Confession time. I don’t hate Dan Brown. In fact, I enjoyed The Da Vinci Code.
I know, I know, in literary terms this is up there with saying that you preferred the movie of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy to the book or you favour tomes with chewable covers and pop-up illustrations on every page, but I’ve had enough of lying. I read The Da Vinci code, I quite enjoyed it, and then I put it down and that was the end of it.
Or so I thought. Now I find myself justifying my moment of fluff reading to everyone who asks. “Yes, I read the Da Vinci code. I know, I know, it’s bad. He writes with the subtley of an illiterate rhino on crack, I get it.” After a few minutes of being haraunged for my poor taste I find myself bleating the following apology and attempt to justify myself. “Yes, I read it. But I didn’t buy the series.”
I feel like Bill Clinton, with his famous admission that he tried marijuana but didn’t inhale. (And seriously, I understand that he was trying so hard to sit on the fence that he was getting wedgied by the posts but who wants someone in charge of their country when they say they can’t even work out how to smoke correctly? Next thing he’ll be all confused about the facts of life… oh, wait a minute.)
Everyone has had a go at Dan Brown. He tops the Oxfam Least Wanted list for books donated to the charity stores. Jodi Picoult thinks his books are “poorly written“, Salman Rushdie thinks The Da Vinci Code is a “novel so bad that it gives bad novels a bad name“, and Lifehacker pithily titles one of its articles Improve Your Writing with Dan Brown’s Mistakes.
The UK Telegraph devoted a whole article to identifying the worst moments of Dan Brown’s writing, including such gaudy but apparently subtle gems as “Only those with a keen eye would notice his 14-karat gold bishop’s ring with purple amethyst, large diamonds, and hand-tooled mitre-crozier appliqué”. There’s also a quote in there from Edinburgh professor of linguistics Geoffrey Pullum who declares that “Brown’s writing is not just bad; it is staggeringly, clumsily, thoughtlessly, almost ingeniously bad.”
I’m not arguing that one. But I think they miss the point on what Dan Brown is. He is the literary equivalent of the old Batman TV shows; terrible dialogue, ludicrous plots, evil organisations and camp villains and constant cliffhangers get resolved in the most ludicrous of twists. You don’t read Dan Brown for the writing. In fact, you barely read Dan Brown at all. You skim lightly from crisis to crisis and plot twist to plot twist, thoroughly entertained by the silliness of it all. The only thing missing is a pop-up at the end of each chapter – POW! BANG! BIFF! Right in the eye with that subtle diamond and gold applique ring.
The Da Vinci Code isn’t a book for lovers of fine prose and editing, it’s a block-buster designed to distract the brain. Dan Brown has thrown subtlety and good writing out the window and written the literary equivalent of a dodgy action movie. Is it good writing? Hell no. Is it a good book? Well, that’s another issue. It is if that’s what you want to read right now. Sometimes there is a place for terse and tightly written prose. Sometimes you just want to see renegade monks beat up people.
So I’ll admit it. I read The Da Vinci Code. And I enjoyed it.