The Secret Chord is an exploration of the life of King David from the bible. This book will certainly offend and challenge many Christian readers, but for me it has mostly made me think and ponder. It certainly portrays the harsh reality that the stories of the Bible are set within. Brooks wanted to remind us that David’s story is not “the sanitized story of Sunday schools and synagogues”. Perhaps she goes to far in ‘de-sanitizing’ this story, but who knows? The narrative in the Bible is certainly sparse on the details of all number of things.
One thing that I absolutely appreciate about this narrative is that the women have a voice. Natan (Nathan the prophet) interviews David’s mother and his wives and they present an entirely different side of David. I think it’s clear that in most historic accounts there is a distinct lack of female perspective. What if what the women of the Bible had to say was much more awful than we ever imagined? It is quite likely that Brooks has landed on a piece of truth here and it’s an interesting idea to consider.
If you’re someone who is not interested in Bible stories or feels like you don’t know enough about them to enjoy a genre like this, I think you’ll find this is still a great read. It might be worth reading some of the biblical account too if you want to figure out what parts are based on that. I’m sure someone will post a book vs bible at some point eventually though!
If you are approaching this novel from a vantage point where David is a holy figure to you then I urge you not to be put off by any of the assertions made in the text. Rather, consider the text in a historical, fictional and spiritual light. It’s a novel when it comes down to it and you can take or leave the ideas and perspectives it offers. I found it overall an enriching experience to have read and hope you will find that the case too.
The text is extremely well written and meticulously researched. Brooks approaches her writing from a historical perspective and cites David’s story as the first complete historical account of a man’s life, coming a little before Herodotus. She blends this with her own creative licence and creates an entirely plausible and engaging narrative using the known facts as a framework and then filling in detail that perhaps can be inferred by reading between the lines a bit. Some of it I want to object to, other parts I feel resonate with the character of David perfectly.
The novel is cleverly structured with a linear overarching story line that starts a bit before the infamous Bathsheba incident and ends not long before David’s death. However within this we are given accounts of David’s life from various perspectives, namely Natan. Natan has been tasked with writing a true account of the king’s life. He’s an interesting character in himself and different from what I imagined an Old Testament prophet to be like. I appreciate that about Brooks: she challenges readers to think beyond their assumptions about often familiar topics.
Natan sees himself as a mouthpiece for the Name (God) and it’s interesting to compare his relationship with God to that of David’s. David seems to have a more consistent connection with the spirit of God while Natan is seized by it on and off as needed for prophecies and visions.
I feel very lucky to have had the chance to read this as an advance book proof through netgalley. Geraldine Brooks is a fantastic writer and I would love more people to read The Secret Chord and discuss it with me! It comes out early October so add it to your goodreads to read list or pre-order online!