Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Chapter 26

Brown points out the fact that most posters of the Mona Lisa are bigger than the original. There are all sorts of potential byways down which we could take this, pondering the nature of reproduction, of images, of simulacra, of visual shorthand. Brown does ponder why this small, brown daub is the most famous painting in the world, but his explanation ("Quite simply, the Mona Lisa was famous because Leonardo da Vinci claimed she was his finest accomplishment.") doesn't quite ring true. If we knew which of their works were the favourites of Dickens or Bach, would that stop the arguments.

Clearly, we back in Langdon-as-teacher mode. Maybe it was a bit of a stretch for some readers to imagine themselves as Harvard students, even bizarrely dumb ones, so Brown really shows us how he thinks of us - doing time in the Essex County Penitentiary.

Incidentally, in the real world, there doesn't seem to be such as thing as "Amon condoms". But then, in the real world, don't the French call the Mona Lisa "La Joconde" rather than "La Jaconde"?

And we end, naturally, with a cliff-hanger. What do we think the six purple words across that enigmatic face might be?

a) An albino monk just shot me;


b) Some lame anagram, possibly relating to the name of a painting?

Monday, February 26, 2007

Chapter 25

Bezu Fache: D'oh!


Bezu Fache: D'oh, part deux!

Oh dear, the soapchucking flic is having a rough time, isn't he? I take back what I said about Fache being Clouseau. He's actually the bastard offspring of Clouseau and his boss, Dreyfuss. As a bit of comic relief it works. But it rather detracts from the notion that Langdon and Sophie are in any danger of getting caught. It's not as if they're nuns or anything...

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Chapter 24

In which we encounter Silas, "taking in the length of the massive marble shaft".

Eye-watering innuendo aside, we're back in the realm of super-short chapters made up of super-short paragraphs made up of super-short sentences, many of them verbless.

It's tense.

It's scary.


And you just know Sister Sandrine is dead meat, like the guy you've never seen before who gets beamed down in Star Trek. (© E. Izzard.)

Provided, of course, that Silas can tear himself away from the massive shaft. Or vice versa.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Chapter 23

About a decade ago, I worked with a couple of Glaswegian graphic designers who were obsessed with conspiracy theories. Roswell, the grassy knoll, the Illuminati, Elvis: everything had a dark underbelly. But above all, what exercised them was the enigma of the number 23.

I suspect they would be rather sniffy about the tired themes with which Brown tries to pep up his prose. But they would have noticed immediately that the 23rd chapter is something special. Everything that characterises TDVC, for better or worse, comes together:

1. Flashback. Sophie as a girl, getting the first inkling of her renowned grandfather's secrets.

2. Word games. Bloody "P.S." again.

3. Comedy policemen, chucking soap in the Seine. Zut alors!

4. Clunky explanations for the dimmer reader. Oh, that's what a cul-de-sac is.

5. Annoying use of italics.

6. Langdon in didactic mode, just in case we forget that he's a bit renowned as well.

7. Veiled references to the past. We still don't know what alienated Sophie from her grandfather. Crikey, it must have been something jolly serious.

8. Utter bollocks. The Priory of Sion is a hoax. Did you get that? It didn't happen, and no "cultured individuals" were involved. No Newton, no Botticelli, no "Da Vinci". All made up. Got it?

9. Bad writing. "Despite the total conviction in Langdon's eyes, Sophie's gut reaction was one of stark disbelief." Ewww...

Of course, if you can find another 14 characteristic elements within this one chapter, we've got a real conspiracy theory on the boil. Cue Twilight Zone music...

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Chapter 22

And yet another pause to educate the reader. This time the factoids (the Rose Line, compasses, Greenwich, etc) are introduced in the form of the explanation that the mysterious 'Teacher' offers to Silas. Once again, the reader is encouraged to identify with one of the dimmer characters, although at least Langdon isn't a multiple murderer.

Unfortunately, this focus on the Rose (and the sign thereof) reminds the more alert reader of TDVC's rather more illustrious predecessor, The Name of the Rose. Accident, desire for association by implication, or massive hubris?

And I've decided to limit myself to one giggle per chapter at Brown's stylistic clunkers: "gasped with revelation"?

PS: Maybe Brown's apparent efforts to discredit the Roman Catholic Church haven't been all that successful, if the latest news that it's about to become the biggest religion in Britain is anything to go by...

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Chapter 21

Brown seems quite pleased with the didactic idea. Despite the fact that we (and Langdon) have already deduced that Sophie is the smarter of the duo, it seems to offend the author's natural order of things to have his feminine lead in a dominant, teaching role. So we see her at six, having sfumato explained to her by the renowned curator.

There's a neat transition from Saunière's comment about secrets to Langdon's realisation about the true meaning of "P.S." But Brown has to ruin it with a particularly inept piece of writing.

"Like a peal of thunder, a career's worth of symbology and history came crashing down around him." There are good similes, and there are not-so-good similes, but the worst kind of simile is the sort that seems superficially OK, but when you give it more than cursory attention, reveals itself to make no sense whatsoever. Brown seems to have spotted the loose connection between the words "thunder" and "crash", thrown the two concepts into the mixing bowl, and wandered off without tasting the mixture.

Thunder may indeed crash, but it doesn't crash down around anyone. It happens up in the sky. Things that crash down around you might be say, some pots and pans that fall of a shelf when a cat knocks them off. Or any last vestige of hope that Dan Brown has English as a first language.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Chapter 20

Brown has set himself a tough task. He wants to write a book that's both accessible (a mainstream thriller, with lots of thrills and cliffhangers) and didactic (even if the stuff he's teaching us is bollocks, he's still going to teach it).

He's done OK so far, slipping the Gnostic theology and Renaissance aesthetics into conversations between the principles, but now we've got a problem. He wants to explain the Divine Proportion. Langdon knows all about it. But so does Sophie. And they're both rather too preoccupied to go over old ground at the moment.

Langdon: Sophie, did you know that the Divine Proportion, or phi, is 1.618?

Sophie: Yes.

Langdon: Oh.

So, what the hell, if you're going to attempt to educate the audience, why not take advantage of the fact that your hero is an educator? Cue flashback, to Langdon teaching at Harvard. And a couple of things emerge.

1. Harvard students are, despite the global reputation that the institution holds, a bit thick.

2. Langdon is the sort of academic who reckons he can get down with the kids by quoting Wayne's World at them.

Oh, yeah. Those funny words. They're anagrams. Or, as Sophie puts it, for the benefit of the really slow readers who had trouble with all that Divine Proportion malarkey, "Like a word jumble from a newspaper."

Oh, and Louvre staff are on strike. Maybe they're looking for danger money, because of the risk of being shot by pink-eyed monks.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Chapter 19

There's this thing called dramatic irony, see. It means that someone does something or says something that has a significance s/he isn't aware of. Usually, the audience or reader is aware of what's going on, and it creates a sense of pity for the poor sap.

Shakespeare does it a great deal. In Macbeth, when the Porter claims to be in charge of the gates of hell, Duncan's body has yet to be discovered, so the drunken doorman isn't aware of the bloody accuracy with which he speaks.

This is how Dan Brown does it:

"For a fleeting instant, she wondered if this mysterious visitor could be the enemy they had warned her about, and if tonight she would have to carry out the orders she had been holding all these years."

Do you see the difference? If Dan Brown were writing Macbeth, he'd have the Porter say "Ooh, wouldn't it be dreadful if someone had stabbed the king to death?"

We're back to short chapters, I notice. Incidentally, what are "quiet eyes"?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Chapter 18

Ah, back to chapters of reasonable length. And Langdon and Sophie finally make their way out of the toilet, although they only move about fifteen yards away. Either they're both suffering from some unpleasant condition that means they're at permanent risk of being caught short, or the Louvre offers the most seductive public conveniences in all of France.

Brown plays around a bit with time here, and it just about works. The DCPJ goes bananas as Langdon appears to have killed himself, and then immediately drives out onto the Pont des Saint-Pères. Then a 60-second flashback, and we see how the stunt was pulled off, with the aid of a trash can and a bar of soap. It's a very filmic touch: it's pretty clear that Brown had some kind of cinematic treatment in his head while he was writing this, just as his fellow successful bad writer John Grisham does. But this is more Tarantino that Ron Howard.

One further thought. "Sophie Neveu was clearly a hell of a lot smarter than he was." Well, obviously, as well as being more interesting as a character. So why does Brown structure the narrative with Langdon at the centre? Even if he needs a white American male with whom the reader can identify, why not make Langdon the Watson to Sophie's Holmes? Or can the restrictions of genre not handle that sort of culture shock?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Chapter 17

If Brown is going to drip feed revelations to us, it's inevitable that some of his characters will get left behind. This is quite a clever technique; up till now, he's been making us feel dumb in the presence of such searing intellects.

In this chapter, however, the police get hold of the info we've already had (Sophie's not all she seems) a wee bit late and as a result, we feel superior to them. "Of course she's his granddaughter!" we bellow. "Duuuhh!"

Nice bit of gadget junkie stuff there as well, Dan. A Manurhin MR-93, indeed. Who does he think he is, Ian Fleming?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Chapter 16

Ah, that's better. A chapter that takes longer to read than a Daily Mail editorial, but without the sense of lava and excrement bursting out of Paul Dacre's tearducts.

Turns out the renowned curator was something of a dodgy character, although the precise nature of his dodginess is left hanging for the moment, which encourages the reader's mind to race a little. Transvestite? Nazi? Author of conspiracy-theory thrillers? We also discover that Sophie is an orphan, and that it was her grandfather who encouraged her in the code-cracking skills that led to her current profession.

And, of course, we find that Saunière knew of the danger that he was in. The plot thickens, but very slowly. Like when you put a teeny, teeny bit of oil into the eggs when you're making mayonnaise.

They're still in the toilet, by the way. Any moment now, Fache is going to come round with some ExLax.

Incidentally, what exactly is a "graduate university"?

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Chapter 15

As Spinsterella notes, this short chapter thing is just getting silly, but as those nice people at The Open Critic point out, this is all just part of the formula (and if you lot don't behave, we're all doing Angels and Demons when this one finishes, and I don't care if you miss the bus home). Brown gives the impression of dizzying pace, but in fact he's moving about as fast as Nicholson Baker's narrator in The Mezzanine.

Silas gets out of his car, sees some hookers, and knocks on a door. Oh, and he remembers (we presume, although Brown is too coy to be specific about it) getting raped in prison.

Flicking ahead, the next chapter has rather more meat. Whether this is a good or bad thing is another matter...

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Chapter 14

Just when I'm praising Brown for the sense of pace that comes from his short chapters, he overplays it. Nothing really happens in Chapter 14, apart from setting up (but not yet delivering) a revelation about Sophie. Instead, we learn that Bezu Fache needs a high-profile arrest to silence his critics; that he lost a lot of money in the dotcom bubble; and that he wears nice shirts.

Beckett, of course, could spin an entire play from such character revelations, although Fache would have to spend most of his time in a dustbin. Is Brown aiming for this sort of existential absurdism here? And how would TDVC progress if this were the case?

Sophie: Let's go.

Langdon: But I need to do a poo.

They do not move.