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The Da Vinci Code

The Da Vinci Code by and large lives up to the hype. It's a thriller, a murder mystery, a conspiracy theorist's wet dream, a lesson in history, art, religion and cryptography. But above all, it's a compulsive page turner.

The prose is craftsmanlike, but the concept is ingenious, and the plotting very well constructed. Dan Brown skips quickly from character to character, scene to scene, so that it always feels like another revelation is just around the corner. And there usually is.

Hard to believe that given the book's scope that everything takes place within a day or so of story time. I now better understand why the producers of 24 were interested in acquiring rights for the book. (Though they probably would have added more guns and explosions.) Yet, despite the density of events The Da Vinci Code never feels padded. Compare this to the pacing of Dan Simmons' Ilium (which I interrupted in order to read the other Dan's book) where it seems like Simmons is filling in every minute of story time simply for the sake of it.

There can't help but be echoes of Indiana Jones - what with talk of grails and templars and so forth, not to mention the early comparison of the main character to "Harrison Ford in tweed". But it's a more cerebral, not to mention reluctant, adventurer in the book.

Having all the characters be experts in their fields - symbology, art, history and cryptology - is a contrivance, but it makes the constant exposition almost plausible. Still, the information is dolloped out in digestible portions, especially compared to books like Sophie's World where every other chapter was a history lesson in philosophy. (Of course, I found those chapters in that book to be more interesting than the ostensible main story, but anyway...)

I was aware of the major revelation that comes just past the half-way point, but the ride getting there was fun. Knowing what was to come made it easy to spot the clues, but it was a joyful ease.

Granted, the pace falls off after this critical revelation. The book becomes a mere treasure hunt with the prize known, the fundamental mystery solved. The skeletal nature of the thriller element, the sparseness of the characterisations becomes more evident in the second half.

I read the illustrated edition, a beautiful hardcover featuring high quality glossy paper and photos of the places and works referred to in the text. The pictures of the locations help set the scene but it's being able to see the details of, say, The Mona Lisa when the hidden jokes in the painting are revealed, that makes this edition worth reading.

After whizzing through the book in less than a day I had to go google it of course. It's fascinating to see how many people take the book seriously. Not because they believe it, but because they feel that it presents a serious threat to their own beliefs. The lengths gone to discredit this novel are astounding. Sure, part of its effectiveness is its verisimilitude... but then so do the many good ghost stories claim to be true. That doesn't mean people believe in ghosts after they've turned the last page. It just adds to the thrill of the experience at the time. But perhaps such severe reactions to The Da Vinci Code are understandable: after all, one of the book's central themes is the ability of fiction to change the world.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on May 16, 2005 8:24 PM.

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