The Secret Chord

Geraldine Brooks

The Secret Chord
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The Secret Chord

Geraldine Brooks

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.


Geraldine Brooks would have to be one of my all time favourite authors. I’ve read all four of her previous novels and thoroughly enjoyed each of them. When I started reading her latest novel, The Secret Chord, however, I had an awful feeling it wasn’t going to live up to my very high expectations.

The Secret Chord is set in 1000 BC, the Second Iron Age. Brooks reimagines the story of King David, something she says she was able to piece together by rummaging through several books of the bible. The tale is recited by the prophet Natan, sometimes through prophecy, sometimes through his own eyewitness account and sometimes through his conversation with other characters. We learn of David’s childhood, a boy unloved by his father and taunted by his older brothers. We learn of his rise from a humble shepherd boy to heir to a kingdom. We follow him on his rise to power as he establishes an empire and a dynasty. We see him in his old age, as his sons run riot and vie for their own power. Finally, we see David name his youngest son, Shlomo (Soloman) heir.

I initially found reading The Secret Chord heavy going. I’m not well versed in the stories of the bible and have a scant knowledge of ancient history. Once I got a handle on the characters though and the story moved from battle scenes to family and political intrigue, I enjoyed the story much more. It’s bloody and violent and I was often shocked by some of the actions of David and his sons, with one particular scene making me feel physically ill. However, Brooks’ writing is so wonderful, I can fortunately end this review by saying she has produced yet another literary gem.

Sharon Peterson is a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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