As this silly imbroglio fades into the rearview mirror, I'd like to announce that I am contemplating a lawsuit of my own, for pain and suffering incurred when trying to read Brown's cackhanded prose. I approached the book several years ago without much prejudice. I read Holy Blood, Holy Grail somewhere in the mid-Eighties and found it an engrossing, if academically highly suspect, read. I went on to steep myself in Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum, a far more rewarding wallow in paranoia, and that, I thought, was that. When I read that Brown, of whom I had never heard, had written a novel that appeared to recapitulate Baigent and Leigh's basic premise -- that a historical conspiracy had suppressed hidden knowledge of a royal bloodline that began with Jesus and Mary Magdalene -- I made a note to see what the fuss was about.
I suppose reviewers of contemporary trash fiction have hardened themselves beyond any trace of sensitivity to dreadful prose. I edited quite a large swath of the stuff myself decades ago, and I know at first hand the pressures that bear on editorial workers at mass-market houses to pump out product. If I'd kicked up some high-minded fuss about the fundamental oafishness of some of the authors I was expected to "clean up" -- Clive Cussler, Clive Barker, and John Gray among them -- I'd have found myself on the street, replaced instantly by someone plucked from the bottomless fund of idealistic recent college grads eager to toil for slave wages.
Reviewers of The Da Vinci Code said nothing that led me to expect writing as dismal as what awaited me. Blurbs on the jacket might have tipped me off. My old migraine Clive Cussler calls it "one of the finest mysteries I have ever read"; given a genre that encompasses Poe, Conan Doyle, Du Maurier, Sayers, P. D. James, and Hammett, it's impossible not to impute such an assertion to either spectacular incuriosity or profound dishonesty.
I was thus unprepared for the dull throbbing at my temples that was set off by Brown's opening sentence:
Renowned curator Jacques Saunière staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum's Grand Gallery."Renowned curator"?
OK, fine. Start your novel with a breathless action sequence that sets the pace for an international chase across Europe. No problems there. But why in the name of shrieking Peter Wimsey do you begin your first sentence with a detail as mindbendingly dull as the fact that the subject is a "renowned curator"? What the hell does this add? Surely the expository fact that he is a curator at the Louvre can be saved and inserted a few sentences later when the action has been fully established? And the fact that he is "renowned" in his field is hilariously irrelevant in an action sequence.
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.Joining the two clauses "it tore from the wall" and "Saunière collapsed" with the conjunction "and" is simply a schoolboy's error, a classic run-on sentence. The fact that Saunière's name is repeated rather than the pronoun "he" suggests criminally sloppy editing: No other characters have yet been introduced -- "he" could only possibly refer to Saunière! "As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams Gregor Samsa found Gregor Samsa transformed in Gregor Samsa's bed into a gigantic insect." There: Perfect! Print that sucker!
All this in the first paragraph in the book -- three sentences that a less blithering stylist and more diligent editor would have sweated over until they were perfect.
A few lines down:
On his hands and knees, the curator froze, turning his head slowly.Again Saunière's a curator! Nice to get that relentlessly established! I forget: How renowned is he? Another solecism: you can't simultaneously freeze and turn your head. You just can't. Try it: Stop all movement (freeze) and now slowly turn your head. Hah! Caught you! You're moving!
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.
So while Saunière is defying the laws of physics, the narrative voice continues on its clodhopping way. From Saunière's point of view, a silhouette appears. We'll leave aside the fact that a silhouette can't "stare"; instead, let's observe that Brown's narrator jumps in the space of two sentences from the subjective (what Saunière sees -- a black outline) to the omniscient (a detailed description of the very person Saunière can only make out as a sihouette).
This, my friends, is a master class in Awful Writing. This stuff just goes on and on and on, pages and pages of clangorously dull plod. These fundamental editorial mistakes are analogous to a piece of music in which the instruments are out of tune and playing in different keys, a film where the actors can't remember their lines and the cameraman trips over small objects on the floor, a ballet performed by stevedores. Its wretchedness may entertain for short periods, but eventually the sheer, blistering clumsiness of it makes one pine for a horde of lawyers at one's disposal.
I'll probably see the movie, though. It can't possibly be worse.