The Da Vinci Code The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
Publisher: Anchor
Year: 2006
Pages: 496

The Da Vinci Code has been making headlines ever since it inexplicably1 crept up the best-seller list. It’s a controversial book, which does nothing to harm the author and everything to help his bottom line. Knowing it was likely utter pabulum, I wanted to read it so to better understand the author’s ineptitude, but hadn’t been able to force myself to read it. No more; after a long delay, I finally read the book that Stephen Fry so aptly describes as “arse gravy of the worst kind.”

How exactly does one begin a review of The Da Vinci Code? At almost 500 pages, it’s far too long, and its mistakes, errors, and weak points are too dense to list. It begins with the death of a prominent art curator by a hulking, monosyllabic killer taken straight from a hackneyed B-movie. Enter an “expert” on “religious symbology” and a young, attractive French cryptologist, and continue to bluster for the rest of the book about expertise in various fields.

Here’s the rub: everybody in the book is an “expert,” but from the way Dan Brown writes it, it seems as though he spent maybe a couple of minutes skimming Wikipedia articles (and misunderstanding them) and decided that was good enough.

I knew even before I started reading the book that it would contain a lot of nonsense. I had girded my loins, so to speak, by constantly reminding myself that the work was fiction, based on an alternate history—here I give Dan Brown the benefit of the doubt, since he hasn’t exactly said this, but the alternative would make the bullshit:accuracy ratio too high to contemplate. It’s a play on the conspiracy theories involving alternate histories of Jesus: that he married Mary Magadalene, and had a family, and that the entire 2000-year history of the Church is a big cover up. Add to that a secret society and hidden messages in famous artwork, and you make for a ripping good plot—that is, if it weren’t so excruciating. If I had to come up with a ballpark figure, I’d say that 95% of Brown’s content is utter nonsense.

But wait! There’s more! Even if you manage to suspend your disbelief and accept wholeheartedly that either Brown was knowingly writing an alternate history (you’re an optimist) or that he’s correct in his conspiratorial assertions (you’re a twit), you still have to deal with one incontrovertible truth: Dan Brown is an awful, atrocious, abominable writer.

Brown’s writing is not just bad; it is staggeringly, clumsily, thoughtlessly, almost ingeniously bad. In some passages scarcely a word or phrase seems to have been carefully selected or compared with alternatives[… h]e writes like the kind of freshman student who makes you want to give up the whole idea of teaching. Never mind the ridiculous plot and the stupid anagrams and puzzle clues as the book proceeds, this is a terrible, terrible example of the thriller-writer’s craft.

There are two levels to Brown’s bad writing. The first is mechanical, approaching stylistic:

A voice spoke, chillingly close. “Do not move.”

On his hands and knees, the curator froze, turning his head slowly.

Only fifteen feet away, outside the sealed gate, the mountainous silhouette of his attacker stared through the iron bars. He was broad and tall, with ghost-pale skin and thinning white hair. His irises were pink with dark red pupils.

Just count the infelicities here. A voice doesn’t speak—a person speaks; a voice is what a person speaks with. “Chillingly close” would be right in your ear, whereas this voice is fifteen feet away behind the thundering gate. The curator (do we really need to be told his profession a third time?) cannot slowly turn his head if he has frozen; freezing (as a voluntary human action) means temporarily ceasing all muscular movements. And crucially, a silhouette does not stare! A silhouette is a shadow. If Saunière can see the man’s pale skin, thinning hair, iris color, and red pupils (all at fifteen feet), the man cannot possibly be in silhouette.

While a book full of this would be enough to fell any sane person, the torment doesn’t stop there. There’s also the fact that Brown has perhaps the most irritating narrative style in the history of written language. He narrates in a semi-omnipotent third-person, but this changes whenever it becomes inconvenient for Brown. The really irritating part is the constant use of “thoughts,” which tend to punctuate just about every block of narration. Brown qua Narrator tells the reader something, and then the character will chime in with something totally extraneous or dumb, phrases that would have been better left narrated—occasionally phrases so academic or complex that they would sound awkward spoken2, much less thought.

Brown careens from cliché to malapropism to ridiculous dialog, a drunk behind the wheel of this jalopy of a book. I find myself at a loss of words to describe how utterly dreadful this book is. I think perhaps Stephen Fry has it right: “arse gravy of the worst kind.”

  1. I shouldn’t say “inexplicably” because I know why it sells: people are stupid[]
  2. They do this, too[]
§1979 · February 16, 2008 · Tags: , , , , , ·

10 Comments to “The Da Vinci Code”

  1. Maw Books says:

    I read this book right before the movie came out. I just thought it was "okay," nothing to get excited about. I’m curious as to what you think of Angels and Demons (if you’ve read it, I’m assuming no). My mother-in-law raves about this book! I picked it up second hand for a couple dollars and it’s been sitting on my bookshelf for months. Not in a hurry to read it, although I’ll get to it sometime.

  2. Conor says:

    Impressive that you waded through that one. I never touched it. I did, however, tackle D&W, which was bar none the worst piece of trash I have ever read. Thank you for providing critical examples of Brown’s atrocious writing style—in my opinion, that’s really the only thing that need be addressed in any review of a book of his.

    Scarringly bad. I think I actually destroyed the copy of D&W I read, which caused no small list of compunctions on my part. But it had to be done. The book was like goatse in text form.

  3. AcademyX says:

    Finally you have reviewed a book that i’ve read.

    I’ve read Angels & Demons as well, many features of the plot are similar to The Da Vinci Code – for example, starting of with a dead guy with a synbol drawn on him. It looks like Dan Brown doesn’t get too many ideas.

    # I shouldn’t say “inexplicably” because I know why it sells: people are stupid

    Ha ha ha.

  4. Brady says:

    Heh. "Arse gravy."

    I put the book down around page 20 and never picked it up when he wrote that the public considered his main character "The Harrison Ford of the Religious Symbology crowd" or some such nonsense.

    It’s depressing that pseudo-historical candy corn like this and National Treasure is so popular. Sure, it ostensibly gets people interested in history, but the wrong kind of history- the kind where "research" equals "I read this on the dust jacket of a critically-crucified book from twenty years ago" and "reasoned analysis and careful conclusions" equal "wouldn’t it be cool if?"

    Arse gravy. You know I’m using that one at some point.

  5. Ben says:

    It’s going to be my favorite phrase now.

  6. Adam G. says:

    Bravo, sir.

    The only thing worse than The Da Vinci Code as a book is The Da Vinci Code as a film. God, it’s awful. No, it’s worse than awful. It’s arse gravy. Arse gravy of the worse sort (the kind that occurrs after a day of eating nothing but pizza rolls and Buffalo Wild Wings).

  7. Andy says:

    I’ve gotten into fights with people who assume I dislike the book so vehemently because it counters the New Testament. That’s a whole separate argument; I could read a well-written book that goes against the Bible, and I have. But foremost among The DaVinci Code’s sins is that it sucks. A lot. And hard. Brown’s "prose" makes James Patterson and John Grisham look like Wordsworth and Frost by comparison.

  8. Ben says:

    Yeah, being irreverent is the least of the book’s concerns. It’s no wonder I put this garbage off for so long.

  9. […] reviews The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, So Long and Thanks for All the Fish by Douglas Adams, Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel by […]

  10. jjohnsen says:

    I hated this book. Not because of the religious content, but because I think it’s so poorly written. It was bad enough that I thought about abandoning it a couple of times, but kept going because so many people I know raved about it(their opinion on books no longer matters to me).

Leave a Reply