The Da Vinci Code

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by Dan Brown

Well, first of all, kudos to my Dad for sending my Mum to Scotland, ostensibly to visit my gran, just to find me a paperback copy of this! I have managed to avoid The Da Vinci Code thus far simply because I have been waiting for the paperback, for a couple of reasons - first, because $30+ for a hardback seems a little extravagant for a novel, and second, because I tend to read in bed, or at least in semi-prone positions on the couch, and hardbacks are heavy.

In the meantime, I found and read a couple of Brown's previous works, namely, Deception Point and Angels and Demons, which is the first Robert Langdon novel (Langdon being the main character of TDVC, slated to be played by Tom Hanks in the inevitable movie). I enjoyed both, but I have to say, I preferred Deception Point. Brown's books are in the same vein as Turow, early Clancy, and le Carre - good, old fashioned mystery-suspense thrillers, with a twist. In the case of TDVC, the twist is religion, as it is in A&D. Deception Point deals with NASA and the U.S. government, proving that Brown does, in fact, have other interests.

TDVC is a good book - it's a fast, compelling read, and the characters in it speak as you would expect professors and cryptologists to speak; there is little pandering to the masses here, at least in terms of vocabulary. In fact, reading this with the knowledge that a movie is definitely in the works, I couldn't help but wonder whether or not the screen adaptation will be 'dumbed down' a little. For instance:

"[it] is the ancient symbol for womanhood, and represents the sacred feminine and the goddess, which of course has now been lost, virtually eliminated by the Church... I should add that this concept of woman as life-bringer was the foundation of ancient religion. Childbirth was mystical and powerful. Sadly, Christian philosophy decided to embezzle the female's creative power by ignoring biological truth and making man the Creator."

Now, this is great stuff - interesting, completely plausible, and spoken in a vocabulary consistent with the character, who in this case is an Oxfordian who has studied the Holy Grail his entire life. On the screen, however, I'm not sure this level of vocabulary translates as well. I guess we'll see.

To reiterate, this is a good book - and follows the same kind of idea I first encountered in Angels and Demons, which is perhaps why I wasn't blown away by it here. Langdon in a Harvard symbologist (a rank of which we are reminded rather frequently) who accidentally finds himself involved in a highbrow intellectual game of catch-me-if-you-can, complete with shadowy Vatican figures, ancient legends, and the occasional car chase (including one with a SmartCar, and another with a custom-made Jaguar limo). So action-packed, but in a well-educated context.

If I hadn't read Angels and Demons, I might have enjoyed TDVC a little more, not least because the female love interest from A&D is very casually written out of the story at the beginning of TDVC to make room for a new one, which seems a little arbitrary, not to mention a little out of character, as it were, given the whole Cult of the Goddess aspect.

Having said that, this is still a good book!

Brown is a tactful writer - he doesn't assume that his readers are familiar with issues that are necessarily well-known to his main characters, so he builds the story around two characters whose fields of expertise are complementary, so they can explain themselves to each other. He also has his characters preface some of the these explanations with "as most people know" or "many people believe" before moving into an extrapolation - neatly 'reminding' the reader of information 'most people know' without coming across as an intellectual snob who assumes that in fact, very few people know much of anything.

Brown is also a good writer - he manages to create an aura of suspense, despite the somewhat predictable plot. In fact, part of the suspense (for me, at least) lies in wondering when, for Pete's sake, are these characters going to see this really, really obvious thing that I figured out in the last chapter, and which is vital to the forward progress of the plot? At times, I felt a little like I do when I watch game shows like 'Wheel of Fortune,' if you see what I mean.

Recommendation - yes, definitely, but it is safe to wait for the paperback, which will no doubt be released in North America eventually. Also, in the meantime, I strongly recommend Deception Point and Angels and Demons.

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5 Comments

I'm so glad you liked it — I'm so fed up of all the literary critics implying that if you like it you must be one of the dumb masses (and we know you're not that). It's by no means Great Literature, but still very fun and interesting. One of Brown's greatest tricks (at least in the Langdon books): really short chapters.

I enjoyed reading it, liked the snippets of information but found I had to just accept that the plot was ludicrous and predictable and that it was ok to find the characters annoying and still find it hard to put the book down before finishing it. Maybe I have just read too many mystery books and have come to saturation but like I said I still enjoyed it despite its faults.

I read the Salon review, Isabella, and it sounds like exactly the kind of lit crit you mean - and while we're at it, what the heck is Miller's thing about Brown hiding behind the "fiction" excuse? Yeesh. As you said elsewhere, conspiracy sells - and for goodness sake, does Miller really think that people are going to finish TDVC and believe that the direct-line descendants of Christ are alive and well and living in Scotland?

Frankly, criticism that assumes a prejudice against popular literature is rather pretentious, and it's exactly the kind of literary snobbery that turns people off of reading. The average "masses" reader reads something like TDVC and likes it, then discovers that the 'experts' have decided that means s/he has no taste/education/class, whatever. The result? I see it in my classroom all the time - students who are prejudiced against actual literature, because they believe this artificial dichotomy which dictates that writing is either popular or it is good, but it cannot be both; an ironic misperception given that the vast majority of canonical authors were the Dan Browns of their days.

No, TDVC is not Great Literature - but if, like Harry Potter before it, TDVC makes people read a book, and better yet, talk about it with everyone else (an actual complaint of Miller's), then yay!! People are reading!

I decided a while ago that I would be true to myself in my reading - which means if I cannot get into a book (i.e., Jack Maggs or Portnoy's Complaint), then no matter who says it's great, I'm under no obligation to read to the end. Similarly, no matter who tells me a book is crap, if I like it, I'll read it. TDVC may not be good for my literary well-being, but it made me happy for a short while, which is more than I can say for Thackeray.

Having said that, I was intrigued to read stroppycow's comments re saturation - I was planning to bring that idea in somewhere. There are some authors I can't get enough of - John Irving, whose books I actually postpone reading because I know I'll be sad when I'm finished, for instance.

Others, especially formula authors, are fun for a while, but then one wants a little variation. I think three Dan Brown's is enough. I get his formula now (and yes, the short chapters are very neat, especially since the length is variable), and it was fun for a while, but I'm done. I've reached the same point in my relationship with Tom Clancy, too - and God knows I got there fast with John Grisham! One book was all it took. Ah, but a one-book-stand has its perks...

Now granted, Clancy and Brown and others of their ilk are exploiting a demand for formula, and not necessarily in a bad way - let's face it, when I pick up an Agatha Christie, I expect a to-the-manor-born murder, complete with eccentric housekeepers and potentially lethal flora growing rampant beside the kitchen door. I would be unhappy otherwise. So, yes, TDVC is chock full of inaccuracies and predictabilities and the occasional ridiculous character (an albino monk-hitman? don't get me started). But I liked it.

I think this comment may be longer than the actual review. Apologies! I do have a tendency to ramble on. I'll stop now.

I adored The DaVinci Code and my copy has made the rounds to friends and family. I have thrust it upon several people with the words "READ THIS!!!" and all have enjoyed it so far. I got Angels and Demons for Christmas - cannot wait to get started on that one.

This is such good timing, I just finished reading TDVC - I saw it on the 7-day loan desk at the library, and figured why not.

I didn't hate it, I would agree that it was an enjoyable read, but I found the structured release of information very artificial. Repeated interruptions of conversations so that the revelation of information is deferred, repeated references to events that are slowly revealed in attempts to tease...it just felt very smug on the part of Brown, I found it irritating. Not to mention that the ta da! moment just wasn't there, since when the information is finally revealed, it wasn't exactly shocking or even that terribly interesting.

I found the information dialogue stilted, myself - yes, he tried to structure it in such a way as not to come across as an intellectual snob, but there was still a very lecture-like quality to much of the dialogue, which I found artificial. Monologue from one party, wide-eyed innocent questioning on the part of the other, with these roles reversing depending on the topic - didn't seem like a natural conversational flow to me.

I haven't read anything else by Dan Brown, but maybe I'll give Angels & Demons a try.

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This page contains a single entry by Maggie published on December 29, 2004 7:17 AM.

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