21 December 2007

Staggeringly mediocre----why has this sold 1 copy for every 100 people on Earth?

The Da Vinci Code
Dan Brown
Doubleday, 2003

Amazon reviewer Steven Reynolds summed it up nicely, but since I write these reviews primarily for my own benefit, I can't rely on his words to describe my experience.

So here are my words: a gruesome murder and its symbolic aftermath; a rock star of a Harvard symbologist who can't recognize the Star of David as two intersecting triangles; two-page chapters flying past, with every other chapter returning to our hero the rock star symbologist; 450 pages in two sessions of roughly 3 hours each; character development, what character development?; albino assassin working for Catholic conspirators, Priory of Sion conspirators, Templar conspirators; the Holy Grail; Mary Magadalene and Jesus; the exact same double-bluff tricks from Angels and Demons with bad guys as good guys as bad guys; and it all ends in such an unsatisfying way.

Perhaps I would be willing to give Dan Brown a free pass on this if this novel weren't so darned successful. I don't resent the success per se. Instead I despise the fact that this author has managed to stir up so much controversy (and so many revenues) without actually understanding the material he's writing about. For a novel that purports to be an intellectual tour de force, this book is filled with errors even a college freshman with Wikipedia could catch. (Example: Brown actually has a character assert that the name "YHWH" derives from the name "Jehovah," when in fact the reverse is the case.) Every time "Harrison Ford in tweed" discussed the mysterious organizations, themes, and locales that run throughout the book---whether Saint-Sulpice, Rosslyn Chapel, the Priory of Sion, etc.---my mind would scream out for someone on Langdon's dissertation commitee to call and revoke his degree. The Priory of Sion was exposed as a 20th century hoax, yet Brown insists on telling readers in his introductory "fact" note that this demonstrated forgery was a secret society founded in 1099. His characters, allegedly renowned scholars no less, recite their conspiracy theories like stoned undergraduates at a late night party shocking one another with earnestly repeated urban legends. After a while, the college stoner conspiracy crap lost its charm, and by the time the end of the book was approaching, I realized that the author had already shot his main goods in the chapter on Jesus and Mary Magdalene as lovers. THAT was the controversy that made this book sell. THAT was the real secret of the book, and not the farcical Grail that Langdon pursues until the very last page. Revealing to a world of Christians that their religion was bound up in the vagaries and contingencies of history, and that there are aspects to this religion that have been lost or hidden, made for controversy and good sales.

This could have been a much better book, even a great book, in the hands of a real writer and researcher. As it is, The Da Vinci Code is merely the scandalously popular and criminally overrated work of a mediocre, hamfisted hack.

(This review was originally written on March 13, 2007.)

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