25. A book by an author you’ve never given a fair shot: The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
List Progress: 22/30
My friend Emily and I use the category of “A book by an author you’ve never given a fair shot” on our resolution lists as a way to challenge ourselves. What authors have I made assumptions about without having read their work firsthand? What authors have I built an opinion about based on reviews, reputations, fandoms and jokes, rather than on their own words? Last year I read The Shining by Stephen King for this category and was floored by the level of poetry and humanity from this author that I had thought of as a bit of a pulpy pop writer. Perhaps I was in for the same experience with Dan Brown’s 2003 smash hit The Da Vinci Code.
Nope. Nope nope nope. This book is as pulpy and poorly written as I had always assumed and I was one hundred percent right.
Before I dig in too hard, I must say that there was nothing I found deeply objectionable in the content of The Da Vinci Code. I am not a big reader of the mystery thriller genre, so I had less patience for the twists and turns than others might, but they didn’t offend me or anything. And I could not manage to care less about the “controversial” religious opinions that had the book widely protested and banned by part of the Catholic community in 2003. No, almost all of my criticisms are with Brown’s writing style.
Brown feels like an author who wants to be writing television. Dividing the book into 106 chapters, some of them less than a page long, gives the feeling of scenes, cutaways, and transitions. Point of view characters will needlessly hold off giving information to the reader while they are reacting to it, which has the sensation of a camera pointing at an actor’s face to capture their reaction while keeping the object of their gaze out of frame. And a truly ridiculous number of chapters (or even paragraphs) end in cliffhangers, which beg to be placed before commercial breaks. For as many different characters serve as our point of view, we get the internal life of so few of them that dramatic twist reveals about their motivations can be dropped in without contradicting anything that came before. Brown seems terrified that the reader will got bogged down in the art history and cryptography sections of the book, so everything else has to move at a breakneck pace to keep the audience’s attention. And I can’t say it didn’t work in terms of wide-appeal; in 2003 The Da Vinci Code was only outsold by one single book: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
The main character Robert Langdon is a complete cipher (pun intended). He has exactly enough expertise to keep the plot moving and exactly enough ignorance to allow things to be explained to the audience. He’s an academic who is dragged through a 36 hour international murder mystery and never has to slow down or eat or sleep. The bits of characterization he and his companion/love interest Sophie do get are charming enough, they are likeable enough to travel the story with, but at the end of the day they’re not people. They are game pieces. (Honestly, The Da Vinci Code probably would have made for a great video game.)
Am I being a snob about this book? Probably. This novel brought fun to a lot of people and sparked a lot of conversation about topics that most people never delve into, which I cannot begrudge it. It sparked a brief moment in time where everyone wanted to talk about art history and religious iconography and feminine imagery in Church doctrine, and that is awesome. It doesn’t make the book itself any better.
Would I Recommend It: Given the sales numbers, if you’re at all interested, you’ve already read it. If not, feel free to skip this one.