Michal is a princess, Abigail a wealthy widow, and Bathsheba a soldier's bride, but as women in Ancient Israel their destiny is the same: to obey their fathers, serve their husbands and raise their children.
Marriage to King David seems to offer them an escape, but behind the trappings of power they discover a deeply conflicted man. The legendary hero who slew Goliath, founded Jerusalem and saved Israel is also a vicious despot who murders his rivals, massacres his captives and menaces his harem.
Michael Arditti is a novelist, short story writer, and critic, and has written a number of brilliant novels - my personal favourite being 'Easter', but "Of Men and Angels" and "Jubilate" I found particularly brilliant too.
Arditti always involves religion in some for or another - "Easter" revolves around clergy, "Jubilee" around a trip to Lourdes, and "Of Men and Angels" uses the tale of 'Sodom and Gomorrah' as a focal point around which its various tales are weaved.
That biblical theme continues in "The Anointed" as Arditti retells the story of King David with dazzling effect
I think part of my love for Arditti's work comes from my own relationship with religion - as a chorister in the Church of England for the majority of my childhood and teenage years, I grew up with biblical tales - listening to them during the readings and occasionally reading them myself when a sermon was boring me (which, to be honest, was often), but as I grew older my sexuality and my religion clashed to the extent that I left the church, and now spend a lot of my spare time working for an atheist charity. Regardless of that though - I was brought up with these fascinating, complex tales, and to see Arditti explore them in detail is a real thrill.
King David is an interesting figure. We know that he probably existed, but that's about all we know in terms of facts - and so the tales of him in the bible form the bulk of what we claim to know about him. Most remember him as the handsome young harpist who defeated the giant Goliath with a slingshot - and whilst "David and Goliath" is a phrase that has entered modern parlance, and the young David's triumph is celebrated on stained glass windows across the world, his later life isn't talked about as much. Maybe, just maybe - because he wasn't all that nice?
David had multiple wives - and Arditti focuses his tale on three of them - young Michal, widowed Abigail, and, perhaps the most famous one, soldier's bride Bathsheba. Arditti brings them to life in detail, and explores how they would have been treated in ancient Israel. This is no biblical epic that praises David, and instead is a dark and complex piece that combines the political intrigue of book series like Game of Thrones, with the historical retelling through women's voices that we have seen in recent years from authors like Pat Barker and Natalie Haynes. It's impossible not to be moved by this tale - it's one that has stayed with me, and bought new dimensions to stories I haven't thought about for 20 odd years. Well recommended