Deconstructing Dan Brown

Writer Bill DeSmedt deconstructs Dan Brown’s grammar and flaws at Publishers Marketplace in the same way Mark Twain ripped apart James Fenimoore Cooper’s literary flaws. It’s funny and instructive, although perhaps a bit over the top to put so much energy into breaking apart a genre novel.

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Codebreaker

Yesterday, my wife asked me how I liked The Da Vinci Code. I liked it, I said. It was a good read. (The book charts at number 51 on my 100-novels reading list, if you’re keeping track.)

But, I thought the climatic scene in which the villain reveals himself was anticlimatic; the sinister cabal pursuing reluctant heroes Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu, trapping them in a modern quest for the Holy Grail, turns out not so sinister after all nor a cabal, just a deluded man. The effect achieved seems closer to a Scooby Doo mystery than a well-wrought thriller. I won’t spoil the revelation for any of the three of you in the universe who haven’t read the novel.

Dan Brown crafts the story well, however, up until the point of the climatic confrontration between heroes and villains. He ends each chapter with a cliffhanger. He cuts to scenes much like a film. He withholds information, generating suspense, a technique any writer should pay attention to and learn from. He threads the narrative with a tapestry of Grail legends, history, myth, speculation, bizarre rituals and conspiracies. He tells a good story.

Still, the last few chapters were flawed outside of the cartoonish climax — several chapter openings take the long shot, the camera panning away from the action to describe the landscape and setting as if Brown were writing a travel brochure:

King’s College, established by King George IV in 1829, houses its Department of Theology and Religious Studies adjacent to Parliament on property granted by the Crown.

This opening paragraph slows a scene that needs to maintain a frantic pace, given Langdon and Neveu are frantically chasing a clue that may lead them to the Holy Grail before the villain. The extreme long shot takes away from the intimacy Brown has established earlier, involving readers in the characters’ plight and their sense of peril. He interrupts the fictional dream. It’s an odd lack of control in an otherwise controlled narrative, a digression that seems to be Dan Brown showing off his travel brochure knowledge rather than his narrative skills.

The next paragraph flings the reader back into the action: “Langdon still felt shaky as he and Sophie came in from the rain and entered the library.”

My wife thought it was funny that I brought up a technical flaw such as the extreme long shot. She said such an insight is something only a writer would see. That made me smile. She returned my grail, my sense of what I am — a writer.