Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

What A Dreadful Book: The Da Vinci Code

A truly awful book deserves a review reflecting on its awfulness and also how exactly it is that despite its lack of literary merit it has received such great public acclaim as to have become a best seller. True, it also engendered more than one book's share of criticism, as some discerning reviewers did point out its lamentable lacks, but the more the book was criticized, the more a vast readership appeared to laud its merits as a wonderful piece of literature.

Having read all the furore over the book, and feeling slightly curious, though not sufficiently so to avail myself of a copy, I let the matter rest, until a few weeks back when I came across a second-hand copy while perusing the offerings at our local Sally Ann. At $.99, I figured I wouldn't be sacrificing much to assuage my curiosity. Now I understand I paid $.99 too much to do just that. I'm no longer curious about the contents of "The Da Vinci Code", but I remain curious why so many readers found it a compelling read.

I suppose it's a little like the visual arts, when people attending an art gallery will stand back and enthuse about the "message" contained in a non-representational abstract artwork for which the gallery paid out an obscene sum to the genius who created it. As a work of artistic merit, an object of beauty, a reflection of the high arts that human creativity can attain to, it may be highly lacking, but then beauty is in the eye of the beholder - or, in such instances, the apprehension of those informed how they should react lest they reveal the Philistine within.

Some writer looks for a winning formula. Tacitly acknowledging to himself that he's incapable of innate literary creativity; he must recognize those elements that attract a large popular readership if he is to produce a work that pays for the effort and lends him credibility and a measure of fame as a writer. Some would call that formulaic writing; isolate the types of events that draw human curiosity, consolidate them and you have a winning formula.

Of course it helps immeasurably to have a publisher as interested in enriching themselves as the writer is in lining his bank account handsomely. Advertising and public relations can do wonders, for people are so given to believing what they read. We are trusting beyond limits. Always hopeful. Gullible, even. And that's not entirely a bad thing. But we should also be prepared to use our singular perceptions of quality, exercise some intelligent discrimination in our own defence.

Even when there is more than a slight whiff of plagiarism, because, after all, inspiration - for those devoid of authentic creativity - must come from someplace. So in this particular instance the formula becomes a combination of mysticism, scholarship, religion, esoteric artistic and religious cross-references, glamorous locations, violence, fascistic and secretive religious cells, mystery, and erotic symbolism. Isn't that a winner?

That this stew is contained within a crockpot of tepid prose allied with a clumsy introduction to factoids certain to fascinate a vast readership easily led to confuse fiction with fact, pseudo art and cultural expertise to intrigue the uninformed makes for a palatable guise of acceptability. Aided and abetted by the clever titillation of those who welcome the belief that religion is the bedfellow of arcane sexual gymnastics.

(Let's face it, people do need cocktail party circuit small talk, and to boast of having read and appreciated the latest, greatest offerings of the literary world becomes a social leg-up.)

The gross manipulations of character, and their awkwardly sketched characteristics, allied with pathetically amateurish nudges about self-flagellating seekers of salvation, and sabotage in the name of religion, clunk and clatter from one chapter to another, drawing the reader forward through the sheer force of frustrated annoyance. The inevitably thrill-intentioned depictions of sinister intent within the Catholic Church obviously meant to engage the frenzied attention of conspiracy theorists.

Posing as a literate piece of fiction purporting to factuality this is the badly written product of an untalented hack who manufactured a leaden tale of intrigue within a facade of scholarship. The emphasis here is on what sells. Hot damn, it did!

What is particularly irritating, is the appearance of all those "acclaims" on the back dust cover of the publication. Gushing commendations written by previous "#1 New York Times best selling authors". Have they no shame? I'm not actually certain which represented a worse travesty of the literary arts, The Da Vinci Code or The Celestine Prophecy, both, however, execrable scribblings by untalented writers.

A useful antidote is always available; to grab a book that does reflect the genius of writerly prose and personal literary values. For me, it's the entry on my night table of Peter Carey's "Oscar and Lucinda", a Booker Prize Winner.

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