Friday, May 19, 2006

More on The Da Vinci Code...

As the book and now the film release hype reaches a crescendo I can safely say I'm sick of reading about the Da Vinci Code. However, I'm not sick for the obvious reasons of disliking Dan Brown's work. I'm nauseated by the literary and general artistic snobbery which is almost triumphantly displayed by expert critics. Rarely is a self respecting decent critic seen to publicly praise the work.

I think in truth what probably subconsciously irritates many purist critics is that the book presents its ideas so entertainingly without overworking the reader too much. It also touches on so many subjects which only experts in each field should be qualified to have a considered view on. It has elements of an "Introduction for Dummies" book in terms of art history, places and Christianity. Worse - it goes on to make conclusions in the fictional plot which are rather speculative to say the least.

I liked the book for two reasons...

1. It helped further enhance my existing interest in history of art, famous places and history of Chistianity and religions generally. The concept of the suppression of females in religion was also a well raised subject. Hence it did for me and evidently millions of others what any really good book should do - allows the reader to take something useful away from it, learn something, provoke thought and encourage further research. I wasn't for one moment convinced by the "garment" created from the cutting and stitching of fabrics of raw materials but it definitely provoked more study into actual facts. There was plenty of encouragement offered to the reader to think a bit differently and laterally.

2. It was a good yarn in a well tried and trusted thriller or detective format.

Yes the book was designed and written with maximum commercial success in mind. Yes it was using well understood shrink-wrapped psychology in keeping the reader interested and wanting to keep reading. Yes it had ingredients designed to make big numbers of vertical marketing groups read it - Christians, non-Christians, clergy, women (and men) irritated by overdose of male roles in religious hierarchal structures, thriller novel lovers, detective novel fans, casual history fans, lateral thinking fans, holiday readers, readers who want something easy to digest, young, middle aged and old people etc. Yes it is very American in how it's full of punchy ideas and yes it also avoided complex expressive literary writing styles. But so what I ask? The fact is that most of these elements tend to be seen as negatives by highbrow critics.

Here's a question partially related - in experiencing something new, should we criticise a well designed multimedia PC based self learning software package for the masses which maximises visual and aural stimuli as well as using psychologically proven teaching techniques in favour of drudging through research and going and listening to a plethora of badly delivered live lectures by experts? Each has their place and their merits.

The Da Vinci Code brings traditionally less studied subjects - raspberry flavoured by presentation skill and controversy - closer to the unwashed masses. This can irritate many well read critics.

However study of lateral ideas in art and religion should not be a domain for snobbery - it is for anyone who wants to feel liberated in thoughts away from their everyday lives. Shakespeare plays were always designed for the common people of England when they came out - now Shakespeare is largely in the realm of the artistic snob.

I'm going to be different to most critics and say The Da Vinci Code is a good book. I know hundreds of millions of intelligent people will support me. I doubt if the film will be a better overall experience but if it comes any way close then it can't be bad.

(PS - My first impressions on the book last year are on my blog of 1st Sept 2005.)


Sinéad said...

John, I agree that the book has many elements that people will love and without doubt is a pageturner. I like thrillers and mystery novels, but this one is well below par, based on other books I've read. That said, if it encourages people to find out about women being erased from Christianity, that can only be a good thing.

You might be interested to know that Roger Ebert (one of America's most esteemed and credible film critics) really likes the film.

-Ann said...

Although I am a begrudging struggling writer :), I am not a literary purist. I am not well-read and I don't know anything about art, culture, or Church history.

What I do know is good writing and the DaVinci Code is not it. The characters are barely two-dimensional and the author's writing style is smug and overly-pleased-with self.

Although the D.Code is bad writing, it is fantastic story-telling and that's why the book has been successful. A great plot, poorly written, is always going to beat a character-study that's well-written.

As for Ebert, he's been slipping the last several years. He seems to grade on a curve. Having an actor he likes or a director he likes automatically jack-up his star rating. I used to be able to use his reviews as a good guide, but now some of his recommendations have to be taken with a grain of salt.

Omaniblog said...

I'm delighted to find your comment on Sinead Gleeson's blog. It enabled me to follow up on here and read your excellent comments. They are excellent not only because I agree with them but because they are very well written. I must make a habit of reading your other stuff when I am not rushing to Limerick for the Final.
Just try and write a page turner thaat millions will read... Go you critics who praise the book for being only a page turner. You damn with feint praise but you reveal how little you have thought about the skill required.
Brown wrote some poor books before DaVinci: he was developing his skill. I read them after DaVinci and it was interesting to see how dramatically he had improved with DaVinci.
Sinead: I would like a list of other books you've read that you rate higher than DaVinci. please. It's not that I don't believe you, but when someone says this is poor, I want to know what they think good, so that I can have a stab at what criteria they use.
"The Sea" is good writing, isn't it, -Ann? I'm at page 52 after three weeks. Reading like a snail or sloth. I am learning from it, thinking about the craft of writing on several levels at once. This isn't a page turner. Apples and oranges. All you critics of Dan Brown, stop trying to show off your damning ability.
Bless you all... Pray for Munster.

John of Dublin said...

Thanks Sinead, Ann, Omaniblog for all the comments.

Sinead - yes the lack of equality in the Church towards women is one of the strongest things which comes from the book - and further research helps to confirm it even more - e.g. read my blog of 1st Sept 05 and in particular the last section re. the balanced research carried out by a Christian Theologian Justino Ramon - years before the Da Vinci Code hype. He puts up a very good argument that Mary Magdelene could be author of Gospel of St. John. It seems John was a very obscure figure and it was also the last official gospel compiled. One of Ramon's summaries was priceless and should be noted by all women!!...

"Does this thesis seem radical to you only because I propose that a woman authored one of the four Holy Gospels in the Bible? If I had a thesis which proposed that Bartholomew, or Andrew, or James, or any of the other male apostles authored the Fourth Gospel instead of John -- would that be considered very radical? Probably not. In fact, the church has no problem with the prevailing scholarship which says that a man whose name we don't even know wrote one of the most sacred Christian documents. Imagine -- even a nameless man is preferable to a woman."

BTW I know Ann and Sinead say that the Da Vinci Code is badly written. I realise it's not a work of great literary style and the characters lack depth (although some attempt was made with Sila and maybe Sophie). Instead it gets to the point and lets the core story take over. I've read books like James Joyce's Ulysses and Banville's The Sea and others where the style of writing is as important as the content. Everything has it's place. I suspect Brown is unable to be a great writer in poetic terms but he has other qualities for those who are willing to learn something and think deeper on the subject's dealt with. For me he kept my attention throughout the book and as I've said he uses good shrink-wrapped psychology in doing so. I read it's 600 pages in 7 days - Banville's The Sea took me 2 weeks to get through and it was about half the number of pages. Yet I liked both books for different reasons. Overall I got much more from The Da Vinci Code because I learned more and it took me to other things to learn. I suppose if one is not intriqued by the history of religion and art and related challenges to the reader's established views then the book is probably a snore.

Omaniblog - thank's for all the interesting comments, I find myself in agreement with practically all you say. PS - great Munster win - I was pacing the room for most of the 2nd half!! Stringer is a super-hero!

Omaniblog said...

John, The pedant in me wants to know which bit of what I wrote do you not agree with? I had you down as my alter ego.
Really interested in what you say about Mary Mag. writing a gospel. That's a good one and now I have a new thing to think about. That is, I think, part of the beauty of Brown's DaVinci: so many herrings to chase.
I must put your blog on my blog, and test this mirror hypothesis.

John of Dublin said...

Omaniblog - lol! I had a slight feeling you maybe didn't think "The Sea" was good literature. But as I read your comment more carefully I realise I'm wrong! Okay, so I agree 100% with you!! I've put a link to your own blog which is interesting reading. Forgive me for not reading all your Munster rugby adventures - but I got the idea! It was a very special victory.

I read some of your other stuff - I liked the Kevin Myers open letter. John

that girl said...

I'm one of those people who thinks the Da Vinci code (which I read 3 years ago) is poor piece of writing. Like others I think the characters are barely one dimensional, not alone two. The story itself has been told elsewhere (I read the Holy Blood and the Holy Grail years ago and it's much more interesting). The book itself is clumsily written but if you call ending each chapter with a cliff hanger that's as sophisticated as Coronation Street - well I guess that's a page turner.

What's terribly sad is that the film is such a literal translation of hte book. Films are predicated on "show me" don't "tell me" and the film has all the charm of a one point I turned to my friend and said - "when's the ad break?"

As for great literature - well anything by Ian McEwan or John McGahern will do it for me where the craft of the writer is so brilliantly displayed - more often than not in what is not said..rather than what is. Browne, for me, tries too hard and fails. Where he has succeeded magnificently is in ensuring people emerge from the film and from having read his book questioning the authenticity of the content rather than scorning the mechanism by which that content is revealed.

I am not a lover of Banville's The Sea, primarily because it is so clinically written - I didn't care a whit for any of the characters and was unimpressed with the "reveal" at the end. Having said that, I've enjoyed his other work...each to their own I guess!

John of Dublin said...

Thanks Annette.

I accept much of what you say. I also agree that that "The Sea" by Banville had flaws, I would have a number of bad things to say about it - including things you said yourself, but I think it was written in an interesting and refreshing style.

Personally I don't believe the Da Vinci Code book is "poorly" written. It is constructed in perfect English and gets the story across very clearly. It does not use a poetic and highly colourful literary style of language nor does it analyse the individual characters very much. Apart from the fact the Brown may possibly be incapable of such skill - I suspect adding such colour could drag the novel out towards 1000 pages. As it is he focuses on a considerable wealth of subject matter in simpler English. I think this works better for this type of novel so that the reader can concentrate on the subject matter - which itself offers the reader plenty to think about!

My 16 year old daughter came in lastnight after watching the movie. She is naturally very inquisitive but hadn't read the book. She enjoyed the movie and spent an hour bombarding me with questions on Opus Dei, Knights Templer, early Christian history, Leornardo Da Vinci's works, Mary Magdalene and other disciples. She wasn't naively taking everything in the movie at face value but it opened up her mind and made her hungry for more details. This is really all I've being saying - if you want to open your mind up to knowledge not always discussed at public levels then the Da Vinci Code is a gem. Some of her friends of course were not intrigued by the subject matter and found the movie boring.

I guess I better go and see it - but I've little doubt that it will be hard to beat the book.

Anyway, it's all very subjective what people find good or bad, so as you say - each to their own!

Omaniblog said...

"each to their own" - OK Hard to respond to that. But I would love to see this one argued out in its entirety. Whe I was reading DaVinci I didn't say to myself: this is poorly written. I was absorbed in the story. I've been reading "The Broker" by John Grisham - just to send me to sleep at night. Again the writing hasn't a single individual or remarkable feature. But, Grisham knows how to write a story that you feel compelled to finish. Surely this is a genre which requires pace, little or no characterisation, only the vital situational detail and a rollercoaster motion that threatens change around every corner. The good writers are able to twist the story towards the end. They make sure the reader has enough detail to feel that the read has been both thrilling and educational.
As for "The Sea", it's too early for me to offer a verdict. Where have I put it? I put it down on page 53 and now don't know where it is. But that won't matter when I find it because the education of Omani will resume as if it had never been interrupted.