Friday, 11 October 2013

The Da Vinci Code: First Chapters, First Impressions

http://eighteenthcenturylit.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/the_monk.jpg
A monk, from the novel The Monk by Matthew ("Monk") Lewis


The first chapter is a prologue in which a large albino shoots a curator in the Louvre after extorting a secret that the albino already know about. The curator dies slowly, digestive fluids flooding his body, with a large painting by Caravaggio lying on top of him.

This opening unleashed all my fond memories of the sensation fiction of the early 19th century, especially that magnificent outpouring of paranoia and moralization, The Quaker City; or, The Monks of Monk Hall, by George Lippard, or the monk-loving gothic novels of Ann Radcliffe  and Matthew Lewis. I anticipated some fun.


Into the first and second chapters (the chapters are short), I became disappointed. The writing quality is below that of Lippard's, unfortunately: Brown's is the Spartan writing of screenplays. The thoughts coming out of the main character, Langdon, are banally juvenile, more like what a teenager might think than a scholar. This so-called "Harrison Ford in tweed" is so blatant a copy of Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones that to have another character say so explicitly is an anticlimax. I actually winced when Langdon pulled the old "look in the mirror" trick so that he could describe himself to the readers, another trick that writers of low imagination and inexperience pull. I pursed my lips with impatience when a police inspector absurdly flashes a photo of the dead curator to the good professor (why?)  and drags Langdon out of his hotel room (at the Ritz, of course--this is going to be another one of those books where everyone has to be rich) in the middle of the night to take him to the scene of the crime (that seems rather irregular police procedure). Well, I guess this book isn't aiming for realism.

The mystery is compelling, though many years ago I read Holy Blood, Holy Grail, the book which served as the source for the novel's overarching mystery, so I know already where the plot is heading. My foreknowledge of the novel's premise may make this book drag for me.  This edition has pictures (it's the illustrated edition), so perhaps that will help keep me turning the pages. Well, I have to keep turning the pages: I've promised to read this book.

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