mentioned above this is a story that I really knew very little about although I believe David’s life is well documented and this is a retelling of those events.

This is a bit of a step away from my usual type of read as it contains no fantasy or sci fi elements but is a very creative reimagining of David’s life.  Told through the eyes of Nathan, David’s prophet, who became so at a young age, after he witnessed the massacre of his family at the hands of David and his men.  Being a prophet Nathan was greatly feared, some believed him to be a sham, others avoided him like the plague, his life revolved around David but apart from that he seems to have been the one man who could deliver the truth, even if nobody wanted to hear it.

I think Geraldine Brooks is a master of storytelling.   She could probably make a shopping list fascinating to read and so in that respect this is a compelling read.  Although, I will just mention at this point that this is in parts a violent book.  This is definitely an age of little or no remorse in the face of death, in fact reading this the one thing that really stood out was that life seemed incredibly cheap and to be honest David was not without taint in that respect.  There are scenes of battle, murder and rape and although these are not sensationalist they may be upsetting for some readers so bear that in mind.

What Brooks does here is show a side to David that is new.  He has a fairly sad start until he is anointed as the chosen one.  He is then greatly beloved for his heroics in battle until King Saul becomes jealous of him and he of necessity undertakes the life of a fugitive.  From there things move on – but I won’t document everything here.

The absolute winning element to this story is the writing.  I admit that as I started reading I did wonder if I would get on with this book and then before I knew it I was glued to the pages.  Of course, David had a fascinating life and the story unfolds here in a compelling manner, the scenery is set so well, and we see a side to David that is maybe not quite so endearing.  At the end of the day these were not easy times to live in with much warfare and bloodshed.

In terms of criticisms – well, I can’t really say that any of the characters were particularly endearing to read about.  Well, the main characters are clearly Natan and David and neither of them are easy to like in some respects.  Natan is very solitary and a bit abrasive.  David, well, he certainly doesn’t come across endearing here.  Okay, he has the ability to be likable and fair but to counterbalance that he also appears vain, difficult, a pretty dreadful husband and father and not always the best judge of his own actions.

I enjoyed The Secret Chord, maybe not as much as some as Brook’s other work but still thought it was a compelling and quite fascinating read.

I received a copy of this courtesy of the publishers through Netgalley for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

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6 Responses to “The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks”

  1. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    I too know very little about King David, but I also love historical retellings by authors who inject their own fictional elements into the story. I prefer a bit of fantasy element though, so I’m not sure how I would like this one. But, you’ve got me curious! And now I’m also wondering what you’ll make of The Shards of Heaven 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      I really do like Geraldine Brooks. She’s a great storyteller. This was really intriguing and I knew so little of the time. Totally brutal and ruthless and certainly not a good time in which to be born female!
      I’m loving The Shards of Heaven – about 80% in and can’t wait to see what happens next. Sleep or read????
      Lynn 😀

  2. jessicabookworm

    I am very intrigued about the idea of a retelling of King David’s life. I’m not so keen on the scenes of murder and rape but then again it wouldn’t be very realistic without them. It was a really horrible time to live!

    • @lynnsbooks

      I had to mention that to be honest because, although this isn’t gratuitously written there are scenes that I think some people would probably be a bit uncomfortable with. That being said it’s a small part of the journey and it’s a totally fascinating read. Don’t think I would have liked to be a female living in that age.
      Lynn 😀

  3. Out of the comfort zone… | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks.  Peeling away the myth to bring the Old Testament’s King David to life in Second Iron Age Israel, Brooks traces the arc of his journey from obscurity to fame, from shepherd to soldier, from hero to traitor, from beloved king to murderous despot and into his remorseful and diminished dotage. The Secret Chord provides new context for some of the best-known episodes of David’s life while also focusing on others, even more remarkable and emotionally intense, that have been neglected.  We see David through the eyes of those who love him or fear him—from the prophet Natan, voice of his conscience, to his wives Mikhal, Avigail, and Batsheva, and finally to Solomon, the late-born son who redeems his Lear-like old age. Brooks has an uncanny ability to hear and transform characters from history, and this beautifully written, unvarnished saga of faith, desire, family, ambition, betrayal, and power will enthrall her many fans. […]

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