Friday, March 23, 2012

The Da Vinci Code (audio book) by Dan Brown, read by Paul Michael

Synopsis:

Robert Langdon is a professor of religious symbology visiting Paris in order to give a lecture (or several lectures?). He is suddenly summoned to the Louvre, where a murdered curator has been found. Langdon believes that Bezu Fache, the man investigating the murder, is only interested in getting his expert opinion of the symbols present in the very particular way the murder victim, Jacques Sauniere, arranged himself before he died. What Langdon later learns is that Fache suspects him of the murder and hopes that inviting him to the scene of the crime will cause him to implicate himself in some way.

Agent Sophie Neveu, a brilliant cryptographer, clues Langdon in on Fache's suspicion. Sauniere left a note at the crime scene that was intended for Sophie, his granddaughter, but which was unfortunately mistaken for proof that Langdon was involved in the murder. Sauniere had instructed Sophie to find Langdon, apparently wanting them to work together to solve a series of puzzles he left behind.

Sophie and Langdon, now on the run from the French police, manage to find a key, what the key opens, and various puzzles that lead them to a secret that the Church has done its best to bury and that a secret organization, the Priory of Sion, has been keeping safe for hundreds of years. Unfortunately for Sophie and Langdon, the police are not the only ones they have to evade. An albino man named Silas and several shadowy enemies are doing their best to find the secret the Priory of Sion protected before Sophie and Langdon do.

Review:

I avoided this book when it first came out - all the outrage over it interested me somewhat, but I have a tendency to resist hugely hyped books until after the hype dies down at least a bit. I've had this on my TBR mountain for a few years now, and I was starting to doubt I'd ever find the time and willpower to read it. I decided my library's audiobook version would be the best way for me to finally "read" it.

From what I can remember, most of the controversy over The Da Vinci Code centered on things that Dan Brown treated as fact that were, people argued, not. I can't really comment on this. I know nothing about religious symbolism, and I had never heard even half of what Langdon told Sophie about Da Vinci, his beliefs, and his paintings. I know very little about the Holy Grail and any theories about it, and I know nothing about Mary Magdalene.

I do remember reading about how bad the writing in The Da Vinci Code was, although bad writing doesn't necessarily stop me from enjoying a book. However, Brown did a few things that got on my nerves. A lot.

My biggest complaint was that Dan Brown seemed to only have one tool in his suspense-building toolbox. A character would see or learn something shocking. Right when the shocking thing might have been revealed, the book cut to another scene. Sometimes Brown revealed what that shocking thing was in the scene after that, but sometimes the shocking thing was revealed much, much later. A good example was something Sophie saw Sauniere, her grandfather, do. It so shocked and upset her that she cut off all communication with him, despite having been very close to him. I wanted to know what this shocking thing was, and whether her actions were really justified. Part of what she had seen was revealed some time later, but it wasn't until 9 discs in (the audiobook consisted of 13 discs) that Brown finally revealed all that Sophie had seen. I think Sophie cutting off communication with her grandfather was first mentioned in disc 1.

Brown's "let's cut to another scene just before the shocking thing is revealed" technique was used so often and consistently that, by disc 4, I was pretty much resigned to it. It wasn't the only thing about his writing that annoyed me, though. The number of times that characters "sensed" things about each other started to grate on my nerves. For instance, rather than hearing the anger in the Teacher's voice, Silas sensed anger in his voice. Rather than noticing signs of impatience in Sophie and Langdon, the librarian they spoke to sensed that waiting 15 minutes sounded like an eternity to them.

Brown did another thing that annoyed me, although I can't go into too much detail about it without giving stuff away. The identity of the Teacher, the book's Big Bad Shadowy Villain, was kept hidden by, among other things, not allowing certain characters to think or notice things that would have given the game away, even when it would have been perfectly natural for them to think or notice these things. I hate it when authors do this, but it didn't annoy me in this book as much as some of the other things Brown did, I think because the character (characters?) whose thoughts had to be censored was only a minor one.

Had I been reading the book, rather than listening to the audio version, I'm not sure I would have finished it. Like I said, Brown's frequent habit of cutting to a different scene in order to avoid revealing what had so shocked a character annoyed me intensely. I also found all the lengthy discussions about religious symbolism to be boring. While I enjoyed Teabing (a Grail hunter friend of Langdon's) and loved the way Paul Michael read him, the scene where Teabing explained the true nature of the Grail was largely uninteresting to me. It didn't help that, the entire time they were chatting over tea and reproductions of Da Vinci's paintings, all I could think was "Sophie and Langdon! You idiots! Quit acting like you have all the time in the world and remember that you have people chasing after you!"

The closer I got to the end of the book, the less I noticed its faults and the more I enjoyed it. Because I thought I knew who the Teacher was (I'm ashamed to say I fell for all of Brown's red herrings), I was shocked when his true identity was revealed. Also, after having to deal with one puzzle after another, I was looking forward to finally getting to see where the last puzzle would lead Sophie and Langdon. I was...a little disappointed by how things turned out, and also a little confused.

Overall, I found this to be a "meh" kind of book. I may reread the ending in my paperback copy, just to see if that helps clarify some of the things that confused me, and I'll flip through and look at the print versions of all the puzzles, but I don't imagine I'll ever reread the full book.

Unlike a lot of the books I write about, there is an absolute glut of read-alikes lists for The Da Vinci Code. Many of these lists have helpful annotations. Go to your favorite search engine and search for "Da Vinci Code read-alikes." Or, if you'd rather not do that, take a look at the Harris County Public Library's list, the Hammond Public Library's list, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's list, or the Fiction_L booklist (which has annotations that note the particular Da Vinci Code appeal factors present in the books listed as read-alikes). There are so many read-alikes lists available for this book that I was tempted not to include my own. I did end up including one, but it's short.

I haven't read anything included in the list below, and I don't think I've read anything in recent memory that could be considered a good Da Vinci Code read-alike, although I've got a post coming up in a few weeks about a YA book involving mathematically-based codes. Also, I read a middle grade book a while back - The Mistaken Masterpiece by Michael D. Beil - that, like The Da Vinci Code, invited readers to look at its clues and work them through along with the main characters. That's all I can think of, though.

Read-alikes:
  •  The Genesis Code (book) by John Case - A fast-paced thriller in which the murder victims are all discovered to have been patients at an Italian fertility clinic. Those who'd like another thriller with religious aspects might want to try this.
  • The Prophetess (book) by Barbara Wood - Those who'd like another fast-paced book dealing with the sacred feminine and Church suppression of controversial information might want to try this.
  • Unbound (book) by Julie Wallin Kaewert - Those who liked the "mysterious code leading to information others want to keep hidden" aspect of The Da Vinci Code might want to try this. A new fiction book, based by author Angela Mayfield on her dissertation, claims that writer Marcus Stonecypher coded treasonous messages in his works. When word gets out about the book, several disturbing events occur that Alex, a rare book collector, and Angela suspect are the work of an elite group of book collectors.

2 comments:

  1. This was Dan Brown's first novel I read and loved it. It was much better than his previous novel Angels & Demons. The movie sucked big time though.

    regards,
    russel of Tesla K20

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I had issues with Dan Brown's style and probably won't read another one of his books, although I did come to enjoy this one after a while. I haven't seen the movie. Too bad it didn't turn out well.

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