Thursday, January 18, 2007

Chapter 8

It must have been quite an adventure to have read The Da Vinci Code as soon as it came out. By the time I encountered it, everyone was talking about the word puzzles that Brown had dotted all over the place. The reader could only embark on this journey with preconceptions, just as people watching Citizen Kane or Psycho for the first time will inevitably begin with sledges or dead mothers in their heads.

At Cultural Snow, I recently mentioned the way that some names and phrases just look like anagrams, even if you don't know what they mean. As soon as Brown shows us the daublings on the floor, out come the pencil and paper. Actually, no it doesn't; anyone who's played Scrabble, or attempted a crossword that doesn't have the word "QUICK" appended to it, should have twigged this one. What's the book called? What's his most famous painting? Sorted.

"Langdon knew Saunière spoke impeccable English, and yet the reason he had chosen English as the language in which to write his final words escaped Langdon." Uh... because Brown's readers wouldn't be able to cope with an anagram in French? Incidentally, has anyone read any translations of TDVC? How do they cope with the linguistic juggling? Does the joke about the Papal Bull work in French, for example?

As Mangonel rightly pointed out, it's here, not in Chapter 6, that Brown starts pushing us towards seeing Fache as the villain. Between his desire to entrap our hero ("cajoler" - good word), and his blinkered devotion to the Church (cf the homicidal antics of the Opus Dei fanatics - does the Taureau wear a cilice on his fetlock, we wonder), he's clearly being set up as the nemesis. Under normal circumstances, the technique is so blatant that the reader would see it as a case of misdirection on the part of the author. But in this universe, words such as "blatant", "obvious" and "duh" are no longer pejoratives.

Zadie Smith's latest ruminations on the art of fiction may be of interest. This is particularly appropriate:

"Personally, I have no objection to books that entertain and please, that are clear and interesting and intelligent, that are in good taste and are not wilfully obscure - but neither do these qualities seem to me in any way essential to the central experience of fiction, and if they should be missing, this in no way rules out the possibility that the novel I am reading will yet fulfil the only literary duty I care about."

11 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read TDVC early enough that all I had heard/read was that the puzzles existed, nothing more. So I hit the book expecting to be challenged, as I noted earlier. Instead, I found them disappointingly easy. I'm bright but no cryptographic or mathematical talent, and I expected to have to work harder. This actually had quite a large impact on my opinion of the book as a whole.

Smith's article is an excellent read. Thanks for the pointer.

10:52 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Off topic, but why does he refer to him as Da Vinci? Is that how he's known in the US?

8:11 am  
Blogger Tim Footman said...

Valerie: I think if it hadn't been heralded as a "brainy" thriller, we wouldn't have been so disappointed. There's nothing wrong with stupid books, so long as they don't claim to be otherwise.

Annie: No, that's what dim people call him.

I talked about both these subjects here.

8:39 am  
Blogger Joel said...

It's more like a thriller with artificial brainy flavour. May contain pieces of red herring. Choking hazard.

8:57 am  
Blogger Billy said...

I am rubbish at anagrams, mind you I didn't try with these ones.

11:29 am  
Blogger Joel said...

Dan Brown= Own Brand

1:45 pm  
Blogger Tim Footman said...

Very good, Joel. Can you do one for Oye Billy?

2:22 pm  
Blogger Spinsterella said...

The good thing about books like the DVC is that they are instantly forgotten.

I have completely forgotten the entire plot since I originally read it, and I'm hopeless with anagrams and number patterns and the like, so I am genuinely thinking 'Oooh, I wonder what that's all about then?'

2:24 pm  
Blogger Mangonel said...

I think in America they don't have crosswords the way we do. They have clues like "The longest river in Ohio" and the answer is - well, whatever the name of longest river in Ohio is. So anagrams would not occur to an American readership. Maybe anagrams = brainy. Hey, they even stump our hero, who writes books on Symbology, Ideograms and Iconology! See, they must be hard.

And here's the sex again. "Sacred Feminine"? Guaranteed to get the juices flowing. Bound to be some sex in that.

1:57 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't remember any actual sex in TDVC, although I didn't manage to read to the end. I'm presuming he ended up shagging his bit of crumpet?

10:00 pm  
Blogger Tim Footman said...

Spin: the literary equivalent of a Chinese takeaway?

Mangonel: I'm sure there are cryptic crosswords in the States. Doesn't the NYT have one? Can anyone elucidate?

Annie: "shagging his bit of crumpet"? Marvellous. But no, Langdon's desire to breach the sacred feminine remains unresolved.

5:47 am  

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