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The Da Vinci Code - A Review of Sorts

So, you ask, do you think TDC is good book? Depends on what your idea of good is. If by good, you mean that the writing is deep and mature and takes you far into the world of the book, where you feel as if you know the characters and have lived in the settings, and the phrasing of the words is sometimes so beautiful it takes your breath away, then no. If by good you mean the author manages to keep you turning the pages even though his writing is stilted and the characters are like stick figures, then yes, it was good.

Dan Brown is not an amazing writer. His books do not sell because he can perform miracles of life with a pen. I keep thinking that Brown must have one hell of a publicist for this book to garner the type of attention it did.

TDC is not the first book to take on the tenets of the Catholic church or Christianity. In fact, I think Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy is far more damaging to the Christian belief system than TDC (and far, far, better written).

Where Brown succeeds is in brevity, I suppose. TDC is not a very long book and he sort of rushes through every aspect of the story, never stopping too long on one subject enough to make it a treatise which, I suppose, would turn off readers looking for a page turner.

Brown's characters elicit no sympathy from this reader. They were hollow, wooden puppets, held up - barely - by the strings of Brown's flimsy plot devices. In fact, the only character I liked - the grandfather - spends 99% of the book dead. Most of the characters were absolute cliches and Brown often resorted to phrasing that appeared to come off of bumper stickers.

Yet, I read the book in a few scattered hours. It was intriguing, but not for the storyline. Instead, it was Brown's injected conspiracy theories that kept me interested. I wonder what his motives were for writing the book; it appears to me that he wanted less to write a good thriller than he wanted to use the novel as a venue to tell people that he thinks the history of Christianity is a farce.

I see TDC as nothing more than a piece of fiction interspersed with Brown's view of reality, vis a vis the Catholic church and the history of Christ. He presents his material in such a way that people who take affront to any attack on the church will view Brown's material as heresy, rather than the rantings of a man with an agenda. I'm almost amused by those who have taken the book so seriously that they rushed to debunk it. How do you debunk fiction? How do you debunk a man's opinion? Granted, he used real agencies - The Vatican, Opus Dei - in a disparaging way, but how many books out there use other real life organizations in fiction? It's only because Brown used TDC to put a puncture wound in the faith of some that the book was taken so literally by many.

The best thing I can say about the book is that it piqued my interest in many subjects, among them Da Vinci himself, the classic artwork referenced in the novel and the mystery of the Grail. If TDC acts as a stepping stone for people, myself included, to educate themselves in areas that were previously unknown to them, then that's a good thing. However, I don't think that was Brown's intention, nor do I think that the masses who have staged a war against the book are doing; they are fighting against one man's fictional concept of their belief system, which seems like a vast waste of energy. If anyone comes out of reading TDC having their faith shaken, then I would suggest that their faith was not too strong to begin with.

As a novel, TDC is pedestrian. The plot is thin, the codes are easily seen by the reader before the characters break them, the plot twists are either telegraphed or inconceivable to the point of absurdity and the ending is contrived. It's a page turner only because Brown is a master manipulator; he drags you in with theories and near blasphemies that make you think, but he never puts these things to great use. Instead, you end up turning the page just to see how the damn thing ends. As one who grew up with a love for cryptograms, Encyclopedia Brown, logic puzzles and adventure games, I felt let down by the book; it could have offered me so much more than it did.

I didn't turn the last page with the satisfaction that I normally get when I finish a book. Instead, I was left wondering what Dan Brown's real motivation is. Which made me feel a bit used, as a reader.

Kudos to Brown for forcing me to educate myself on Da Vinci, the arts and the history of the mysterious grail. But thumbs down to him for writing such tripe and passing it off as history.

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Comments

exactly my thoughts. and i read it like you - a hour here, 30 minutes there, not a book i'd stay up until 4am to finish.

I would be interested in a non-fiction book that delineated what WAS true in the Da Vinci Code. Apart from both the unquestionably fictional plot devices and the mason-esqe conspiracies, did the discussions of Christís divinity actually take place as he said?

There were some very interesting nuggets here and there that I would like to see actually broken down and parenthetically documented.

I've gotta say, I looked up DaVinci's Last Supper and Brown is right about one thing: The figure to Christ's immediate right (viewer's left) is a woman.

As a Christian who takes a far more critical eye to the church and who has tried to never take anything for granted in faith, I find books like TDC rather uninteresting and somewhat cardboard.

I suppose I find it more interesting when someone has something to offer in criticism of the church based in fact, I.E. some of the better works on Constantine and on the early racism, classism, sexism that existed in the early church.

Unlike many Christians I do not find the church some flawless pristine entity bent only towards the good of mankind. But at the same time I'm also a reformist who would see the church become something more than a 'guess who diddled little Billy' news item or a 'guess who had an affair' tabloid piece.

I think much could be said for Christians who are tired of religion and, certainly, I'm one of those. I hate religion. Let me repeat that for anyone in the back: I HATE RELIGION. The traditions of men make the God that I love of no effect to the vast majority of believers and nonbelievers in the world.

/climbing off my soap box

Looking at the TDC as a novel, not necessarily historically correct and certainly not as a definite history of Catholicism, it was a boring read and the premise unbelievable.

Tom Hanks has had a series of flops and I fear this may be another one unless the movie is a lot better than the book.

Michele, as well written review and spot on. I came to this book from the other side; ie having read all the books he used for background information. He said nothing new, just wrapped these ideas up in a lame novel that would have maximum mass appeal. Kudos to him for making money for old rope, but I do hope that the HB&HG guys get some traction out of their suit against him.

Your "Instead, you end up turning the page just to see how the damn thing ends." says it all for me. Its actual presentation was as cliched at The Bobbsey Twins.

Michael Cummins- if you're really interested in a non-fiction analysis of what's true and false, there are several available at Amazon.com. Just look up The DaVinci Code there and those books will pop up as related items.

I bought Secrets of the Code and found it pretty interesting.

Good review. I haven't read TDC yet, though I've seen it floating around the office. I have a tendency to avoid "popular" books based more on hype then writing. I think the only "Oprah" book I ever read was "The Poisonwood Bible."

That said, I wish I could locate a book my dad told me about. When he and my mom were first married (and he was recalled into the Army for the Korean war) they were a poor young couple in Lompoc, CA and movies were too expensive for them. So they read. Westerns and sci-fi being top of the list. Dad says one book he was sorry he let go was a sci-fi that had Da Vinci as its main character, really using his art and writings and many aspects of his life. Premise being he really was a person of the 20th Century back in time and trying to translate 20th century technology in a 15th century world (and the timemachine process had 'reversed' him, thus his lefthandedness and mirror writing).

Da Vinci was such an extraordinary "out of time" man who also was very quiet and secretive -- he lends himself to all sorts of speculation, real and fictional.

Is it worth getting in hardcover? Are the art panels any good? Can someone wait for paperback?

And it's obvious to me after reading "Angels and Demons," Brown is an agent of the Illuminatis. He's pretending to be a hack of a writer while at the same time adding more doubt to the Church's dubious history. What...you thought it was just pulp fiction?
Mwahahahaha...that's what they want you to think.

It seems as if it's a prerequisite for international thriller writers to put out a Vatican conspiracy novel---or two. I've read more than a few of these and the best of the lot is The Book of Q by Jonathan Rabb. It's full of ancient parchments, codes, Vatican conspiracy theories, underground Manichean sects, characters racing around Europe, etc. It's also wonderfully written. Rabb's prose is much, much better than anything you'd find in a thriller, and it's really quite a lovely surprise.

His first novel, The Overseer, is just as good. Imagine if Machiavelli's work The Prince had inspired a league of followers, determined to make that worldview happen...once the time was right. You can let your mind wander from there.

The problem with his book is that he writes in a way the convinces some of his smaller minded readers that he's giving facts about the Catholic Church that are not true (as he does with Opus Dei).

I had a group of coworkers who read the book at the same time and they all took his ideas as fact. I couldn't believe it. They wouldn't even believe me when I told them that Opus Dei was not a monastic order and that it was founded in the 1920s. They honesly believe there's a conspiracy out there.

I read it a year or so ago, and found it very ho-hum. In my mind, was the thought that the author found himself a LOT more clever than I did. The one "insight" I came away with from the book ... is that way too few people are interested in debating and discussing a book at any level beyond "Did you like it? I LOVED it?" It was sad and pathetic, and I think I had one person tell me that "You think too much, can't you just read or watch something for enjoyment?"

"You think too much, can't you just read or watch something for enjoyment?"

!!!!! whoa... a line straight out of "Atlas Shrugged"

Michele,

"Angels and Demons", is even more of a weak mystery (as you'd expect in a writer's early endeavors); definitely no better than one of my wife's Romance novels and worse writing than the pulp fiction of the 50s and 60s. Still, a "fun" read (too little Donald Sobel type books in this current era).

It would be interesting to list the greatest mystery/intrigue authors based on writing style and plot. For example, Ludlum's books sucked in writing style but was one of the best in plot development; on the opposite side of the spectrum I'd put John D. McDonald and Robert B. Parker. (Dan Brown obviously needs to add a middle initial to gain a point in writing style)

Well, unfortunatly, you didn't learn as much art history, archeological history, or church history as you might think you have. He made several mistakes regarding Da Vinci's art, gots dates wrong, and told falsehoods not just about the Catholic church but Judaism too. I went to a talk at our church and was shocked at how much i took for truth because of the way his character spoke.

I didn't take any of it for truth, Julies. I said it gave me the desire to go out and learn more about those things.

The man is no Tim Powers; I'm just saying.

The mistake you made was "reading" the book. This was the best done audio book I've ever heard. What is wooden and stilted in book form works very well read out loud. Try it.

Daddyo

"If anyone comes out of reading TDC having their faith shaken, then I would suggest that their faith was not too strong to begin with"

My thoughts exactly.

On a slightly different note: If you find yourself a fan of DaVinci (the man, not the book) I strongly urge you look up Athanasius Kircher.

Should anyone be interested in a book with some counter-arguments about TDC, may I suggest "The Da Vinci Hoax" by Carl Olson and Sandra Miesel.

Agree: the writing was REAL hokey.

Darleen - I just finished "The Fountainhead" last night, and "Atlas Shrugged" is on my table waiting for me ... so, alas, until I finish reading it - I can't respond. I'm pretty sure the person who MADE the comment to me NEVER read Rand.

You might want to check out, in addition to Cryptonomicon (Neal Stephenson) and teh Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver, Confusion and the third one which i can't remember, also Stephenson), Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco.. All of these drop enough names to keep you stir crazy for YEARS. And both Stephenson and Eco do a lot more research and character development than Brown. Just a suggestion for when you manage to find free time (good luck with THAT, BTW. :-D)

SPOILERS KINDA

I'm upset because the book's ending left me unfullfilled. How are you going to spend 300+ pages talking about THG and then right when you are on the cusp of seizing the damned thing, they decide not to and the book ends. Absolutly no payoff whatsoever. This reader felt "blue balled" by that.

I have 2 of his books sitting next to me (Digital Fortress, Angels & Demons) and I do not feel compelled to make the time investment to read them. So here they sit on my desk.

I think you give Brown too much credit. His goal was not to provoke questions about Christianity, Catholocism, or anything else. It was to write a book that would sell lots of copies, thus making him money.

He put together--admittedly in a creative way--a pastiche of conspiracy-flavored theories and wrapped them in a plot. That kind of book sells very well. Practically anything that is ambiguous--not cleanly black/white--is amenable to this kind of treatment. Thus we have scores (if not hundreds) of books on the Pyramids, Atlantis, "Chariots of the Gods", the Illuminati, etc. It's a well-worn path to publishing success and Brown just followed the ruts.

I'll third the mention of Cryptonomicon.
I've read it twice and it is an epic.

And second the mention of Quicksilver, which is much much more dense with historical reality people/places/science/technology/politics/linguistics on every level and every page than The Da Vinci Code could aspire to over its entire length.

Stephenson, the author of both, can write very credibly on all of the above and make a character driven page turner out of it. I must say that I have had to put down Quicksilver 2 or 3 times to read other things because it contains much too much scope and fails to keep the characters in the fore. The plots, historical or psuedohistorical, can be too dense for my tastes at times compared to Crytonomicon.

As for my impressions of TDC, I agree with Michele on every point. The book was a page turner of sorts, but unsatisfying. The characters are interesting enough and the action compelling enough to be fun to read. Whenever I read/watch something that bashes religion in this way, implying deep hypocrisy and repression in the abuse of power, I fairly quickly begin to discount any "truths" presented and enjoy the fictional story if possible.

Stephenson definetely...as well as the Difference Engine by Gibson. Obviously FP by Eco is a stunning book, I prefer it to Name of the Rose.

I haven't read TDC yet, but I'll second Richard's mention of Tim Powers, whose books I've been enjoying for over 15 years now. The Stress of Her Regard is my all-time favorite. I don't regard them so much as conspiracy novels as real-world Jungian fairy tales. If for some reason that discourages you from reading them, please don't let it.

I saw Powers speak at Arisia (S/F convention in Boston...no, I'm not a "fan" and I don't go regularly) last year. I'd never known he was a devout Catholic, because he'd never mentioned it in his books. Nor did he really discuss it in his speech, except to say that once you start pursuing an agenda in your novels, the novels cease to be about the story. Hear, hear...too many authors in all genres (and not just writers, but musicians, "artists," etc.) are guilty of that.

Carin: "You think too much, can't you just read or watch something for enjoyment?"

Funny, but a friend of mine with a very solid background in history heard much the same thing in her local library recently. She prefers SF, but some older woman seemed to think my friend "should" prefer romance novels—cuz, y'know, she's a gurl—and recommended one involving a pirate "on the high seas" ... in the 14th century. (I'll let y'all dissect that bit.)

Typical romance-novel cover: buff guy with clean-shaven chest and face, "heroine" with conditioner-commercial hair, perfect teeth, pristine white gown, etc., etc. And the pair of them had supposedly been at sea for five months. My guess is that the book was only worth borrowing for "the good parts," as they used to say.

When my friend pointed out all of the idiocies in the blurb and the cover, the woman blinked, then snapped, "Well, if you're going to be so picky...!", then stalked away.

I didn't take any of it for truth, Julies. I said it gave me the desire to go out and learn more about those things.

I could tell from your post that you were doing your own digging (many don't)-but my point is that the little things/simple things such as dates and stuff were wrong-why provide false info like this as fact? I can understand exaggerating for fiction's sake the history of the church (hardly new).

While I do not have the literary background as most of you seem to, I have read a few books in my day. I have read both TDC and Angels and Demons. I preferred Angels however. I liked the connection between the church and science that Angels showed as opposed to the conflict-ridden TDC. I do admit that both were weak in the factual department however they are deemed fiction. People should keep this "fact" in mind.