Friday, January 05, 2007

Chapter 2

In the Prologue, Brown breaks the "show don't tell" rule when he names the curator. The assassin, however, retains a sense of mystery...

...until now. He's called Silas. There you are. No subtlety, no chance for the reader to infer anything; Brown just leaps in and tells you. Ba-boom. On his thigh, the monk wears a spiked cilice belt, a fact that we're told a couple of times, as we discover what the "pain is good" mantra really means. "His skin tingled with anticipation." Very Rocky Horror. Mortification. Kinda kinky, in fact the closest thing we'll get to a sex scene, I reckon. Escrivá, the founder of Opus Dei, gets a namecheck, but the prelature itself doesn't. Are we supposed to recognise his name?

A few oddities that might have been picked up in editorial: Silas's residence is described as "luxurious", while his room is "spartan". I can understand why the clef de voûte is italicised (it's a foreign phrase), but why the keystone? The Teacher pauses "as if for prayer". Was it for prayer, or wasn't it? The knots on Silas's whip are said to "slap", then to "slash". Aren't those verbs precise opposites? (Think the flat of a hand, then a karate chop.)

But is this editorial noodling missing the point, like the apocryphal reviewer who wrote about Lady Chatterley's Lover as if it were a treatise on pig farming? In Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing, which was broadcast on Radio 4 last weekend, a professional dramatist dismisses a play written by an untutored Scottish arsonist and political acitivist. There's a sense that the two men are operating from such wildly differing perspectives that they'll never even agree to disagree. As another character says: "To you, he can't write; to him, write is all you can do."

Maybe this is the mistake I'm making here. Does consciously 'good' writing get in the way of plot and excitement? Should I just wallow in the weird and wonderful world that Brown constructs for his unlikely characters? Into a single chapter, he crams theology, intrigue and masochism, enough meat for half a novel by anyone else.

It's a reverse whodunnit. We've got the culprit, now we need to work backwards to get the motivation, bad writing or not. Only 103 chapters to go...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Does consciously 'good' writing get in the way of plot and excitement?"

Interesting thought, I think that can definitely be the case sometimes. For me, in spite of the admittedly interesting themes he introduces, Brown's writing style makes me very grumpy. That certainly gets in the way of my enjoyment of the plot and excitement.

You know, commenting on someone else's writing makes me hugely paranoid at how this very post reads!

3:57 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To pick further nits. Silas states that he knew his revelation to the Teacher regarding the keystone would come as a 'shock'. But why? A little later he tells us of the well known legend of the keystone, so really it's just confirmation of what is already suspected isn't it?

I think the notion of conspiracy used to be tied up with covert operations and corresponding illegal activities. It's a broader church these days which may or may not be covert or indeed involve any illegality. Anyway, one mans conspiracy is anothers righteous crusade.

Although Brown identifies strongly with his hero, why should this in itself make him reluctant to write sex? Others, (say Ian Fleming), seem to have no compunction in doing so. It's extremely difficult to do well though and often an irrelevance or a stupid interlude best (and safely) left as frissance.

Excuse me while I tighten my cilice several notches. Boy, have I been BAD!

4:20 pm  
Blogger Tim Footman said...

Hello, 9/10. I know what you mean about being extra cautious with your own writing. But I just remind myself that this is only a blog, not a multi-million selling blockbuster, so different criteria apply.

Clod: good call on Silas. Although he's a bit thick, so maybe he forgot. And I just posited that DB might be a little inhibited about depicting his alter ego in rut mode. But maybe not.

7:43 pm  
Blogger Spinsterella said...

Would conscioulsy good writing get in teh way of the plot?

I don't know if I'd take it that far.

However the DCV rips along at such an entertaining pace (goddamn thost chapters are short!) and with so much 'meat' as you say, that I was well through it before the bad writing really started to grate.

By way of contrast I read a Robert Ludlum once and was cringing within a few pages.

9:53 pm  
Blogger Mangonel said...

*pant* *pant* *pant* *pant* *pant* *pant* *pant* *pant* *pant* sorry sorry sorry - went to the wrong room - the bus was late - the dog ate my homework - was mugged - bloody dog . . .

No, DB's writing ain't good. (How convenient that his initials usually stand for something that is!) But he does have a very conversational tone. Witness the punctuation which is all over the place - you can - one can - well, I can hear someone telling me the story. Which has an immediacy which smothers objections to his style. Going back to the last chapter, no, gates don't thunder, but it does give the reader the idea the the gates are bloody big. Roaring pistol? In the middle of the night, in the hallowed precincts of a world-renowned museum (see what I did there?) you know that the pistolshot will have been shockingly loud.

The thing I don't like about Silas is the idea that he is monstrously hulky, yet conversationally lucid, especially as it's clear that he is not speaking his mother tongue. If DB made me believe this, Silas would be a certain WOULD!, but instead he reduces the poor pained monk to the status of narrative device.

11:44 pm  
Blogger Mangonel said...

And I forgot to say I adored Ludlum. Took me four books (FOUR!) to realise he was telling the same story over and over. But I still remember the thrill of my first one . . . well thay say you do, don't they?

12:57 am  
Blogger Valerie said...

I enjoyed Ludlum, too -- helped me get through my senior year of my BA, in being total escapist tripe, thank goodness. I read a lot of Travis McGee novels at the same time. The thing is that John D. MacDonald stuck with me -- I still love his preachy sidetracks about the commercialization of his beloved Florida coastline -- but Ludlum got left behind along with my senior year. There is, however, something to be said for escapism.

TDVC, though, claims to be anything but escapist. (Alarmist perhaps..)

5:25 am  
Blogger Tim Footman said...

I read a Ludlum once. It was about drug dealing on an Ivy League university. The central character had to pretend to be off his face. It was a bit like Charlton Heston reciting the lyrics to 'Cop Killer'.

1:06 pm  

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