I read The DaVinci Code today. A lot of people had been recommending it to me for a while, so on a day when I had nothing planned and nothing I needed to do between now and mid-January, I sat down and read it.
My God, it sucked.
Well, that's not totally fair. I admit, there are three reasons I'd be prejudiced against it. First, practically nothing could live up to the hype it had been given.
Second, I have a pet peeve about how a lot of authors write dialogue where foreigners speak perfect English, just perfect, except for the most common words of all, like "yes" and "mister." Frex, in the book, a French policeman - sorry, "gendarme," as I'm sure a writer of a book like this would call it - speaks English with an accent good enough to be perfectly understood, with perfect grammar, with no problem with long or rare words... but for some reason, he lapses back into his native tongue for words like "yes" and "please." I think I first noticed this in The Bourne Identity, even though I was too young to be bothered by it at the time. But I remember a bit where a woman made a code of slipping "n'est-ce pas" and stuff like that into a conversation carried out completely in English, when the other person barely spoke French at all. But whenever I see it now... it's unrealistic, it breaks the rhythm of what's meant to be smooth and natural speech, and instead of making the character look foreign or uneducated it just makes the author look pretentious.
And the third reason I enjoyed it very little is the fact that the mysticism behind it, the big revelations one after another that were the entire dramatic thrust of the book, is stuff I've seen time and again in one piece of fiction or another.
So for the first 50 pages or so I was constantly tempted to throw the book across the room whenever I saw a French word in italics. And for maybe 200 pages after that I was kind of getting into the spirituality. I was wondering what was missing in my life and how did I get so jaded and walled-off that I couldn't be moved by all that Goddess stuff. But by the end of the book, the only thought on my mind was, "Hey, I read this exact same story years ago in the Preacher comic books, only those had much better prose and a lot more nudity!"
Despite all that, I did learn something interesting from it. About writing. In theory, ideally, some day many years from now, I'd like to be a novelist. If I want to eventually make a living at it I could do a lot worse than to take a page from Dan Brown's book. You want to know why this book was so successful? Because the book is about how a guy with a sedentary desk job uses dozens of word games to thwart the plans of a secretive group of religious fanatics, supposedly striking a blow for women's rights in the process (but in fact, the book doesn't say all that much beyond, "The Dark Ages were too sexist," and that's not a bold stance at all.) Everyone with a boring job that would like some excitement, who doesn't fully trust a secretive group of religious fanatics, who thinks society has made progress since the Dark Ages, and who likes crossword puzzles would enjoy this. How many millions of people do you think that is in this country? No wonder it sold so well.