Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Chapter 5

Whoooosh.... we're in New York. Or are we?

Chapter 5 opens with a description of the Opus Dei headquarters on Lexington Avenue. But once we've got the interrelated messages about the money ($47 million to you, guv) and the weirdness (separate entrances for men and women) out of the way, the reason for us being here, Bishop Manuel Aringarosa, has left the building. Then he's most of the way across the Atlantic, and he's talking to the mysterious Teacher back in Paris. So what the hell was the point of that?

The meat of the chapter is to give an overview of Opus Dei. We get the history, we get the accusations, we get the defence, the conspiracy theories, the kinky spy. Brown seems so keen to highlight the veracity of his claims, that he even gives us the web address for one of the anti-OD organisations. It's as if Scott Fitzgerald had entrusted us with Gatsby's phone number. But without the good writing, of course.

Incidentally, am I the only one who can spot a parallel between Brown's characterisation of Opus Dei, and the wackier manifestations of Islamic fundamentalism (gender separation, dark robes, homicide)? If anyone's interested, I'm spinning out a Bush/Osama comparison over at Comment is Free, but with reference to a different kind of potboiler.

Aringarosa himself comes across as a fairly sympathetic guy, until he takes a phone call, which tells us two things: 1) he has no concern for air safety regulations; and 2) a mass murderer has him on speed dial.

Oh, and Dan - the plural of millennium is millennia. Not millennium. Although, as Mangonel suggests in yesterday's comments, there's a limit to how many times we can flag up Brown's stylistic infelicities. Fair point: but part of the rationale for this blog was to decide how important style is to the airport fiction genre. I can well understand that DB's readers don't care about style, and might even be put off by 'good' writing. But does that mean that they have to be served bad writing per se? Surely Brown's publishers have the editorial resources to turn his prose into something neutral, that doesn't scare off the mainstream, but at the same time doesn't feel like a balloon rubbing on a cat to people with slightly more advanced tastes? Or is it not a case of people not caring about the style: do fans of this sort of thing actively seek out bad writing, even if they don't know that's what they're doing?

And if you're still feeling a tad guilty about reading this shite in public, there's a thoughtful article on literary guilty pleasures from The Independent.)


Blogger Spinsterella said...

Do Brown's readers expect/deserve/enjoy the bad writing?

I think it's fair to say that the vast majority of Brown's readership don't read, say, Umberto Eco as well.

What strikes me is the overwhelming literal-ness of it all (even if it doesn't always make sense).

Everything is described in such detail. Every character is described so thoroughly - we know exactly what their eyes/nose/hair looks like. We are shown everything about all of their surroundings and every step they take is also described.

Nothing is left to the imagination. But surely this is what readers of airport fiction expect - to be spoon-fed.

It's TV in a book.

4:33 pm  
Blogger Joel said...

The highly descriptive writing technique Brown is using is like a pound-shop version of the one that Raymond Chandler usually employed. In Chandler's case it served to highlight Marlowe's detective's eye for detail, as well as obscuring which particular details would be important later on. Everything becomes an Aringarosa. However, I think Brown uses it because he can't write a decent simile, metaphor or, um, character.

4:50 pm  
Blogger Mangonel said...

Do you remember a bust portrait of an imaginary (goodness, I really hope she was imaginary) woman in cod oriental gear, looked a bit like Ava Gardner, with bright green skin? Late 50s, 60s, early 70s she hung in lower middle-class sitting rooms the country over. So ubiquitous she became cultural shorthand for the socio-economic group.

Same with those large fleece blankets printed in tasteful neutral tones with the vast face of a sweetly sleeping kitten.

Or gold taps. Or shell suits. Or jaguars.

People choose these things. They could choose a Hockney print, an undyed plain cotton waffle weave blanket, John Sydney bathroom taps, and - you get the point. But they don't.

So no actually, I think the lumpen proletariat - sorry, the bulk of DB's readership - prefer this style.

Maybe we have to look at exactly what the point of telling a story is.

Babycham versus Cristal. Oh! Ferrero Rocher versus Valhrona! M'sieu Ambassadeur!

(Wasn't it Burberry who were dismayed to find one of their most expensive and sought-after bags adorning the voluptuous shoulder of one Ms J Goody? And the desirability of the bag fell like Lucifer from the empyrean? ROFLMAO!)

Oh - and, Tim, the rational for this blog?

1:43 am  
Blogger Tim Footman said...

Fair point on the spelling, Mangonel. Changed it now. In my defence, I don't have armies of editors at my disposal, although neither does Dan for that matter.

And I see what you mean by the Green Lady. But although that was a bit tacky, it was technically OK as a painting. Similarly shell suits and gold taps: they offend the aesthetics, but they do the job. What depresses me about DB is not his lowest-common-denominator sensationalism, but the fact that his writing is actively bad. As Joel suggests, Raymond Chandler wrote popular, successful fiction, but he could string a sentence together. Agatha Christie wasn't a great prose stylist, but her writing did the job. The DVC is less like the Green Lady, more like a children's scrawl. Only the artist's mum should have it above her mantelpiece.

Spin: Spoon-feeding - Dan Brown as the national curriculum of modern fiction...

2:03 am  
Blogger Mangonel said...

But is DB noticeably worse than anyone else? I'm not in a position to say. Airport fiction is truly not a genre I've explored much. At all, actually. Maybe I'm being an intellectual fascist here, but I've been assuming he writes no worse than any other of his kidney. I was hoping to explore why his book is the runaway best seller, and not any of the other readily available crap.

9:35 am  
Anonymous drake said...

Yes, Spinsterella, it is fair to think so. Brown is hardly Eco light.
Mangonel, I would say that airport fiction is not pretentious, whereas Brown is.
In any case, accurate research on Brown's part would have revealed plenty of sources with ex-member testimonies. Using them would have made his story more realistic and his work a little more credible.

2:49 pm  
Blogger Tim Footman said...

Very good point, drake. I'll deal with it, if I may, in the response to the comments on the next post.

3:29 pm  

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