Book review: Delilah by Eleanor de Jong

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Down the centuries, the Biblical character Delilah has captured the imaginations of writers, painters and composers.

The woman who famously seduced and betrayed Israelite leader Samson has been portrayed at best as a misguided and foolish temptress and at worst as a treacherous, cunning and lethal femme fatale.

The truth about the real Delilah is long lost in the mists of time, but Eleanor de Jong has breathed new life into the sultry seductress in her captivating and thoughtful debut novel.

Without resorting to a complete re-writing of the Old Testament story, de Jong’s feminist interpretation presents a far more sympathetic and objective picture of a character who has suffered the slings and arrows of a male-dominated history.

This Delilah is as much sinned against as sinning, a victim of a patriarchal society in which women were used as marriageable trading counters and political pawns.

In the ancient Holy Land, Delilah’s widowed mother remarries and it’s a joyful occasion, but there are tensions in the new step-family that the young girl is only beginning to understand.

Delilah is an Israelite and her new kin are Philistines, bitter adversaries for hundreds of years, each culture battling for supremacy.

She is headstrong, desirable and reckless and her dark and alluring beauty quickly becomes a magnet for men on both sides of the bitter divide.

Samson, meanwhile, is a young Israelite noted for his wild and passionate nature as well as his incredible height and arresting good looks – eyes of cornflower blue and long golden hair held back in seven braids.

From the moment they meet, there is a fire in their relationship but Samson, who has matured into a seemingly unbeatable warrior, is pitted against Delilah’s family.

The Philistines are desperate to learn the secret behind his power and enrol a restless and unhappy Delilah as an agent to destroy him. The only way to stop dissent amongst the Israelites, she is told, is through Samson ‘and the only way to control Samson is through you’.

Driven by misplaced anger and a desire to help her mother, Delilah is paid 1,100 pieces of silver and agrees to use her wiles to discover the secret of his strength.

However, Samson is not the ogre that Delilah had assumed him to be and a sequence of events has been set in motion which both of them are now powerless to stop.

Sexy and beautifully imagined, this Delilah goves us a new and invigorating perspective on one of the Bible’s most fascinating figures.

(Avon, paperback, £7.99)