Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code caused a storm when it was released and was the runaway bestseller of 2003. As well as three sequels, it spawned a thousand wannabe copycat efforts and a trilogy of motion pictures starring Tom Hanks as Brown’s main protagonist, Harvard symbology professor Robert Langdon.
Critics derided the literary merits of The Da Vinci Code, and not without reason. But Brown had found a way of successfully combining serious academic research into topics that people wouldn’t ordinarily read about, with a fast-paced page-turning conspiracy thriller style that sold by the million. While I thought Da Vinci was itself a bit pompous and self-important, I really liked the first book in the Langdon series – Angels and Demons – despite the wildly improbable helicopter-flying, skydiving would-be pontiff saving the Vatican from nuclear annihilation. Read the rest of this entry »
The shock news that Pope Benedict XVI is resigning (the first pope to do so in almost six hundred years) left me with a strange hankering to rewatch Angels and Demons, the 2009 thriller based on Dan Brown’s novel of the same name which used the election of a new Pope as the backdrop to the central story line.
Let’s be clear, neither the book nor the film is remotely authentic or realistic in terms of its plot; however, in terms of the research on show about the actual Vatican processes surrounding the selection of a new pope it’s fairly close to the known facts while also enjoying the freedom of cinema to take us behind the doors that in real life are firmly locked and bolted against prying eyes. That makes this a useful highlight notes package for the real event that will follow Benedict’s own exit from the position at the end of February. Read the rest of this entry »
If the novels of Dan Brown and Lee Child were laid out on an autopsy table and forensically dissected and analysed, then put back together again by a decent literary technician, this is pretty much what you would expect to get as the end result.
Hence an obvious Jack Reacher-inspired hero is parachuted into a story that seems cookie-cutter produced from Brown’s best known works: secretive millionaires, secret extremist religious group, a homicidal fanatic, and a trail of clues from history leading to one of the best known hidden secrets of all time – in this case, the alchemists’ Holy Grail of eternal life and how to change base metal into gold, rather than the Holy Grail itself. The book pads out the rest of its pages with plot and style drawn from films, so that the central relationship between the hero and a female scientist is inspired straight from those rom-coms where the pair hate each other on sight but predictably fall into each others’ arms in the final reel. The good guy is unequivocally heroic (he has a vague drink problem, but that’s forgiven by being the result of a childhood tragedy) and the bad guys blacker than black. Interestingly it seems the good guys drive Renaults, Citroens and Peugeots in the French-set story, while the bad guys all drive German cars – it’s not exactly subtle.
Its lack of ambition for any originality is really rather depressing: it’s the literary equivalent of popcorn, an impressive amount of volume but almost no calorific content, a meal that’s forgotten almost before you’ve finished eating it. At least the prose is an improvement of Dan Brown’s execrable tomes (although it simultaneously also shows up just deceptively well told and nuanced Lee Child’s best-sellers are.) It manages to be be perfectly readable, retaining Brown’s annoying readability strategy of continual “just one more chapter” cliffhangers and proceeding at a fair clip. The language is kept very simple, the words, sentences, paragraphs and chapters are all very short – it’s writing for people who don’t generally read or have attention deficit problems, and has something of the air of a ‘young adult’ series (something that’s actually been planned by the publishers, apparently.)
Still it’s a perfectly fine holiday beach book – something that’ll be diverting enough while your brain is on auto-pilot. It’s also ideal to read on an e-reader like a Kindle or an iPad. The historical background of alchemy and its relationship with first the Catholic church and later the Nazis is interesting in its own right. However, the book’s smugness on its level of research is undermined by some mistakes in some of the incidental modern day background about cars, and later by some odd mishandling of timings that makes no sense and should have been picked up by the editors.
Overall, there’s enough untapped potential in both the lead character and the author to make me interested in revisiting later books in the series (there are now six – five of them in two and a half years). If the series can shake off its slavish adherence to pastiching existing best-sellers and find its own groove, language and direction then there’s certainly enough promise of talent to make it work.