|In Short:||A good enough read but not to be taken as seriously as its hype would suggest.|
"These books can't possibly
compete with centuries of established history,
especially when that history is endorsed by the
ultimate bestseller of all time."
Faukman's eyes went wide. "Don't tell me Harry Potter is actually about the Holy Grail."
"I was referring to the Bible."
Faukman cringed. "I knew that."
The Da Vinci Code exploded as the book to read some years ago now, and suddenly its author Dan Brown was heralded as the new J.K. Rowling as everyone and their dog ran out to buy the book. For some it was a chance to read and deride it as fairly average; for some it was heralded as the best thing ever. I had actually read all of Dan Brown’s work before The Da Vinci Code became insanely popular and in retrospect, I liked the book (and Dan Brown’s writing in general) much more before the hype than after it. In rereading the novel I began to understand why.
Firstly, let me just say that I do think it is a good yarn. I’m not a literary snob and I’ve been known to pretty much read anything. No, it’s not exactly Brown’s best work (that would be Deception Point although my personal fave is Digital Fortress) nor is it the best written example of its genre (thriller adventures with a quasi-religious/historical/mythological twist) as in my opinion Clive Cussler does this type of story better and with more action between the pages, but neither is it the worst thing ever written.
The plot, which is effectively a Grail Quest, is interesting enough with Langdon a reasonably heroic enough hero and Sophia a reasonably intelligent and distressed enough damsel. The various supporting characters of the Albino, the Bishop, the French Police Chief and the Butler/Manservant with the actual villain being the Aging and Infirm Academic are sketched out just enough, and having the Church to all extents and purposes be the red herring works even better if the reader has read the first Langdon novel, Angels and Demons, before.
As someone who loves historical thought that challenges the established view (and who is not a member of the Catholic Church), the whole background story to the adventure that Brown paints of the “true” story behind the Holy Grail, the role of Mary Magdalene in the life of Christ and art depictions of the “sacred feminine” are intellectually interesting (and certainly made me pick up some of the more pseudo-academic works on the Holy Grail which purportedly contributed to the research that underpinned the book). But for me it’s not so captivating that I think it actually challenged or challenges established historical thinking about the Grail, nor threatens the faith of the Catholic Church in their interpretation of the Bible. Personally, I think much of the popularity of the book can be put down to a sudden massive group insanity fuelled by too many people trying far too hard to find fact in among fiction, losing their minds and rushing out to gaze far too heavily at either the Mona Lisa or The Last Supper.
Getting back to the writing, I tend to find Brown’s exposition of the puzzles and the solutions to be a little heavy handed and boring. He sometimes uses the device of having either Langdon remembering a lecture he has given in the past or Sophia remembering a childhood event with her grandfather to get to the point. The back and forth is irritating although admittedly it’s slightly more interesting than the other device of having Langdon (or Teabing) explain the symbology or historical knowledge in a scene to Sophia.
His characterization is adequate but not deep. Sophia has just lost her grandfather and ultimately finds her remaining family but even though the point of view switches to her at times, the reader never fully feels her anguish or pain or joy. Equally, we’re told about Langdon’s apparent weariness at one point in the book but despite being in Langdon’s point of view at that moment, the narrative voice doesn’t come across as weary and over-tired. Moreover, Langdon’s “shock” at the end where he falls to his knees as he realizes where the remains of Mary might be doesn’t resonate with me. And that’s despite my liking both Sophia and Langdon as characters.
I admittedly also do find the trips off to other characters at times very boring. In rereading, I was quite happily skipping over sections to get back to Langdon, Sophia and the Quest. I’m not entirely convinced that the readers needed to know what was happening elsewhere to move the plot forward or to continue to tease at who was after them and why.
Overall, I return to my original point that it’s not a bad read. I was perfectly happy reading it on a beach with a cocktail in one hand the first time I read it, and I dare say I’d be happy reading it on a beach with a cocktail again in the future. But I’m never going to fully understand why it gained the momentum it did.
-- Rachel Day