Saturday, December 12, 2015

But You Don't Really Care For Music, Do You? Geraldine Brook's "A Secret Chord"

The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks.

Published 2015 by Viking
302 pages, historical fiction

I received a copy of this from the publisher through a Goodreads giveaway.

Let me start by clarifying that the 2 star rating is entirely subjective--it didn't work FOR ME. I do not take issue with anyone who rates it higher.

This book took me quite awhile to finish, which indicates that the plot was less than gripping.  I usually read books in 1-3 sittings, depending on my schedule, but I picked up this one a dozen times over several weeks.  Let me try to tease apart why I was so uninterested.

1.  The story has already been written.  At its heart, this is a biography.  Sure, Brooks has to imagine personalities and conversations, but the broad outline of her story is that of a life that has already happened and been documented.  There will be no surprises; Absalom will not have a last minute change of heart, Bathsheba will not refuse her king, Solomon will not die as a teenager.

2.  I will now contradict myself and say that my unfamiliarity with the Bible story frustrated me.  When I'm reading fleshed-out history, or really, any retelling, I enjoy recognizing the details that come from the source.  I know nothing about the era between David & Goliath and David the Psalmist King, and I was frustrated by the fact that much of her carefully researched story did not resonate for me.

3.  Speaking of research, I kept getting distracted by ALL.  THE.  DETAIL.  Exactly what was being eaten.  Architecture.  The northern accent of character x.  Really?  If you tell me that a character in today's world has a specific accent, I can work out the implication about that character, and possibly get a feel for how they sound. Describe someone's home, and I know not only their economic status, but something of their personality. I do not have that information for the era this book is set in.

4.  Battles.  Battles are boring.  This is also my biggest complaint about Game of Thrones.

5.  All the visions.  I'm not sure how to take Nathan.  His visions are real, and the God who sends them is definitely that scary, Old Testament guy.  I don't buy it.  My 21st century mind could handle the idea that  these people believed in visions and prophecies, but it can't accept that they actually happened.  The visions are not especially useful, for the most part, and the ones that are lead to a bunch of slaughtering.

Admittedly, I'm pretty much agnostic at this point, but the God I sort of sometimes believe in doesn't glory in war.

6.  Saving the most petty for last: the title of this book meant that every single time I saw it sitting in my living room, every time I picked it up, every time I set it down, my mind was forced to sing the first verse of the Leonard Cohen song.  It's a great song, but there are only so many repetitions any song can take before becoming maddening.

2 stars.  Brooks is an excellent writer, but this book fell flat for me.

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