Monday, October 18, 2004

Book On Tape: Da Vinci Crud

The Da Vanci Code by Dan Brown, read by Colin Stinton, 6 hours on 4 cassettes, Random House Audio, 2003.

God, this was bad. By the Blood of Christ, this was awful. By the Holy Grail, this was terrible. The only good thing I can say about it is that it offended only my ears and not my eyes, for there would otherwise be the temptation to pluck them out.

I picked up the best-selling and god-awful book on tape on the Canada trip, but didn't listen to it then, or on the long drive to Concord. On the way back, six hours into the drive, I finally succumbed and slotted it into the tape recorder, to keep us awake as the light was fleeing westward. It succeeded in keeping us alert, in sort of MST 3000/literary train wreck sort of way. We were held raptured the by the linear, predictable nature of the plot, and suppositions of "oh, X is going to happen next" were rewarded as , well, X happened next.

Here's the short form, for those who have wondered what all the NYTimes Bestselling fuss is about: Harvard symbology expert and Harrison-Ford lookalike Robert Langdon is in Paris. He is called into a high-profile murder case at the Louvre, where a cryptic message has been left. Landgon and French cryptologist Sophie Neveu solve the initial riddle, which leads to another riddle and a third third, uncovering that great Illuminati conspiracy - the Priory of Scion and the descendents of Christ. But other dark forces are afoot, and the pair must flee for their own lives, seeking to uncover the mystery of the Holy Grail before their foes.

If this mighty edifice of plot seems to be in danger of tipping over even in summary, well, as it unspools its even worse. Mystery upon mystery are revealed and solved by the plucky pair, as they manage to elude and defeat their pursuers time after time. Escapes are always last-minute, insights are always brilliant, and treacherous twists of the plot - well, they aren't - you can see them coming from pretty far off, even in audio form.

The writing is short and punchy, in best-seller form, and every punch is telegraphed. At first I thought this was merely the product of the abridged format, but I had a chance to compare it against the printed form, which might be better. No such luck - it is written in the desctriptive-hook, action-word approach of Tom Clancy or Clive Cussler, though not at their levels. Worse yet, the author does not share with the reader what his characters see, saving it for a later "reveal", (or a more often tedious flash-back) later in the book. Or, to put it in the form of the book itself:
Jeff says, grimly, "God, this writing device is horrible."
Kate flips a ringlet of her auburn hair and says: "Give me an example, please".
Jeff gives her an example. Kate replies after he was done speaking "Yes, that is a horrible writing device."
Meanwhile, off the coast of Normandy, a submarine cut through the chill autumn waters.
OK, so the plot is hackneyed, the characters wooden (Sophie, of course, is young and brilliant, so therefore first appears wearing a corded Irish sweater), the dialogue always terse, and the thrills cheap. How about the conspiracy itself? Kinda lame, particularly for anyone who has been aware of the various conspiracy theories of the past hundred years (indeed, the "big secret" of the Grail has been published in a number of other books). And parts of the conspiracy are altered to make it fit the plot better - far from being "layered with remarkable research", this book has created a cottage industry of other books correcting its assumption and statements.

I'd recommend the book-on-tape because, not only can you do other things while you are subjected to it (like, drive cross-country or banging your head against a wall), but reader Colin Stinton's accents -gruff American, tweedy Brit, and three varieties of French - haughty waiter, vulnerable coquette, and Inspector Clouseau - relieve the tedium and predictability of the book itself.

The book is to conspiracy theory what "Star Wars" is to science fiction - a popularization that inflicts as much damage as it does help promote the concepts that it so readily acquires. You want a good, readable book on the subject (including the Templars), go dig up Focault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco. No, I'm serious - its much more accessable than The Name of the Rose. And much, much better than The Da Vinci Code.

Man, this was bad. More later.