The Secret Chord

secretchordThe Secret Chord
by Geraldine Brooks
2015 / 320 pages
read by Paul Boemer  13h 8m
rating  7.5  / literary historical fiction
(both read and listened)

I tried to listen to this book twice and got so confused I just finally put it down – gave up and actually returned it for the credit.   But I really wanted to read it!  So when a group selected it I got the Kindle version and I’m both reading and listening (much more reading) – this is better.

The problem is that the basic material story is complex enough for us folks who are not Bible scholars,   Brooks definitely did some intense research.  But there are too many strangely named characters and  their relationships and various motives adds another dimension.  I suppose this was to increase a sense of unfamiliarity in folks who know the story from the Bible – this would enable Brooks to add both fictional and less familiar elements perhaps from Jewish sources, more readily.

The structure increases the difficulty in that the first half has several first-person points of view in order to tell the backstory.  This is done via a single frame, Natan the Prophet’s,  with several interiors.  This ends at Chapter 12, a bit more than half way.

The language is heavy and dense making accessibility difficult.  I think Brooks was trying to sound authoritative in response to the idea of a Bible story, perhaps.

Finally, the intense dramatization of the reader in the audio version overshadows everything.  His reading extends the length of the book from 5 hours 21 minutes per the Kindle information,  to 13 hours 7 minutes.  lol –  “performing” is a better word for what Boemer does –

The plot,  the story of King David in love and war, is almost lost in Brooks’ determination to be literary while maintaining  historical accuracy and bringing David and company “to life.”   I think it’s a very ambitious novel but it’s flawed almost to the point of failure.   Still – it did get quite good in places after Chapter 12. –  excellent site for photos of art works associated with David’s life – – narrative of David’s life according to Catholics –

I  was determined to get through it.  The printed  narrative  (Kindle) seems to me to be much more accessible – this is odd for me.   And I was rewarded at a bit past half way – Chapter 12,  63% on Kindle.

This is King David of the Goliath story all grown up, in exile from his own people, battling to return for the title of king of Israel,  best friends (homo-socio relationship?)  with Jonathan, taking wives and the spoils of war,  etc.   So yes,  a lot of the story concerns killing and strategy and more battles and wars – a lot of angst.    You can’t ignore it or skim it because that’s a full half of the whole plot. The other half is who gets pregnant by whom.  It’s a war story as told by a woman who emphasizes sympathetic psychological portraits far more than the physical activity of war although there is plenty of that and its gory and the sex scenes are pretty straightforward.

The primary 1st person narrator is Natan, David’s “seer,” or prophet – his connection to God.  At the outset,  one of Natan’s jobs is to get information from David’s people, wives and families,  and there are several long 1st person tales.  The characters listed in the front section do not include Jonathan or his sister Merav and others.  That was confusing when I wanted to recall who they were.   Natan is not just a court employee,  he’s in attendance for a lot of the action too,  involved in a couple battles,  thinking about strategies and telling prophesies.  Some of these prophesies take the reader into the future.

So then Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, one of his most valuable soldiers turns up pregnant and guess who the father is –  The story kind of falls into place here for me – I remember vaguely learning some of this in my childhood Lutheran Sunday School – no specifics of course.

This is all back-story and it takes up to 63%  (page 187 and Chapter 12) before the story catches up to what’s happening in the opening chapter.  This is not necessarily a criticism,  lots of novels don’t catch up to their opening until the last couple chapters – the story is how did this come about.

Then it kind of gets going with the entry of Bathsheba and Schlomo (Solomon) and Nathan, son of David.   (even unto the next generation)

It seems these early Israelites tried to exterminate more than a few of their enemies.  Sea Peoples, the Plishtim (Philistines?) , were interesting -I’ve read about them before – often as Philistines but a couple times as Sea Peoples.    The  Amalekites are another tribe which was exterminated.