So on my way home last night I picked up a clutch of books, among them Dan Brown’s latest — which, when the literary police weren’t looking, managed to slip out from behind the chain link fence, evade 24/7 surveillance by closed circuit cameras, and hop onto the bookshelf at the Odyssey outlet in Chembur’s K Star Mall, which earlier in the day had endured a fake police drill and real panic.
Read a few pages late last night, and a few more during the commute to work this morning, and got bored — to the point where I actually put it aside for later and started on something else.
The Da Vinci Code has sold an estimated 80 million copies in more than forty languages; critically, however, it is generally — though not universally — reviled (and if the critical response isn’t negative enough, you should spend some time on-line in book and writers’ forums, where mention of Brown is usually accompanied, one assumes, by the sound of spitting.)
The critical response is understandable, but misguided. By most accepted critical yardsticks, Brown’s work is lacking: his prose is workmanlike, at best; his characterizations are crepe-paper thin; his dialogue (if one can refer to earnestly delivered lectures as such) is stilted and unnatural; and his plot developments stretch credibility to the breaking point.
What the standard critical approach fails to take into account, however, is that none of these things actually matter.
It is wrongheaded to analyze Dan Brown’s fiction using the same indices one would use on a new book by Alice Munro; each work requires examination on its own terms. The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons earned their legions of readers because Brown does what he sets out to do very well: the novels are story machines, whose main purpose is to wrap readers within the narrative and push them through it.
The phrase “page-turner” has never applied to a novel so well as it does to the works of Dan Brown. Few readers would find themselves sacrificing sleep to find out what happens next in a Michael Ondaatje novel, say, in the same way that few Dan Brown readers are concerned about the quality of his prose.
The New York Times reckons it’s a good page-turner, even while it gets a bit snarky about Brown’s craft, or lack thereof.
Also, the author uses so many italics that even brilliant experts wind up sounding like teenage girls. And Mr. Brown would face an interesting creative challenge if the phrases “What the hell
…?,” “Who the hell … ?” and “Why the hell … ?” were made unavailable to him. The surprises here are so fast and furious that those phrases get quite the workout.
Then again, Mr. Brown’s excitable, hyperbolic tone is one the guilty pleasures of his books.
The Washington Times suggests the book is like a roller-coaster ride: thrilling, entertaining, over. And its rival, the Washington Post, chooses Brownian motion over Brownian logic.
One of these days I’ll get down to reading the rest of this thing, if only to be able to nod intelligently the next time bar talk turns to the book. And, “what the hell”, maybe I’ll live-Tweet the process.