The Da Vinci Code

There can't be more than a half dozen people out there who haven't already read The Da Vinci Code. Until this week, I was one of them. It was a breezy and entertaining read, even if Dan Brown's infatuation with the phrase "sacred feminine" grew tiresome, and at least now I can feel a trifle more in sync with the zeitgeist (though my avoidance of all things American Idol keeps me permanently at a distance).

The plotline is, in essence, a Game-- puzzles are set before the protagonists, who must race to solve them before those with less pure motives catch up with them. Many of the puzzles are even solvable by the reader. The success of the novel has been attributed to many factors, including the intricate conspiracy and the controversial depiction of Opus Dei, but I was in it for the quest. Plotlines like this and National Treasure, in which well-established pieces of art, architecture, and history conceal hidden meanings, codes, and intrigue-- are like Dungeons and Dragons modules for adults.

Keeping the pages turning was easy, but in the end I had three problems (and here's the part where, if you haven't read the book, you'll probably want to stop reading to avoid spoilage). First, the ending completely bungles the payoff. Sophie seems appropriately overwhelmed by the discovery of family members she believed dead, but the fact that she's a direct descendant of Jesus Christ is virtually ignored. Perhaps the author felt Sophie's more immediately emotional reaction would be to her living relatives, but as a reader I wanted some acknowledgement from her about the significance of her bloodline, some consideration of the ramifications to her spiritual world-view, something. While we rightfully learn where the Grail is hidden, the human factor is largely ignored.

Second, Brown was unfairly misleading in the way he wrote Rémy's point of view. He not only speaks of Teabing with distaste, but his thoughts echo those feelings. When he first points the gun at Teabing, he says "Old man, I've been waiting a long time to do this." That's simply not something a character in Rémy's position would say, even to try to mislead Langdon and Sophie. It's unnecessary. In the heat of that moment-- when he panics and disobeys an order to remain hidden-- he wouldn't fabricate a lie of emotion. That line only makes sense if it's genuine. Yet Rémy knows Teabing is the Teacher, and he speaks of the Teacher with respect, not disdain. Rémy's lines are written specifically to deceive the reader, and that's dirty pool.

Third, Brown's characterization of Bezu Fache is equally misleading. At one point in the book Fache leaves his number for Bishop Aringarosa. When Aringarosa calls him, Fache says they have much to talk about. We never see that conversation, but the implication is that Fache fills the bishop in on what's happening. There seems to be no reason for him to contact Aringarosa at that point unless he's in on the bishop's plans. In a later phone conversation with the bishop, Fache tells him, "You would do well to remember that you are not the only man on the verge of losing everything." Fache may just be talking about his career, but his involvement with the bishop makes this unclear. In that same conversation they talk of Silas, a name Fache would not yet know from his investigation alone. At this point, all indications are that Fache is in league with Aringarosa. But near the end of the book, we're finally told that Fache contacted the bishop to question him about his connection to the nun Silas murdered earlier in the novel. Withholding that nugget from the reader left us wondering why Fache was so determined to capture our heroes, but it was deceitful. I have no problem with characters' motivations being withheld until later, or with the reader knowing only what the protagonist knows. But this story isn't told only from the protagonist's point of view-- Brown jumps among characters frequently. When Brown jumps to Fache after that first phone call, we should learn that he knows Langdon is innocent. Instead, Brown essentially lies to the reader by omission. In my mind, that violates the rules. It's manipulative, lazy, and completely unnecessary, and left an acrid taste in my mouth.

Monthly Archives