“1000 BC. The Second Iron Age. The time of King David.
Anointed as the chosen one when just a young shepherd boy, David will rise to be king, grasping the throne and establishing his empire. But his journey is a tumultuous one and the consequences of his choices will resound for generations. In a life that arcs from obscurity to fame, he is by turns hero and traitor, glamorous young tyrant and beloved king, murderous despot and remorseful, diminished patriarch. His wives love and fear him, his sons will betray him. It falls to Natan, the courtier and prophet who both counsels and castigates David, to tell the truth about the path he must take.
With stunning originality, acclaimed author Geraldine Brooks offers us a compelling portrait of a morally complex hero from this strange age – part legend, part history. Full of drama and richly drawn detail, THE SECRET CHORD is a vivid story of faith, family, desire and power that brings David magnificently alive.” (Hachette.com.au)
I was prepared for this to be a chore to read. It’s one of a few books recently that I’ve not been overly enthusiastic about reading and it’s looking though I need to keep that attitude going as each time I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the book and The Secret Chord is no exception.
If you’ve read any of Geraldine Brooks’ earlier novels, such as The People of the Book and Year of Wonders, you will know that she has the uncanny ability to completely transform herself into her narrator, whether it be an Australian book conservator, a housemaid living in England during the plague, or, in the case of The Secret Chord, the prophet of King David.
Following the life of David from its very beginnings, Brooks creates a vivid portrait of a man who was brutal towards his enemies, indulgent of his children, and—for the most part—a loving husband to his wives. The prophet, Natan, is essentially David’s right hand man throughout the course of the novel. It’s through him that we see David as a warrior, bandit, king, father, husband, and lover. But Natan himself is an interesting character, often torn between the action he wants to take and the action that he must take for his visions of David’s greatness to come true.
Despite there being little physical evidence that he existed—though Brooks herself says in the afterword that she agrees with others who have “concluded that David must have actually existed, for no people would invent such a flawed figure for a national hero”—the David we are given in the pages of The Secret Chord is completely believable as a historical figure. I think the main reason for this is that although he is a king and a hero to many people, he is also portrayed as an incredibly flawed human being. He is at times vain, cruel, dishonest, a terrible father and husband, and often blinded by pride. But in the same body are all the opposites of the aforementioned – he is a complex character and therefore relatable.
As mentioned earlier I wasn’t excited to read this, mostly because the blurb didn’t really thrill me that much, and if I’m honest I don’t have a whole lot of interest in stories from biblical times, but The Secret Chord exceeded all of my expectations. Considering how little is known about David, Brooks has done a remarkable job of bringing David and his time to life. My only issue is that some parts of the story, specifically those involving people filling in the details of David’s life before Natan arrived, felt a little bit out of place in comparison to the narrative that was pure Natan. Aside from that, I really enjoyed reading The Secret Chord and I even feel myself encouraged to look at more books set in biblical times.