Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Chapter 4

If you really want a paragraph that epitomises bad writing, here it is.

"Captain Bezu Fache carried himself like an angry ox, with his wide shoulders thrown back and his chin tucked hard into his chest." Well, the ox thing we've already gathered (his underlings call him "le Taureau", remember), but you can sort of work out where he's going with this, although I don't think oxen have chins, and surely if you throw your wide shoulders too far back, they start going narrow again. But then things start getting really silly. "His dark hair was slicked back with oil, accentuating an arrow-like widow's peak that divided his jutting brow and preceded him like the prow of a battleship." Apart from the messy double simile (is it like an arrow or like a prow?), Brown seems to have forgotten the previous sentence as soon as he's written it. Fache's chin's tucked in, remember? And if his widow's peak is prominent enough to divide his brow, surely that would mean it would point downwards, wouldn't it?

And then: "As he advanced, his dark eyes seemed to scorch the earth before him, radiating a fiery clarity that forecast his reputation for unblinking severity in all matters." Well, for a start, he's not walking on earth; he's walking on marble. It's as if Brown has a sort of instinctive hunch that "scorch" and "earth" kinda go together. His eyes aren't just dark, by the way, they're ebony; it said so in the last paragraph of the previous chapter. Which means they can do a lot of things, but radiating isn't one of them. Also, how can you forecast a reputation? A reputation is something that relates to the past; a forecast is about the future.

Yeah, yeah, I'm being over-literal, as well as over-literary. But similes and metaphors need care. They need to be precise, focused, consistent. Brown's are none of these things. They're vague, flabby first attempts, that should at least have been queried by a halfway alert editor. At best, they add nothing. At worst, they're ludicrous.

Brown is keen to highlight Fache's ostentatious piety, as expressed by his crucifix tie clip. This neatly splices the forces of law and authority with those of orthodox Catholicism, setting up the potential for the captain to be identified by the over-eager reader as a (or the) villain of the piece. But then we get this: "Then again, this was France; Christianity was not a religion here so much as a birthright." What exactly does this mean? Yes, lots of French people are Catholic. But the Republic is avowedly, constitutionally secular, and this situation has been maintained rather more successfully than, say the separation of Church and State in the USA.

Brown does seem to be trying a bit of subtle foreshadowing here: the security grille is compared to "something used by medieval castles", and later to a guillotine. We're dealing with something deeper, weirder, older than the straightforward murder of a renowned curator. The reference to the 666 panes in the Louvre pyramid is part of the effect. Once again, you're being encouraged to read more; the future looks good, but this only works if you don't pause to think how ludicrous the present is. In fact, progress through the book is rather similar to the "Louvre lite" at which Langdon sneers: pace is all, to the exclusion of style, content, sense.

Oh, and would Langdon really describe the contents of the Grand Gallery as "large-format oils"?


Blogger Spinsterella said...

"As he advanced, his dark eyes seemed to scorch the earth before him, radiating a fiery clarity that forecast his reputation for unblinking severity in all matters."

While this is brilliantly awful - is it any worse than other writers of the same genre? I genuinely don't know, but I assume that this sort of shite is par for the course.

I really quite like 'fiery clarity'.

2:12 pm  
Blogger Corey Redekop said...

What scares me is they sound like good metaphors, until you really think them through.

I'm scared because, how many bad metaphors have I used? I'm sure I had someone's eyes 'fly open' at one point or other. Am I as guilty as Dan Brown? Or do bad mataphors=massive sales?

2:49 pm  
Blogger Mangonel said...

*groan* I gotta say that DB read at speed (poss. on speed) is barely bearable. This leaden reading pace makes me want to dive head first into a pool of my own vomit. Each chapter is leaving an aftertaste! Ugh!

*sigh* here we go . . .

Surely we have already covered the horribly style? By now we know that every chapter will present some fresh linguistic hell. Set up a side post where people can post their favourite bits.

Fact is, DB knows his demographic. None of his stylistic infelicities are out of place in the 'Airport Novel' genre. All - ok, almost all - his readers will get a general sense of character, atmosphere, environs usw.
What I want to know is, how does DB keep us reading for a prologue and four whole chapters, and very little has happened.

Way back when, when Foucault's Pendulum was the read, I was slightly embarrassed by my initial experience of the book, until I realised that enough other people shared it. I couldn't even get to the end of Chapter Two. Not for ready money. It took me about four goes finally to embark on what turned out to be an absolutely cracking read.

So I dunno whether the question is
a) what did Eco do wrong
b) what did DB do right
c) what kind of fool puts the two authors within one astronomic unit

I have a feeling the answer will be sex. All that Goddess stuff? That's got to mean sex and a half. We still don't know what is depicted by the bizarre, gruesome horror-laced-with-fear-inducing polaroid depicts, so the voyeur within needs to keep reading.

1:52 am  
Blogger surly girl said...

that dark-eyes-fiery-clarity bit needs to be read by that american man who does trailer voiceovers for action films. try it in your head - it's a film i certainly wouldn't watch...

8:07 am  
Blogger Spinsterella said...

Mangonel - I disagree.

LOTS has happened.

We've already had a murder/suicide (with hints that the circumstances are very odd indeed), a self-flagelating albino monk murderer, and a sexy Harrison Ford lookalike art-expert genius who is going to sort it all out.

All in four very short little chapters.

(I'm also half-way through The Line of Beauty and so far nowt in the way of plot has actually happened.)

11:15 am  
Blogger Tim Footman said...

Apart from some bumming, of course.

Mangonel... we could of course integrate a mass reading of Foucault's pendulum into the blog as well. But Corey's put his finger on it (and I've touched on this in the Chapter 5 post). I started this with the assumption that bad writing didn't matter to DB's audience - now I'm starting to wonder whether they actively desire it.

Surly: Damn, you're right. That man who smokes too many cheap cigars.

11:25 am  
Blogger patroclus said...

It's the adjectives. They are horrid. I have this idea (it might be rubbish) that a good writer should be able to convey the requisite atmosphere and information just using nouns and verbs. But Brown isn't clever enough with nouns and verbs to do that, so he has to qualify them with equally piss-poor adjectives.

A weak (in the sense of unoriginal, clich├ęd, boring, everyday) noun won't get any stronger with the addition of a weak (in the same sense) adjective. It'll only make it sound worse.

11:53 am  

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