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Book Review : The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

OK, so I must be about the last person on the planet to read this book. Chances are you already know if you love it or hate it. It's been fantastically successful, of course, and that alone is enough to put some people off it. Which is a shame because this is an enjoyable and very readable thriller.

It's formulaic, to be sure, but the formula is effective. The entire book basically goes like this : Intriguing Mystery! Terrible Danger!! Miraculous Escape!!! And Repeat!!! But you can't help being drawn in. The narratorial style is what you might call American if that makes sense : confident, omniscient, always ready to explain how the world works to the reader. There is never any doubt or ambiguity. It's just a shame the details are not necessarily accurate. Not just the big stuff either. I was intrigued to learn, for example, that the UK is surrounded by an ocean. Things have obviously changed since I studied geography.

And, yes, the writing style is often naive and amateurish. I nearly didn't get past the first sentence with its "Renowned curator Jacques Sauniere ..." myself. There's a lot of writing here that I hope I would have edited out of anything of mine in a very early draft. The book's literariness - or lack of it - has come in for a lot of criticism. But I can't help thinking this is just sour grapes. Brown isn't claiming he's the new James Joyce.

The mysteries and conspiracies surrounding the Christian church in the book are a lot of fun. Brown draws on a variety of heresies and secret histories to provide an intriguing set-up for his story, although he adds nothing particularly new to the genre. The book succeeds because it pulls these together into an entertaining narrative. The ending falls flat, to be sure : the terrible secrets remain as secrets and nothing really changes. Still, the puzzles and riddles along the way are both clever and fascinating.

The book's attitude to religion - specifically the Catholic church - is interesting. I was surprised at just how critical the book is at times. At one point, Langdon, the central character, says "Every faith in the world is based on fabrication. The problems arise when we begin to believe literally in our own metaphors." I couldn't have put it better myself. At the same time, Brown is careful to reassure us that the Catholic church is very nice really and wouldn't actually go around killing people. Hmmm, and how many people have died from AIDS because of that church's ban on condoms?

Still, perhaps it's best not to look too deeply into books like this. It's an entertaining, unchallenging, engrossing read - and anyone who sniffy about that is just a literary snob.


  1. I read a lot of popular fiction, much to the chagrin of my writer friends, and I too found Brown's style to be very fast paced and engaging (I liked Angels and Demon's better). I think the simplistic approach he has to writing mainstream fiction is effective in the storyline, and world, he has created. I am looking forward to buying a (used) copy of his forthcoming book.

  2. I enjoyed this story too. I thought of it as "brain candy". It reminded me of the old Gabriel Knight adventures on the pc. Great fun if you don't take it too seriously.

  3. Yes, or the Broken Sword games - have you ever played those? Fantastic stuff.

  4. I loved the Broken Sword Games!

    The trouble is, they don't make them like that now and even if they did I'd be stuck. I used to play in a group with the boys and we'd take turns in clicking. They were much better at it than I was!


I'd love to know what you think.