The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

While cleaning out old mail I found this wonderful Language Log post on the awful writing in The DaVinci Code:

The Da Vinci Code may well be the only novel ever written that begins with the word renowned. Here is the paragraph with which the book opens. The scene (says a dateline under the chapter heading, 'Prologue') is the Louvre, late at night:

Renowned curator Jacques Saunière staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum's Grand Gallery. He lunged for the nearest painting he could see, a Caravaggio. Grabbing the gilded frame, the seventy-six-year-old man heaved the masterpiece toward himself until it tore from the wall and Saunière collapsed backward in a heap beneath the canvas.

I think what enabled the first word to tip me off that I was about to spend a number of hours in the company of one of the worst prose stylists in the history of literature was this. Putting curriculum vitae details into complex modifiers on proper names or definite descriptions is what you do in journalistic stories about deaths; you just don't do it in describing an event in a narrative.

I remain mystified by the popularity of Brown's work. Da Vinci Code wasn't just badly written; it was unrealistic, contained absurd errors, and was fundamentally unsatisfying. The book promised an amazing revelation, but at the end it sort of petered out.

(And lest you get the wrong impression -- I love thrillers and mysteries. When I say "unrealistic" I am accounting for the suspension of disbelief that all such works necessitate. To some extent all mystery/thriller fiction is schlock, but the better purveyors -- Martin Cruz Smith, Ken Follett -- at least will teach you something, and believe in their characters.

Brown is somewhat reminiscent of Robert Ludlum. My not-very-informed impression of Ludlum is that he wrote the first Bourne book as satire, wishing to mock thriller fiction in the same manner as Cervantes tried to kill off knight-errantry. Perhaps, like Ludlum, Brown is laughing all the way to the bank.)



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