MICHAEL ARDITTI is a well-known writer and literary critic. He has previously written various short stories, stage and radio plays, and nine novels. This novel, The Anointed, will be his tenth. Although the subject-matter — the relationships of kings Saul, David, and Solomon — is a new departure for him, the themes that the novel explores — sex, power, and faith — are not. Readers of his previous works will be familiar not only with the themes themselves, but also with the nuance and thoughtfulness that Arditti brings to them.
The story spans the period from the end of the reign of Saul to the beginning of the reign of Solomon (thus focusing mostly on events found in 1 and 2 Samuel, with a little from the beginning of 1 Kings). It tells the well-known biblical story from the perspective of three female characters: Michal (a princess and younger daughter of Saul and the first wife of David); Abigail (the widow of the rich Carmelite Nabal, and then wife of David); and Bathsheba (the wife, then widow, of Uriah the Hittite and then of David).
In this novel, Arditti does not shy away from the brutality and power that run throughout the whole story, nor from the struggles and silencing of the female characters on whom he focuses. Although the female voices and motivations in the novel are, perhaps, not always as convincing as they might be, this is a rich tale of love and loss, sorrow and bitterness, motherhood and childlessness.
There is something powerful that happens in the telling of the story from a woman’s perspective, which brings to the fore the inequality and powerlessness that are evident in the narrative, but easier to ignore in the way that it is told in 1 and 2 Samuel.
This is no gentle read, but it is thought-provoking and challenging, demanding that we look at the great “hero” David with both realism and compassion.
Dr Paula Gooder is a writer and lecturer in biblical studies, and Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral.
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