Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks

While I enjoy historical fiction, I prefer reading about time periods I know at least something about so reading doesn't turn into information overload, but I know next to nothing about King David, apart from the fact that he defeated Goliath. THE SECRET CHORD is a book about the life of King David, from valorous beginning to tragic end, told by Nathan the Prophet. I'm going to be honest with you here - if my book club hadn't chosen this as the pick of the month, I never would have bothered to finish THE SECRET CHORD. But hey, try new things, right? Maybe it'll work out.

Spoiler alert: it didn't work out. I really had to force myself to stick with this one, and ended up skimming pages towards the end because I just no longer cared about the story. If this hadn't been for book club, I wouldn't have finished - it would have been chucked into the donation bin and deleted from my GR shelves.

But alas. Fate had conspired to burden us with the other's enduring presence.

I put off writing this review because I wanted to think about why THE SECRET CHORD didn't work for me. It's a slow book. The beginning takes a while to gather steam, and the book doesn't reach momentum until about twenty or thirty pages in, only to fall flat at several points in the narrative. Part of the reason was Nathan. I don't really like stories where the "hero" or "heroine" is actually the passive mouthpiece for the voices of others. After a while, that just makes me feel like I'm being talked at. I understand that he is a prophet and a huge part of his life is making these important prophecies that will dictate the lives of others, but oh my gee, it was so boring to read about.

Ironically (considering what I just said in the previous paragraph about mouthpieces), one of the more interesting parts in the book is when Nathan is sent by King David to hear stories about him from lovers, family members and enemies. Why? Because it was interesting to see that darker side to King David. I glanced through the Wiki article before reading this, and King David was a pretty gnarly dude - he was bisexual, committed adultery, slaughtered his enemies, and killed people when it was convenient. Brooks doesn't skimp on the detail, either. Which surprised me and at the same time, didn't, because her other book - YEAR OF WONDERS - is about the plague, and I remember being really grossed out by some of the details in there, too, even though it was a much better story.

THE SECRET CHORD was not badly written, but it wasn't a good story either - at least not for me. The passivity of the hero combined with a very dull storytelling made this book feel ten times longer than it should have been. It's a shame, because the subject matter is quite fascinating and has all the makings of a sensationalist bodice ripper trussed in the garbs of literature - but it would appear that lack of entertainment value is a requisite for literary merit. Boo. Hiss.

P.S. What do you guys do when you dislike your book club's pick? Inquiring minds want to know. ;)

1 out of 5 stars.

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