Daily Elysium: The DaVinci Code
Before I tell you about this book, I do need to make one small completely unrelated statement. I have heard Elysia wandering about the house for the past few days muttering angry, often naughty, words to herself. Despite my better judgement I asked her what was wrong. It seems that 1) Quark XPress is already - heavy emphasis on the word already - releasing the new version six. 2) That one of her customers is rushing right out to buy it, which means she'll have to get it as well. And 3) that the people who run Quark XPress are mindless bastards who should be fixed with angry, stern looks. I know Elysia wishes she had public forum through which she could voice her complaints, so you mindless bastards over at Quark Xpress ... consider yourselves fixed with a particularly angry and stern look. Shame on you!
On to the book!
One nice thing about a summer gaming slump is that you have a lot more time to catch up on that summer reading list. Given the choice of buying the new virtual headache Star Wars Galaxies, or a thick book that I could possibly use as a weapon if need arose, there's just no contest. With that mandate in mind I pranced - well, maybe not pranced - into my local Barnes and Noble and snatched up Dan Brown's much ballyhooed novel The DaVinci Code, eager to wrap myself in a heady conspiracy mystery. Largely, I was not disappointed.
I decided to pick up the DaVinci code for two reasons. First was because Gabe over at Penny-Arcade had this to say about it:
I mentioned Friday that I had started reading THE DAVINCI CODE. Well as I neared the end I realized it was one of the best books I had ever read. I knew immediately that I had to get Kara to read it and so now I'm reading it over again with her. If you havenÃ‚'t read it yet I highly recommend picking it up. Every five minutes I was running to my computer to look up something I had just read about just to see if it was actually true. Really Amazing stuff.
High praise to be sure. But the second, and I think more important reason I snatched it up is because I really had nothing at the top of my reading list I was dying to read. A lot of what was up there had apparently come from my discussions on our political forum, and were likely recommended so I'd stop talking like a uninformed left-wing putz. Just not what I was in the mood for.
I tend to be much harder on books than I am movies and much less so than I am on games. I don't think I'm really capable of producing a quality, professional book review. There are subtleties to the art of reviewing a book, or so I gather, by which I mean that you should think of important overly-critical ways to read something into the book that was never meant to be there in the first place and then criticize that childish naivete or pointless drivel. Besides, I never approached The DaVinci Code as the sort of thing I should take too seriously. We are, after all, talking about a Grail Quest book full of secret societies, hidden messages, and wild symbolism all wrapped into a satisfying whodunit.
I guess what I'm saying is that I don't actually know whether Dan Brown is on any reasonable track in some of the wild assumptions that he presents as academically strong evidence, and I don't care. It's fun to dive into a conspiracy theory and abandon yourself to it as long as you remember to get out later, dry yourself off, and put your clothes back on before going out in public again. I didn't pick The DaVinci Code up as a historical theology reader, but as a novel, and on that level it really satisfies.
The problem with a lot of conspiracy or grail quest books is that they get themselves so wrapped up in the conspiracy they forget to tell a story about the characters. Dan Brown succeeds here where many others have failed, as the quest motivates the characters to forward the plot, but never becomes the entire plot itself. Dan Brown first and foremost tells a story about his characters, and an interesting one at that.
The actual writing of the novel is a little off in places, and the internal monologues can be a bit heavy handed if not downright amateurish in spots. Further, Brown resorts to some cliche literary devices that can be a bit jarring, but by and large most of these irritations can be forgiven for the book's swift pace and crisp page-turning style. Even in describing great cathedrals and stuffy galleries, Brown never gets bogged down in extended or irrelevant description. In fact, he does a quite amazing job of creating a sense of place without boring you with the details.
A swift pace, a compelling story, sympathetic characters, all put to the backdrop of some rather interesting plays on historical struggles between religion, science, and the arts, makes The DaVinci Code a quick, satisfying, and thought provoking read. I don't know that I agree with Gabe's proclamation of it being one of the best books I've ever read, but certainly one of the better one's I've read this summer. Easy to pick up, hard to put down, the mark of a good book, and The DaVinci Code is just that: a good book.