He’s a rapist, murderer and adulterer. He’s a national hero. He’s a successful military leader. He’s bisexual. He’s an abused and neglected child. He loves his children but when it comes right down to it he’s a rotten father. He is cruel. Many women love him. He is an inordinately gifted musician.
That’s just a bit of the mixed picture of the Biblical King David you get when you read Geraldine Brooks’ novel The Secret Chord. Brooks tells the story in the voice of Nathan the prophet who is writing a book about King David and interviews some of the key people in David’s life in order to get material for his story.
Nathan is pretty much a David fan despite the fact David murdered Nathan’s father. The first time Nathan takes off the rose-colored glasses and sees the great king for who he truly is, happens when one of David’s wives, Bathsheba, tells Nathan her story and Nathan realizes King David raped Bathsheba. Rapist is not a word we usually associate with King David but interestingly there was an article in the latest issue of Christianity Today called David was a Rapist.
Some readers of The Secret Chord say it is hard to follow the book’s plot if you aren’t familiar with the Biblical story of David. I found it hard to read this book precisely because I did know the story of David so well, at least the sanitized version I learned in Sunday School. That’s not the David you’ll find in the pages of Geraldine Brooks’ book. If you want to hang onto your idealized image of the giant-slaying, harp- playing shepherd boy and great monarch, it would be best not to read The Secret Chord.
And yes Brooks is alluding to Leonard Cohen’s song Hallelujah in her title.