Sunday, January 14, 2007

Chapter 7

My favourite fiction writer, for all his faults, is Evelyn Waugh. His greatest gift was for dialogue, and he was one of the first novelists to exploit the phenomenon of the telephone; with a page of speech, often without speech tags or even any explicit indication of who was talking, he could express the deepest weaknesses of his characters. (David Lodge discusses this technique in depth in his brilliant collection of essays The Art of Fiction, which should be compulsory reading for anyone interested in how novels work.)

Waugh, I think it's fair to say, would not have included the following sentence in one of his phone conversations: "I'm sorry, you say this visiting Opus Dei numerary cannot wait until morning?" It's like one of those heavy-handed Hollywood epics that include explanatory lines like "But Your Majesty, if you execute your cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, won't you be just as bad as your father, Henry VIII, when he beheaded your mother, Anne Boleyn?" And, before anyone says it, yes, I know Shakespeare sometimes does the same thing, and it's horrible when he does it as well.

That aside, I'm quite impressed by the illusion of breathless pace that Brown creates. It's partly the short chapters, partly the hopping between locations. When you stop and consider, he's given over three pages to an old lady getting out of bed, although he did pack it out with a little detour into the murky world of Vatican politics.

Was he being paid by the word, I wonder?

I'm taking a bit more time off for good behaviour. Back Thursday, if I'm not kidnapped by the Khmer Rouge. In the meantime, RIP Robert Anton Wilson. There was someone who knew the secret of apeshit conspiracy theories: make them really, really silly. I think Brown's sort of nudging in that direction, but he doesn't seem to be aware of it. Wilson could sneeze out 23 fresh conspiracies a day, and never lose his knowing wink.

And that sort of leads to today's homework. The various obits of RAW reminded me that the wonderful Ken Campbell (the best Dr Who we never had?) who adapted and staged the Illuminatus! trilogy in the 1970s, and I started to think that TDVC would have been considerably more entertaining if Langdon had been modelled on Campbell rather than any uneasy fusion of Indiana Jones, Brown himself and Sister Wendy Beckett. So that's your task - create your fantasy Da Vinci adaptation - stage, movie, opera, whatever - and give details of dream cast, director, writer, music, special effects and so on.


Blogger Corey Redekop said...

I'm going to get right on that dream cast, but first...

I'd like to apologize to those among you whose feathers have been ruffled by my assertion that style is more important than substance. I may have overstated my case for the sake of clarity.

The point is, of course story is important. But, a good writer can make a novel with no discernible plot as breathtaking as the finest chase scenes. What happens in Catcher in the Rye? A young man whines and moans for 200 pages. Fairly little in the way of typical plot machinations actually occurs. Yet Salinger keeps us reading through his style, his verve, his passion. Now, I love a good story, and when style and plot meet (as in the greatest detective story of all time, Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye), there is nothing better in the world. But Chandler could make an apartment renters guide seem interesting, he's that good.

Of course story is important. Look at the bildungsromans of Dickens and John Irving (god, I've always wanted to use bildungsromans in a sentence, did I do it correctly?), or the mysteries of Christie, P.D. James, and Ian Rankin. A good story (and, by extension, a good storyteller) is a lovely thing. But what Brown proves, again and again and again (and sorry Mangonel, but TDVC is boring, perhaps its most unforgivable crime), is that the greatest story in the world means nothing if the storyteller doesn't have the chops.

Again, sorry to rant on and on, but boy do I despise Brown and his success.

Now, as for the adaptation - I haven't finalized anything, but being Canadian, I'm going for Colm Feore as Langdon. Now there's a stage actor with presence, gravitas, and wit. But as a subtle nod to fans of the movie (there must be one, right?), I'm bringing back Jean Reno. I love the guy.

1:54 pm  
Blogger Joel said...

I think the Da Vinci Code should be a photo-realistic pop-up book designed by Dave McKean, with the main characters represented by different stuffed animals. Langdon as a salt and pepper haired badger! Bezu Fache as an actual bull! This would be the least subtle, most contentiously creepy option, therefore the best.
The second best option is a gentle BBC1 primetime sitcom, with the plot relocated to Bury St Edmunds. Bill Bailey is the lovably bumbling Langdon, with Frances De La Tour as an older Sophie. Da Vinci, of course, is replaced with the textile industry of the 14th century.

6:32 pm  
Blogger Billy said...

The Art of Fiction is a splendid read.

6:50 pm  
Blogger Spinsterella said...

All male main characters in airport trash fiction look exactly the same - Harrison Ford crossed with Robert Redford.

Bezu could be played by the least bull-like man on the planet - Bez.

Is Bezu an actual genuine name anywhere on the planet?

1:20 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course you could move the whole thing up-market to appeal to a more sophisticated audience with a 2 hour ITV Drama sponsored by Leerdammer Cheese:

Robert Langdon: John Nettles of Midsummer Murders

Sophie: Jane Wymark (Mrs Barnaby)

Bezu Fache: John McCririck (Sponsored by Leer-dammer)

Leigh Teabing: Stephen Fry

Silas: Ross Kemp (Subject to availability and typecasting concerns)

The plot dispenses with all the religious nonsense and revolves around the quest to discover the truth behind Google with the mysterious emergence of cult leaders Sergey Brin and Larry Page. Details of their plan to make every blogger change over to "new" blogger "beta" emerge, and at every stage in the adventure new "clues" are discovered in the form of word verification letters in a meaningless jumble such as "NABWRNDOSIANCTU".

It's a winner, Tim!!!

2:26 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You'd have to do a piss take cast to make the film even slightly watchable.

Langdon - Bruce Campbell
Sophie - Joan Cusack
Teabing - Rolf Harris
Bezu - Manuel from Fawlty Towers
Silas - Leo Sayer

Director - Verhoeven
Soundtrack - Electric Light Orchestra

12:27 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can we have the west end musical smash hit please.....lets see...I'll have Elton John as Silas. Quite fancy Dawn French as Sophie. Not sure about the others yet. Music? Oh it'd have to be Lloyd W. Can't you just hear the singalong rousing chorus of O Pus Dayee?

10:51 pm  
Blogger Mangonel said...

Saunier - Toby Ziegler
Langdon - Josh
Sophie - Joey Lucas
Aringarosa - Jed Bartlett
Silas - Donna Moss
Bezu fache - Mrs Bartlett
Teabing - CJ Cregg
Nun - Margaret
Collet - Leo McGarry

Director Jonathan Frakes
Music Kate Bush

If anyone can make the improbable sound even half-likely, it's that little lot.

1:00 pm  
Blogger Tim Footman said...

I'm almost sorry I suggested this one. But I think the trophy goes to K.W. The notion of Teabing revealing the grail's secret with an excitable "Can you see what it is yet?" is too enticing for words.

8:07 am  

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