Married to Uriah, a loyal and pious soldier who is often away serving King David, the beautiful Bathsheba frequently finds herself bored and lonely. When the king, still grieving for the loss of his favorite wife, spies Bathsheba bathing, he determines to have her – and the attraction is mutual. What follows, of course, is one of the best known episodes from the Old Testament.
Smith writes well and fills her story with interesting historical detail, but I found this novel to be unsatisfying. Most of the characters, especially David’s children by his other wives, are mere sketches. David himself never truly becomes three-dimensional. Though much of the last part of the novel deals with his difficulties with his various children, his relationship with them is never fleshed out: It’s typical of the novel that when David hears the news that Tamar has been raped, a full page passes before we realize that Tamar is David’s daughter and that her assailant is one of David’s sons.
My chief disappointment, however, was with Bathsheba herself. Aside from her beauty, Bathsheba is such a colorless character that it’s difficult to understand David’s devotion to her. Worse, she has a curious lack of an inner life and scarcely grows spiritually. Once the novel’s main emotional crisis has passed, she troubles herself not at all with the fate of Uriah. When her grandfather rebels against her husband and meets a tragic end, she hardly blinks. Bathsheba’s main concern, in fact, seems to be retaining her and her children’s preeminence over David’s other wives and children. As a result, when I closed this book, I did not feel that I had read a story about redemption and forgiveness, as the author seems to have intended; I felt that I read a story about a trophy wife who beats back the competition.