This is a book review I placed on Amazon (UK) and Goodreads for the historical novel “Michal’s Window (A Novel: King David’s First Wife)”, by author Rachelle Ayala. I got some good feedback for the review, including the comments “What a beautiful review… You’ve definitely summarized it very well :)” and “This is one of the best reviews I’ve read”. I enjoyed both reading the book and writing the review!
The Amazon.co.uk Kindle book link is http://www.amazon.co.uk/Michals-Window-Novel-Davids-ebook/dp/B007CVT9F2/.
The Amazon.com Kindle book link is http://www.amazon.com/Michals-Window-Novel-Davids-ebook/dp/B007CVT9F2/.
“Powerful and passionate, and going to be read more than once”
I am very happy to have read “Michal’s Window” and to unreservedly give it five stars. It’s set a little bit later than the time my own writer’s heart is given to, but all the more enjoyable for that as I could imagine how the descendants of my characters could fit into Rachelle’s world! The task she sets herself is an intricate one – how to weave the various snippets of information regarding David, Michal and the others, scattered among several biblical books, into a coherent and compelling narrative. The underlying biblical clues and hints are mined for possibilities and recombined into new patterns in a creative manner.
Some of the people she fleshes out in this book are decidedly minor players in the original David Story, and so in these cases the source material she works with is very flat – but they emerge as rounded individuals in the process. Likewise, although the books of Samuel (the primary source for the account) are very often nuanced and equivocal in their moral evaluations, some other biblical sources (like Chronicles) are not. She has chosen to follow the original design by extending and making ever more tangled the moral and ethical uncertainties faced by the central figures. I suspect that the author of 1 and 2 Samuel would have approved of this. If you like your heroes and villains simple and uncomplicated, this is not a book for you – here the people struggle both outside and inside their souls with issues of abuse, violence and conflict alongside desire, faithfulness and love. The world in which the kingdom of Israel emerged was small and highly inter-connected, and Rachelle captures this nicely in the way that people keep re-encountering one another, often despite their best efforts to keep apart.
The narrative style of sticking in any given scene to one of a few specific personal points of view is one that I enjoy – it allows for versatility of how events and interpersonal relations are depicted, and at the same time enforces the comparative isolation of people throughout so much of history. There was no way that a person could see “over the horizon” to know what was happening or who was coming towards them, and the frustration and anxiety that this creates is brought very much home. The central characters of this book struggle to see over their personal horizons, and consistently fail, and the choices they make because of this failure drive much of the plot. It also adheres faithfully to the style adopted by the authors of the Hebrew Bible – they may have been describing a God who could see all things, but the narratives they wrote, and the people they wrote about, were confined to a deliberately limited viewpoint.
On a purely historical basis I had a few minor reservations. I don’t share Rachelle’s confidence that both David and Michal would have been able to read and write as youths, nor that Michal would have been able to casually wander around the garden clutching the scroll of the Book of Ruth. Michal’s literacy is explained later on the basis of personal tuition by the priest Elihu, but the main plot purpose is to show the possibility of both connection and disappointment inherent in writing, and this is achieved admirably. The choice of Ruth is, I suspect, a piece of splendid irony – as well as it being the Hebrew Bible’s best known love story, the final half dozen verses (which could not have been written at the time Michal was young) are one of the more overt legitimising assertions of the Davidic dynasty, and were probably penned by the kind of individual Michal might have later despised.
Some of the religious events owed, I felt, more to later Judaism or to Christianity than to the probable worship of the age. But again, I think that this is a deliberate choice on Rachelle’s part. Her writing borrows not just from sources in the Hebrew Bible, but also later Jewish midrash and Christian typology. To get what she is doing with this, you have to read her own words in the appendix. It is interesting to see how different people tackle the thorny problem of the divine name – Rachelle has chosen to follow later traditions by setting it as LORD, except for a couple of deliberately stylised moments. I strongly suspect that this was not part of religious observance around 1000BC. But this is tied to her use of an older traditional Bible translation for quotations, and it would have seemed disjointed to use the old vocabulary in one place and something more fluid and contemporary in another. Finally, I have serious doubts that the Davidic kingdom reached anything like as far as suggested by the gamut of goods that the queens have at their disposal! At any rate, my historical reservations are all calmed by the wider sweep and purpose of these apparent intrusions, and I am very happy to overlook them since the narrative flow as a whole is gripping and emotionally credible.
It definitely passed my major test of a good book – it made me want to get back to writing something myself – and it joins the collection of books that I intend to re-read over the years to come. Warmly recommended, and I hope Rachelle returns to this era in writing at some stage in the future.