Thursday, January 04, 2007

Chapter 1

Oh well, at least Robert Langdon isn't "renowned".

It's an old, but effective trick that Brown uses to introduce his hero: he's jolted awake, and we are able to piece together his reality at the same pace that he does. We don't need to be told that he's a symbologist; we are shown it. OK, the process of showing is a bit heavy-handed: the flyer with his name on is a bit like a spiralling newspaper headline coming into view to push along the plot of a film. But it works well enough. As does the hotel bathrobe with his location monogrammed on. (Although, strictly speaking, doesn't a monogram usually consist of initials, rather than full words?)

Brown hasn't quite got the hang of this point-of-view business: "Squinting at his surroundings he saw a plush Renaissance bedroom with Louis XVI furniture, hand-frescoed walls, and a colossal mahogany four-poster bed." Hold it right there. If Langdon's asleep, presumably he's in bed. And if he's in bed, to what extent can he really see the bed? Sure, he'll note the mahogany posts and so on, but he can't really take the whole thing in, can he? It's Brown who can see the bed. Not for the last time, the author identifies with Langdon, and takes it too far.

To be fair, Brown has to play the introduction of Langdon carefully. After all, this is his second outing, having been presented to the world in Angels and Demons, a tale of Vatican shenanigans, secret societies and horrid deaths.* So, rather than offering a dull, authorial-voice recap, we have a flashback to the intro he received at the lecture the previous night, which neatly fills in his professional qualifications, as well as the human stuff (eg, women fancy him, but in a Harrison Ford way rather than a Leonardo DiCaprio way, which seems to suggest that the casting of Tom Hanks in the movie was a case of close-but-no-cigar). Again, this is handled efficiently enough, and means that any sexual frisson to come will be believable. He's Simon Schama, not David Starkey.

Although, come to think of it, Starkey would surely make for a far more entertaining (albeit brief) read. For a start, upon discovering that the "important man" whose presence stirs Langdon from his sleep is a mere police lieutenant, Starkey would have told the man to piss off. But plot is paramount here, not character, and the hero needs to take the bait in order to get things rolling along nicely. He's provoked first by revulsion and anger ("...his entire body went rigid..." Well, I hope the Ritz dressing gown disguised that.) and then, one presumes, by professional curiosity. He's hooked, and so are we. Job done.

*Don't worry, I haven't read it. The Corgi edition of DVC includes the first couple of chapters of A&D as a taster, although the similarities (sadistic murder of a wonk; Langdon awoken with the news; shadowy conspiracies) might suggest that if you've read one, there's very little point in reading the other. As Brown himself suggests when Langdon receives the picture of the renowned curator, there is " unsettling sense of déjà vu... something about the scenario felt disquietingly familiar". The Status Quo of pulp fiction? Discuss.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

strong jaw - dimpled chin - dark stubble - hunk handsome - scholarly allure - captivating presence - Is this a Wham concert or a university lecture?

*removes earplugs anticipating input of chocolate and gives a dire sigh a la Lt Collet*

2:13 pm  
Blogger Spinsterella said...

The physical description *is* Harrison Ford, isn't it.

Well, Indiana Jones at least.

Could a 'symbologist' ever really be that famous? Unlikely.

2:36 pm  
Blogger Corey Redekop said...

Man, you are killing me here! Don't ever stop!

Unless, of course, such a close study of Brown's works leads to blindness and/or insanity, in which case, stop for a few minutes.

3:33 pm  
Blogger Tim Footman said...

If he's such a hunky academic, why isn't he doing telly.

And welcome to the madhouse, Corey. The sexy nurse will wiggle along with your medication shortly.

5:00 pm  
Blogger Billy said...

Maybe he does do telly, and that's why people have heard of him? Unlikely I know.

7:19 pm  
Blogger Tamburlaine said...

As for the Harrison Ford lookalike, well, Brown hasn't been too original with his mental casting. Tom Hanks wasn't a bad choice, I would have thought; at least he's younger than Ford.

I mentioned Matthew Reilly in my last comments, mainly because I see several points of similarity between Reilly's thrillers (particularly Temple) and Brown's. Reilly has specifically stated in interviews that he tries to recreate the pace of a film thriller in his novels. He also mentally casts his heroes with Hollywood actors: his Shane Schofield character looks like Tom Cruise, for example; his William Race (very similar to Brown's Langdon - he is a linguist at NYU) looks like Brad Pitt.

A theory I've had for a while is that Brown, like Reilly, has taken his inspiration (directly or indirectly) from films, rather than other novels. Perhaps this is why the characterisation and writing in DVC are so clunky: it's just a novelisation of an imaginary screenplay.

I've not seen the film of DVC, but I'm told that it's very dull. I found this odd, because if there's merit to Brown's book it's the pace of the plot.

10:58 pm  
Blogger Tamburlaine said...

Oh, and I meant to add, I just love the idea of David Starkey being woken up by the Paris police in Langdon's place...

11:00 pm  
Blogger Tim Footman said...

Billy: OK, that's your task for today - do a pitch for The Robert Langon Show.

Tamburlaine: Yes, it's very pacy. But the short chunks make me think of ad breaks - maybe he had a TV show in mind.

Of course, the best scenario would have been the police finding Langdon and Starkey together...

1:07 am  

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