The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown

Well, that's that. I finally sat down and read The Da Vinci Code, one of the most talked about books of the past year. I read it in four days to get it finished in time for a book club, so I didn't take as much time on all the puzzles as I could have. Still, I did manage to figure out the identity of the villain and a few of the puzzles—but more on that later.

In case you're one of the many who's heard of the book but don't really know much about it, here's a sort of general summary (without too many spoilers): a man is found murdered in the Louvre, and he's left all sorts of clues that lead to a huge secret which everyone seems to be after. The book ties together art history (Da Vinci, of course), secret societies, the Church, pagan Nature-worship, and architecture to put forth some not-so-new but relatively obscure ideas. In particular, a lot of the book casts doubt about the veracity of the Bible and raises questions about the Church (the Catholic church in particular, but some of the claims have implications for all Christians).

Many books have now been written specifically addressing the claims of the book; Dan Brown purportedly has stated his belief in the theories described, and the book is not simply a work of fiction but a sort of introduction to the idea of the sacred feminine. That said, you can Google for more information than you'd ever care to read—people disputing the claims made, people praising Brown for shedding light on these important issues, etc. The pastor of our church in Kansas City even addressed some of the questions the book raised about the history of the Bible in a sermon. He says (like many) that, as fiction, this is a good read, but not to take it too seriously.

I'm not so sure I agree. Specifically, I felt that as a piece of fiction it was a pretty weak book. There are plenty of random bits of trivia thrown in that are not at all essential to the plot—it appears as if Brown is simply showing off his knowledge of obscure symbology by putting it in the thoughts of his characters. They do not serve to further the plot or provide hints about the mystery/suspense aspect of the book. Also, there's the problem of the puzzles in the book: supposedly designed by an ingenious crafstman, the various puzzles challenge this Harvard symbologist, a French cryptologist, and a Royal British historian who also happens to be an expert on secret societies. And yet, I was able to figure out a few of the puzzles rather quickly—particularly annoying when it took the characters so much longer to get to the answer. Another time, Brown only provided one line of a four-line clue, doling out the rest of the clue a bit at a time—for no other purpose than to prevent you from solving the mystery before his character does.

My biggest complaint is probably the length of the chapters, or lack thereof. The book weighs in at 454 pages (just over half the size of the latest Harry Potter book) ... and contains a whopping 105 chapters. You can do the math. No wonder it's such a "page turner"—it's like trying to fill up on M&Ms.

Finally, as a Harvardian, I have to complain about his depictions of Harvard. It's sad, really—he can't even get a stereotype correct. Granted, there are only a few mentions, but you'd think Harvard was just a big party school, probably in Southern California: "Unlike the waifish, cookie-cutter blondes that adorned Harvard dorm room walls ..." Wha?

So, anyway, I'm glad I've gotten this book out of the way finally—now I can discuss it without being afraid of having plot points spoiled for me, and forget about this 1000-person-long line at the library. I think the real value of the book lies in its ability to raise discussions about the Bible and the Church, not in the quality of its writing. Best-selling books aren't necessarily those that are best written.

Fed to jonathan's brain | February 23, 2004