Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Another Book Post

Sometime last month I mentioned that I was reading The Da Vinci Code, and a couple of people asked me how it was. I couldn't really answer that at the time, as I was only a handful of pages in, but I just got my copy of Phoenix APA, in which I discussed it at some length for this "Phoenix Reading Circle" thing we've got going now. (The idea of which is that every mailing we vote on a book, and whoever wants to participate reads it and contributes some kind of discussion or commentary.) Anyway, I thought I'd repost my review-thingy here, for those who might be interested. So...

Thoughts on Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code (no major spoilers):

I enjoyed it. It's not the world's most exciting and memorable book; it's not filled with sizzling prose; it didn't change my life or anything. But it was a decent, solid example of the kind of mystery/suspense/puzzle novel it is.

One thing I admit I wasn't too thrilled about when I started was what seemed to me like excessive amounts of "infodumping": largish sections where the story would momentarily grind to a halt while we got a lecture on architecture or religious history or something. But that improved quite a lot as the story went on and it became more plausible to have the characters explaining things to each other instead of the narrator lecturing the readers and the material being presented became more interesting in its own right. And the author clearly has a very good sense of how to keep the pace going even when he does have to take frequent breaks for exposition. Plus, some of the stuff that seemed like irrelevant digression in the earlier pages turned out to be extremely important later on, so I'm very much inclined to forgive it.

I feel like I ought to say something about the controversial nature of this book... Having read it now, I find that I can easily understand why it might upset those with conservative religious viewpoints. Personally, being an atheist, I've got nothing invested with the religious issues involved at all, so it certainly didn't bother me. And it does seem to me that the author is fairly careful not to blanketly condemn the followers of the Catholic Church, even if he does have some major issues with its historical decisions. I did feel a bit, especially early on, like I was being set up to be preached to, something that annoys me deeply whether the content of said preaching concern Jesus Christ or pagan goddess worship or anything else. But the religious aspects of the novel were an important part of the story, not gratuitously tacked on, and the discussions of them served the plot rather than detracting from it, so in the end I felt OK with it all.

Speaking of the end... I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it. The climactic plot twist took me completely by surprise, which is a good thing, but it didn't immediately result in something going "click" in my mind and me shouting, "Oh, of course, why didn't I see it!?," which IMHO is the measure of a really good climactic plot twist. (It left me more going "huh?" for a while, really.) And the actual ending seemed a tiny bit anticlimactic, to the point where I can't quite make up my mind whether it was sufficiently satisfying or not.

Still, like I said, overall I did enjoy the whole thing. Some really interesting ideas, some fascinating background stuff which really did make me want to go out and learn more about subjects that never really interested me all that much (like art history), some nifty puzzles (several of which, I am proud to say, I figured out in advance of the characters), and a plot that moves along very nicely, with lots of action and a few unexpected surprises.

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