Monday, July 18, 2005

The Da Vinci Load

Before even cracking the spine, I characterized the megablockbuster novel The Da Vinci Code as Umberto Eco with training wheels. Now that I've actually read it, I'd like to revise my assessment.

The Da Vinci Code is Umberto Eco with a lobotomy.

The book came out in 2003, for those keeping score, and is still in hardback, presumably to maintain the dumptrucks full of cash that must back up to Doubleday's Accounts Receivable loading dock like clockwork.

I am not an early adopter on contemporary fiction. The fact that The Da Vinci Code was a hit made me dubious; the crazy cottage industry that's sprung up around it -- additional books pro and con, TV specials, shot glasses for all I know -- left me feeling faintly ill.

I'm not qualified to dish on the research inaccuracies contained in the book despite Dan Brown's claim that key elements are factual. My art curator brother-in-law has a choice few words on them, though, as do the various internets.

The pedestrian, hackwork quality of the storytelling, however, is fair game. The writing style lacks imagination and energy (Brown never met a flaccid, passive voice verb he didn't like). The characters are supposed to be brilliant but make stupid mistakes (who needs half a chapter to recognize mirror writing?). The romance between the two leads is stillborn. The reveal of the villain is, um, unrevelatory. The stakes and risks of the story, the very heart of the book, feel trumped-up and false.

When I finish a book, I want to think, "That was a hell of a thing." When I finished this book, I thought, "Crap, I gave Amazon my office address and won't get Harry Potter until Monday!"

But what do I know? Brown's sold a gazillion books to my none.

I love a good puzzle mystery. Who doesn't? But if you're one of the other four people in the world who hasn't read this yet and are considering it, do yourself a favor and read The Name of the Rose instead. Or, if you're all about the Templars, try Foucault's Pendulum. That too hard? Just rent Indiana Jones #1 or #3.

Or, hey, go right to the source.


John Donald Carlucci said...

I had a promo copy of this thing years back and couldn't stand it. I read the first chapter and thought it was melodramatic and the characters very 2-d. I passed it off to a friend and he loved it. Meh.

I still can't understand what all the magic was about.


Kira said...

I nearly gave up after the first chapter myself, where we learn what Langdon looks like from his self-description of his image in a mirror, and who he is by someone introducing him at a function.

Amazing, in a medium where telling not showing is okay, Brown still finds the easiest, most boring, most tell-y way to describe character.

Dr. Gori said...

The characters are supposed to be brilliant but make stupid mistakes (who needs half a chapter to recognize mirror writing?)

Thank you! When I was reading that book, I told my wife, "These are the stupidest geniuses in the world."

I actually like a lot of cookie-cutter thrillers. But if the author is going to tell me (repeatedly) how brilliant his characters are, I would hope they're at least smarter than me. And I'm talking me at age eight--back when my friends and I wrote to each other in backwards code. And we weren't all that smart.

I'm surprised there weren't any ancient manuscripts written with lemon juice ink. Brown could have filled up another 30 pages by having his characters figure out that they needed a light bulb to reveal the message. Sheesh.

Kira said...