January 12, 2006

The Da Vinci Code

Book front cover
Da Vinci Code, The
3 out of 5 stars

I know it's very cool these days to say The Da Vinci Code is shit* (Salman Rushdie led the charge), but guess what, I'm going to take one of my traditional fair and balanced (but nonetheless wry) looks at Dan Brown's controversial bestseller.

That's right, it means I've read it. Obviously, I didn't particularly want to give the obscenely wealthy heretic any more money so I did the only honourable thing and borrowed it from Auntie Rona, then read it in about a week.

The verdict? Well firstly, I read it in about a week; not normally an indicator of a good book seeing as I've been reading One Hundred Years Of Solitude, one of the most critically respected pieces of modern literature, for going on 2 months now. But then the former's supposed to be a page-turner, whereas the latter is a 'classic'. And it does the job. The book, as well as famously revealing shocking alleged secrets of the Catholic Church, is a gripping, fast-paced thriller. The problem with this is that Brown uses most of the cliches associated with the genre: the only trait which makes our hero, American symbology professor Robert 'Indiana' Langdon, a two-dimensional character is his childhood fear of enclosed spaces; and obviously, he gets framed for murder; oh, and did you know that British food is shit?

However, this isn't so bad when you factor in the Code of the title. Brown gives you clues to the puzzles which fall across Langdon and his inevitably attractive French companion Sophie's path, so when you solve them before the protangonists, it makes you feel well clever. I have to admit sometimes I missed the clues and realised that Brown had outwitted me when all was revealed. This wasn't bad either as the book would be shit if there were no surprises. Mind, I was kicking myself when I missed the major twist at the start of what will be the last act when the film is made: it involves possibly the greatest cliche of all time. That is the only clue I give.

To be fair to Brown, his book is very clever. I'd be proud if I came up with it. However, what I'd do differently if I then had to go and write it is read the first draft before sending it to my publisher. Dan clearly didn't. The prose is terrible. It's as if he typed it with a sledgehammer and his withholding of crucial information in order to effect an episode cliffhanger is horribly unsubtle. He keeps using phrases like "Langdon cringed" at very unfortunate moments, prompting my thought, "Yeah, you're not the only one, Rob." There are many mentions of the book Langdon himself has written; every time, I imagined how much more elegant his writing would be. Oh, and that's another thing: all the italics! For fuck's sake, you're not writing a blog, mate.

Surprisingly, I have little to say about the religious controversy. The book has undergone many debunkings, by churchies and secularies. The main problem seems to be the near-universal belief in academic circles that the whole Priory of Sion stuff was a hoax. The book has got me interested in the Church's history regardless, and it's good to see that it's sparked debate.

Dan Brown's fighting lawsuits against two people whose research he (allegedly) plagiarised. I suggest to the makers of Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars that they make it three. Those of you familiar with both it and the book will know exactly what I'm talking about.

The film's due out in May, with Tom Hanks playing George Stobbart Robert Langdon and Amelie playing Sophie Neveu. I'm disappointed that they've got Paul Bettany playing Silas, the albino monk; anyone with an ounce of sense would have given the part to Mel Smith.

I'm disappointed I didn't read the book earlier; I have two great, though late, spoof ideas. If I'd still been at Warwick, I would've so written The Van De Linde Code, a thriller set on campus where two students unlock the secret of the Library Holy Grail. I not only missed that chance but the chance of catching the publishers' 2005 stocking-filler season with my so-zeitgeist-it-hurts hip-hop/yoof-speak version, Da Da Vinci Code. Middle England would've lapped it up.

*Yet it also seems very cool these days to say "I know it's very cool these days to say x is shit, but..."

- 11 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

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  1. Never read the book myself, but am led to believe that it contains story elements that I first encountered in Gabriel Knight 3

    13 Jan 2006, 00:21

  2. Eco

    read foucaults pendulum, it's well written, intelligent and an amusing pisstake of people who take the crap Brown goes on about too seriously.

    13 Jan 2006, 08:44

  3. Eco: yeah, but you would say that, wouldn't you?

    14 Jan 2006, 15:10

  4. " I'm disappointed that they've got Paul Bettany playing Silas, the albino monk; anyone with an ounce of sense would have given the part to Mel Smith."

    I take it you're referring to The Princess Bride? Aaah memories…

    I was really disappointed in the Da Vinci Code, especially since the man can't construct a decent sentence without referring to some sort of evening class 'how to write a best seller' hand book. Descriptive sentences, to the letter, seem to follow an equation – 'The [insert adjective] [insert adjective] X was [insert adjective] [insert adjective] and [insert adjective]' eg 'The cold blustery afternoon was cold blustery and grey'. Genius.
    And then there was the 'twist' at the end – just painful from about the book's mid-point. How would you NOT realise? (Apologies if you didn't, but you can't have been reading too closely!)

    16 Jan 2006, 19:24

  5. I thought I was reading closely but hey, I was probably tired. All the same, not my finest moment.

    16 Jan 2006, 19:43

  6. i agree this is an awesome book. I tried not to take things too seriously as it can lead u to question u're faith.

    23 Jan 2006, 14:02

  7. BS Fan

    I couldn't agree more with the Broken Sword reference – a dim American and a French journalist/detective meet at a murder site, go on a long adventure (of a day or so) when they are a the centre of a war between a dangerous sect calling themselves the Templars (the Priory of Sion) and a lone middle eastern Khan (Silas) who is out to stop them finding the broken sword (pretty much the holy grail). Laced with riddles, codes and puzzles and more murders, the story starts in Paris, the two lead characters fall in love, it even finishes in a church in Scotland! They almost run parallel, I can't believe the Broken Sword guys have let Dan Brown get away with this, but then they have been commissioned to make the Da Vinci code game so maybe that explains it! Don't really see the point of an adventure game when you already know what happens but we'll see, if its as good as any of the Broken Sword series it'll be amazing. Any Brown fans who haven't checked these games out do it now! You can get them for £4.99 and they're still great

    25 Jan 2006, 11:47

  8. El Moustashe

    I've taken to putting 'El' before things.
    In reference to Da Da Vinci Code why not take it further and to The Dada Vinci Code, you could include a urinal at some point, and some nonsense performance poetry, and just generally give the finger to the literary world in general. Much like DB has.

    28 Jan 2006, 12:50

  9. Which twist? Ok, I admit to borrowing the book then running through it in a couple of hours, but all the twists had me going 'eh?'

    The thing about Brown's books is this: they're all the same. The names change, the locations change, but the characters are the same, the writing style is the same, the twists are the same.

    I read The Da Vinci Code (which should have been The da Vinci Code but never mind) and then Angels and Demons and thought 'hmm. Ok. Not too bad I guess.'

    By Deception Point the writing style was getting to me, and by Digital Fortress on page 4 I went 'Baddie. Baddie. Special surprise baddie. Goodie. Goodie. Twist 1 will be…twist 2 will be…' and so on.

    I don't like being right when reading novels with twists.

    30 Jan 2006, 15:38

  10. Which twist?

    You know, when they find out that English stereotype, Lord Teabag, is the baddie*.

    Another thing that pissed me off was the shameless product placement in this extract:

    Sophie and Langdon left the Louvre and went to the carpark where Sophie had parked her SmartCar. Langdon said, "Wow, what a crazy-looking car." Sophie cringed, "It's called a SmartCar and it's all the rage. They're very fuel efficient." Langdon said, "Interesting. Of course, we Americans don't care for fuel efficiency as we like to buy big cars which symbolise big penises. But anyway, we are on the run from the police so I hope the SmartCar is fast as well as being very fuel efficient!" Sophie smiled, "Mais oui, of course it is. It does 0–60 in 7 seconds or something." Langdon smirked. Slipping some native French into the conversation - that's cute. I wonder if Dan Brown used that cliche in the actual book. I can't remember. Either way, should it have been italicised? Oh well, I'm sure to have more than made up for it with this stream of consciousness. Enough of this post-modernism! Langdon got into the SmartCar and Sophie started it and drove off. As the SmartCar turned a sharp corner with unexpected comfort for its passenger, Langdon remarked, "Why, this SmartCar sure handles corners well!" Sophie replied, "Damn straight, Robert. Whether you've been framed for murder, or are a strong, single professional woman living in the city, the SmartCar can't be beat!"

    And so on, ad nauseum.

    *Spoiler alert. Erm, maybe I should've put this note before the spoiler. Ah well.

    05 Feb 2006, 15:20

  11. korshi

    I totally agree with your review- it was a fun, easy to read book, but the writing was clumsy as hell… but to repeat something that’s been said a hundred times already virtually nothing he claimed to be factual in the book is true. Although its fiction, there is an unspoken agreement with this sort of book that when you produce specific facts that could be plausible, they should generally be true, especially wheh you claim something like that in the foreword. In fairness, Dan Brown seems to an extent to believe the stuff he writes to be at least partly true, but it all comes from what is basically the lunatic fringe- this is pretty much face on mars stuff here.

    And I hope that the majority of people who read it are smart enough to realise that it is all fiction, but I was a bit worried to read Chibulu Luo’s comment that it “can lead u to question u’re faith”. Nothing he says about Christianity in the book is accurate (I’m not a Christian, but I grew up going to Church and I’ve been reading extensively about the early church for several years now for a comic I’m writing). It’s good to question your assumptions, but not when the impetus or facts that lead you to do so come from something which is far less factually accurate than the excellent Broken Sword games. If you’re really want to understand where Christianity came from, a far better book is “Pagans and Christians”... I forget the author’s name.

    And finally… the stuff about the ‘Sacred Feminine’ pissed me off. Not just for historical reasons, but because in trying to be a kind of feminist Dan Brown is actually very sexist. Mary Magdalene is not viewed as a person; she is a ‘cup’ the receptacle of Christ’s holy sperm; she is not a real woman, she is the ‘Sacred Feminine’, some sort of archetype. At least the Catholic church made her a saint, a dramatic story of redemption from prostitute to the one of the first to see Jesus rise, back at a time when prostitues were really the lowest of the low.

    There’s a bit in there as well about this ‘Hieros Gamos’ thing where he says, “the next time you find yourself with a woman, look into your heart and see if you can approach sex as a mystical, spiritual act. Challenge yourself to find that spark of divinity that a man can only achieve through union with the sacred feminine.” So there you have it, women with real needs and real personalities don’t exist, they’re a big mass of sacred feminine for you to ride home to enlightenment.

    Phew, that was more vitriolic than I meant to be. It’s a good read, but everyone who puts their thoughts out there, whether as books or blogs or whatever, needs to think about the impact they’ll have on their audience. It’s a shame that Dan Brown wasn’t honest or smart enough to market his book as the pure, mindless but kinda fun fluffy fiction it really is.

    22 Sep 2006, 18:57

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