Book Review: The Secret Chord

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Sorry guys, it really pains me to say this, but The Secret Chord was not the novel I was anticipating and so hoping I would be revelling in just as I did for The People of the Book (rave review for that one here.)

Perhaps, maybe just maybe, had I listened to this one in audio I may have liked it a little more. But I’m not quite so sure about that to be honest. While I was reading, and even up to the brief mention of one of the biggest stories where David is most known – his winning battle against the mighty giant Goliath – I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I really didn’t have strong feelings for David, or for his history and the story being told about him. There was a serious disconnection and I conveyed my feelings to fellow Hoarder Elizabeth that, you know what? I don’t think I care enough about David’s story to continue reaching for this one. And yet, I think much of those feelings stem with how the book was written.

The reason for saying I might have enjoyed it more in audio is because,  as Brooks explains at the start of the book, is that she is using the “personal and place-names in their transliteration from the Hebrew of the Tanakh: Shaul, Shmuel and Shlomo, for example, rather than the perhaps more familiar Saul, Samuel and Solomon.” (A Note on Names)

Well, Ms. Brooks, I don’t know if you realized just how difficult it would be for us as readers to read those names in their transliteration. I know it was a serious struggle for me, every time I read any part of the book. I kept trying to say the names in my head as Saul or Samuel but ended up reading it as shoool or schmooo instead. It was distracting and annoying all at once. It’s not just for Saul and Samuel either, every single name (and there are a great many in here) is spelled in their transliteration from the Hebrew. Whew, that was posing a serious challenge in reading. I do not know how the audio narrator would have handled it, but I’m assuming it may have been read using the Saul and Solomon versions and therefore making it easier for the reader to understand and follow along. Otherwise, too much time and energy was being spent on attempting to translate or say the names correctly in your head and didn’t allow you to focus on the story and settle into it properly.

However, it was not only the name thing that was leaving me dissatisfied with the story. There are a number of battle scenes as well, and they are very graphic. For me these parts (many of them) read in a very “masculine” manner. I don’t know if I’m conveying it appropriately outside of outright saying The Secret Chord reads like a “boy book”. These detailed battle scenes with “entrails unfurling” and daggers being thrust deeply as to listen to the wetness of the blood being as “intimate as rape”, just were not the kind of scenes I cared to read through.

The longer I read, the more distant from the story I became, so I decided to cut it short. So unfortunate, however, this will never stop me from reading Geraldine Brooks in the future – either her books already published that I have yet to read, as well as the ones yet to be published. There is an incredible amount of research and time invested into this novel, that you can be assured of, that’s classic Brooks style, so it is rather difficult to say my overall impression of The Secret Chord is one of dissatisfaction.

Thank you to Viking for sending the Literary Hoarders a hardcopy of The Secret Chord, it is, as always, greatly appreciated.

Literary Hoarders Penny rev