On Reading Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code": Is It Really as Bad as They Say?

So in The Writer’s World (imagine an alternate universe of eggheads, wannabes, dreamers, drinkers, and too-often-self-obsessed thinkers) Dan Brown’s blockbuster novel The Da Vinci Code (2003) has a reputation about on par with Ed Wood movies or, for a more literary comparison, that hugely popular The Bridges of Madison County (1992)—a stinker that made a ton of dough. But apparently Dan Brown has a new novel coming out, and the other day his publisher was offering a free ebook of TDVC . . . . And being the literary sleuth that I am (plus naturally curious) I decided to give it a go. Part of me wanted to find an answer for that basic question: Is it really as bad as they say? So I read it. And . . .
In a nutshell: Yes, and No. Is it “badly” written? Well, yes. Some of the sentences are true howlers. Brown has a knack for flat-footed prose, the inelegant sentence, the clumsy phrase, the awkward italicized thought (My God, this book couldn’t really be that bad, could it?!!), dialogue that only serves the function of explaining awkward plot twists, sloppy action description, and . . . the list goes on and on. Yet I still like the book. Which is interesting, isn’t it? It begs the question: Does a book have to be well written to be “good”? I’ll go out on a limb and say, I don’t think so. Are there books that are well written but “bad”? Yep. I’ve know some of those well.
What complicates The Da Vinci Code‘s case about being either a good/bad book (depends on the lighting, like certain dates) is that it is also a (rather awful) film, starring a good actor, Tom Hanks. I saw the film version first and thought it was laughably bad, muddled to the point of being absurdly nonsensical. The book does not have that flaw. In fact perhaps the book over-explains it’s “controversial” ideas. I grew up in a Catholic family, knew many priests (none of whom were pedophiles, by the way) who talked about doubt in an intelligent way, and so the notion of someone questioning the divinity of Christ seems rather run-of-the-mill. The novel actually does make that part of the plot interesting, and if not ground-shaking, at least fascinating from a historical viewpoint. All this leads me to lean toward the nuanced conclusion that a book can be badly written, and much fun. That would be my summary judgement on The Da Vinci Code. It’s like The Old Man and the Sea, only different. (p.s. I’m a huge Hemingway fan, and think him one of the great American writers, but TOMATS (fun to acronym that title) is a bit of a howler itself.

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