Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Back from Australia

This blog has been quiet for a month as I have been on holiday in Western Australia. That allowed me to do plenty of reading and I'd like to share my thoughts on a few of the books I've looked at.

First up is the Da Vinci Code. I am a bad flyer and so have a strict policy to read only mindless books on aeroplanes. DVC certainly fits the bill but I also found myself defending it in some ways.
First the bad news. I was stunned by how badly written it was. Awful beyond words. It reads like a primary school project by Jeffrey Archer. Of course, everyone says it is badly written but, like the taste of John Locke's pineapple, it is something you can only really comprehend by experiencing it. It is also lazily edited and has a few howling continuity errors. Still, who cares? This is the literary equivalent to a Big Mac. Junk fiction. It has no nutritional value at all but slips down easily enough.

What about the bogus history? It is true that Brown puts a notice upfront saying that the Priory of Zion exists and that his various descriptions of art and places are accurate. These things are untrue. So is most of what the novel says about Opus Dei (who have no monks and didn't rescue the Vatican from bankruptcy). So is almost everything that Brown tells us about early Christianity. I must say that I really have no problem with Brown doing this. He is writing a trashy novel and injecting a bit of verisimilitude into his work is a standard ploy. We all enjoyed The Day of the Jackal a lot more because Frederick Forsyth went to such an effort to make his hokum seem real. So did Jack Higgins in The Eagle has Landed. So indeed, did the not-so-trashy Umberto Eco in The Name of the Rose. With the possible exception of the last of these titles, no one believed a word of them. Sadly, Eco did manage to reinforce some prejudices about the Middle Ages but then subverted his readers' expectations so successfully that we have to forgive him.

So Brown's tricks are standard tricks of the trade. He is not even terribly good at it. So why, oh why does anybody believe anything in his book? This is not Brown's fault. It's widespread public stupidity. Bryan Appleyard, in the Sunday Times this week, summed up my views on the whole Magdalene conspiracy when he said of Michael Baigent's latest:

Nothing in this book need concern grown-ups. It will appeal to conspiracy theorists and militant secularists -? well, to thick ones with no friends -? but it leaves me cold: in my experience, almost all conspiracies are just cock-ups in fancy dress. So, in short, don'?t read this book, but, if you must, do what I did, remove the cover and keep your hand over the spine. People might see, and you don'?t want them to think you'?re an idiot with nothing better to do.

Next time someone aks you if something in the DVC is true (or worse tells you it is), don't waste your time explaining the truth. Simply express utter distain. Hopefully, that will shame them into realising that the pages of pulp fiction is not the place to find history or anything else of value.

Comments or questions? Post them at Bede's dedicated yahoo group.

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