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Posts Tagged ‘Da Vinci Code’

The Da Vinci CodeYou might have gathered from my previous post that I’m not the world’s biggest Dan Brown fan. Heck, maybe you even agree with me that Brown is not exactly the world’s finest prose stylist. That’s not what he intends to be, you may argue. He just writes thrillers.  What’s so bad about that?

Well, in some ways, nothing. I’m not looking scornfully over the top of my reading glasses with a copy of Crime and Punishment in my hand, tut-tutting.  Thrillers — fiction driven purely by plot — are good. I like thrillers. But I also like good writing. It’s possible to find both in the same book, but it’s doubtful that that book will be by Dan Brown.

I shudder to think that for millions of people — at least 40 million, it seems — this may be what they define as “a really good book.” They are missing out on so much — on the ability of literature to move us; to make us ponder deep underlying themes in our lives and in the world around us; to help us live better and love better. Good writers can do that, and they do it not just by choosing more significant themes. They do it by crafting language that soars and resonates. Language that shows, rather than tells. Language that evokes complex, and often conflicting, emotions.

If you think you might not recognize the kind of difference I’m talking about, compare these opening sentences:

This from The Da Vinci Code:

“Renowned curator Jacques Saunière staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum’s Grand Gallery. He lunged for the nearest painting he could see, a Caravaggio. Grabbing the gilded frame, the seventy-six-year-old man heaved the masterpiece toward himself until it tore from the wall and Saunière collapsed backward in a heap beneath the canvas.”

This is Dan Brown’s invitation to a few hundred more pages of such tortured prose, bogged down with awkwardly worded sentences, nonsensical constructions, and ham-handed modifiers. Renowned curator? If that was such an important detail, why not take the time to establish the fact, rather than just tell us it is so? And why, at the end of that second sentence, does he feel like he has to tell us the man’s name again? Does he think maybe we’ve forgotten?

And now this, from Pat Conroy’s Prince of Tides:

“My wound is geography. It is also my anchorage, my port of call.”

In these simple words, Conroy introduces us to a compelling character. We know he is wounded, we know his is telling us his tale, but we don’t know anything more about him. Yet the sentence is so enigmatic — so loaded — that we want to know more. It’s a voice we hear, not a description we read. We’re driven to find out who this person is, whose voice this is.

Maybe in the end, that’s the critical difference between Brown and writers I admire. I want fiction that makes me ask, “Who is this person?” Not just “…and then what happened?’

How about you? What do you want out of your fiction?

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I can't wait to not read this.

I can't wait to not read this.

Dan Brown’s latest novel, The Lost Symbol, hit the newsstands last week. Okay, maybe “hit” is not the right word. The new release actually rolled over the newsstands. Sources say the thriller sold well over a million copies in the United States, Canada, and Britain on the first day it was released. It dominated sales at Amazon — both in the hardcover version and the digital version for the Kindle. The Lost Symbol, of course, follows Brown’s other opus, The Da Vinci Code, which according to the author’s web site, has sold more than 40 million copies.

Think about that for a minute. 40 million copies. That’s a heap of books, and this is one successful author.

So what’s the mystery?

Dan Brown is a terrible writer. And I don’t mean “Gee, I just don’t care much for that style” kind of terrible. I mean the guy is really, really bad.

My wife and I read The Da Vinci Code , mainly just to see what all the fuss was about. The book stunned us into silence. For a couple of days, we couldn’t bring ourselves to talk about it. You know that feeling you get when you’re in a gallery somewhere and you’re standing in front of a piece of art — usually modern or postmodern — that you just don’t understand? Most of us tend to stifle that small questioning voice because, hey — it’s in an art gallery. It must be good, even if I don’t get it.

Reading The Da Vinci Code was like that for me — except the gallery had 40 million people in it and the painting had been done with a bucket of tempera and one of those chunky brushes your preschooler uses. Even setting aside the glaring historical hogwash or the clumsy attempts to use dialogue to fill in the backstory, the language itself is clunky and often mangled in a way that defies description.

I mean, get a load of this, taken from Chapter Four of The Da Vinci Code:

He could taste the familiar tang of museum air – an arid, deionized essence that carried a faint hint of carbon – the product of industrial, coal-filter dehumidifiers that ran around the clock to counteract the corrosive carbon dioxide exhaled by visitors.

Huh?

Still, though, my wife and I did the socially acceptable thing and held our tongues when people asked us if we had read it, or recommended it to us as a “really good book.”

So imagine how relieved I was to discover we are not alone. This article in the Telegraph pulls back the curtain to reveal just what a bad writer Dan Brown is, and offers 20 good examples.

More to come …

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