The Da Vinci Code (2003)
by Dan Brown

The Da Vinci Code has become the Dark Side of the Moon of the New York Times bestseller list, seemingly having been on there for at least ten years straight (yes, I know the book has not been out that long, I'm just making a point, asshole). I can't imagine it's possible to take an airplane, or lay on a beach, or visit a coffee shop, anywhere, at the moment, without seeing someone reading it. And while this phenomenon is not that uncommon, the strange thing with this one is that everyone I know – lowbrow retards and credible critics alike – has urged me to read the damn thing.

What the hell? You'd think this kind of fervor would be reserved for those rare, life-changing books that cut across all walks of life with bona fide wisdom, heart, and beautiful language. So imagine my surprise when I plowed through it and found it to be a simple mystery novel, and not even a well-written one, neither.

Indeed, the book is so terribly written that it might as well be a screenplay; Dan Brown is a likeable and enthusiastic writer, but he's so lazy that when he's at a loss to describe a character (that is, when he bothers to describe a character at all), he's not above simply naming a movie actor he imagines the character resembles. Which is bad enough, except that in this case, he relies heavily on ideas and characterizations overly familiar from Indiana Jones, and he actually patterns the lead character after Harrison Ford.

The story is completely engaging – very fast-paced, very short chapters, very well-suited for, say, airplane reading – and it success is either a lucky confluence of its content and the current book-readin'-public's interests, or a cynically calculated amalgam of ideas specifically selected for the current book-readin'-public's interests. I'll give Dan Brown the benefit of the doubt and call him a seriously lucky sonofabitch. Yet the book's approach shows he (or his editors) know precisely how to score a direct hit on the braindead masses and their collective disposable income. To wit:

Super short chapters – A good many chapters are three pages long or shorter. For easy digestibility.

Plain speakin' – Whenever a character speaks in French, or otherwise refers to something that not everyone might instantly recognize, the author provides "helpful" translations or explanations. All within the flow of supposedly realistic dialogue, of course. As a result, thoroughly educated characters end up speaking like Encyclopedia Brown and Friends … ensuring you don't "miss" anything.

"Breathtaking" pace – Each chapter hinges on leading you rapidly toward a big "Gasp!"-type reveal. For a sense of excitement.

"Intellectual" references – Famous artists, writers, paintings, and buildings figure in to the plot, most of which any reader will be at least vaguely familiar with. To validate the reader's desire to feel "smart."

"Controversial" ideas – Seemingly anti-Christian elements (which end up being explained and downplayed in a dubiously fair-minded way) are interpolated, distracting you from the dryness of the actual content. Keeps everyone buying the book to "see what the fuss is about."

Conspiracies! – Secret societies, puzzling messages, shifting alliances … everyone loves a conspiracy (as the book literally states a number of times). A time-tested hook.

Romance! – Just a hint, and no sex. One of several bones thrown to an assumed "feminist" audience.

The Big Reveal! – A series of hidden clues leads to … The Holy Grail! No, I'm serious. And it's in the Louvre.

I suspect my assessment thus far seems a bit scathing, but I wouldn't say I hated The Da Vinci Code by any means. If it were some forgotten mystery novel I picked up for a dollar at my favorite used book shop, I'd be rather more kind. But the sheer hugeness of the book's success demands dissection. For it is, in most respects, complete hackwork … almost more of a book of trivia and puzzles stuffed into a well-worn potboiler. A few times, I had to look back at the cover to check whether I had actually put the book down and picked up a Games magazine.

Problematically, though, most of the trivia is not actually relevant (though it's often interesting), and most of the puzzles are easily solved pages and pages before the author gives you your big "gasp" moment. Like M. Night Shyamalan's movies, The Da Vinci Code relies heavily on your perceived inability to see things coming.

Hm … the more I examine this book, the more I dislike it. So I'll stop here with the recommendation that it's a quick and engaging enough yarn on which to fritter away a few hours. I just wish people knew the difference between The Da Vinci Code and literature.

Review by La Fée