Dan Brown parody
Dan Brown is a hilariously bad writer. The Da Vinci Code was an outrageously successful book.
So it was only inevitable that in addition to all the delicious criticism of Dan Brown’s writing,1 there would also be a number of parodies of his books published, and indeed there have been several.2 While looking for something in the library, I found The Da Vinci Cod: A Fishy Parody by “Don Brine” (real name Adam Roberts) and quickly proceeded to borrow it and read it. It was a good two hours spent, which is more than can be said for Dan Brown’s books themselves. Although the author is a professor of literature at London University, the book manages to remain true to the awful writing and plot of the original. I heartily recommend reading the book if you come across it; for a taste of what it’s like, some excerpts follow. You can also see parts of the book at Google Books.
Page 1 is titled “FACT”:
This is a work of parody. Nevertheless, all the facts contained within this book are in fact, factually speaking, factitious
and goes on from there.
The tone of the book is captured by its opening sentence:
Jacques Sauna-Lurker lay dead in the main hallway of the National Art Gallery of Fine Paintings, in the heart of London, a British city, the capital of Britain, with a population density of approximately 10,500 people per square mile and a total population of approximately seven million people, unless by ‘London’ you include the Greater London Area, which has a population of about twenty million people and a slightly lower population per square mile.
Early in the book (p.14), its protagonist (“Robert Donglan”) finds a mysterious message written in blood: “THE CHATHOLIC CURCH HAD ME MURDERED!” After puzzling over the possibilities, he decides that it is an anagram of “H! THE ‘CCC’ COME HARD, HURDLE A COLT”. (Several chapters later, they have the brilliant insight that it is an “anagram” of “THE CATHOLIC CHURCH HAD ME MURDERED!”)
If the opening sentence does not make it clear what is so awful about Dan Brown’s narrative style, page 27 drives it in:
‘It’s a bit dark to be looking for clues…’ Robert pointed out.
Tutting, or tch-ing, or perhaps making a noise halfway between the two, Sophie flipped on the electric light switch. Electricity, the fluid action of movement of electrons from nucleus to nucleus, cascaded along the wires, governed by the equation (for current i) i = [dQ/dt] = nevA, where dQ is the amount of charge that crosses the plane in a time interval dt for n units of free charge passing along a wire with diameter A. Light filled the hallway.
Brown’s imaginative analogies get a mention on page 40:
Robert walked nervously over to the confessional and stepped inside. It was rather like a photo-booth except that it was made entirely from dark wood, and instead of a camera there was a wooden grill. And there was no slot for money, or any buttons, or any instruction panel telling you how to obtain a photograph. but I was hoping to suggest, rather, the overall scale of the confessional, and the fact that it had a little seat inside. Robert sat down.
So much for the description of objects. Next, people (p. 45):
The priest was an imposing figure; tall, broad-browed, raven-haired. Although, now I come to think of it, ravens don’t have hair; they have feathers, everyone knows that. His wide face was dominated by a massy pyramidical nose, above which his two tiny, almost circular eyes clustered close together, as if competing with one another to alight at the apex, like the image of the Illuminatus’s monument on the reverse of the American currency. He had a large black mole on his cheek of exactly the same colour as his large black cassock.
Scientific accuracy (p.51):
Sophie was crestfallen. Her crest fell at the rate of ten metres per second per second, which is the terminal velocity of any object dropped under the influence of Earth’s gravitational pull.
There was a pregnant pause. Not, perhaps I should clarify, a pause that lasted nine months. That would be more than pause, quite frankly. It would be more like a hiatus. Rather, a pause that contained within it the possibility of something that would only later come to light. A pause that might make you sick in the mornings.
Dan Brown’s overexplaining, on p. 79:
‘But,’ Teabag pointed out, ‘you said marry.’
‘Did I?’ said Sophie. ‘Really? That must have been a Freudian slip. I meant murder.’
‘Ah,’ said Robert. ‘A Freudian slip, really? One of those occasions, identified by the great Austrian psychotherapist Sigmund Freud, who as we all know was born in 1856 in Vienna and died in 1939 in London, when the subconscious mind subtly changes what we intended to say, replacing the word with one that carries some significant emotional cathexis from our Id?’
‘Yes,’ said Teabag, ‘one of those.’
In a reference to DB’s rubbish etymology for “sincere”, AR provides one of his own:
‘Mafia,’ said Sophie, ‘means my faith — ma-fia. It’s a spiritual designation, associated from its earliest days with the Papacy and the Catholic Church. But that’s only to say that it is a manifestation of a deeper secret organisation. They have tentacles everywhere — in Hollywood, where the Godfather films were made. In N.A.S.A., where the moon landings were faked. Here in Britain, where the Royal Family are run as a complex scam.’
One of the book’s shocking revelations is the existence of “Leonardo’s twin sister”, “Eda”. Here there is some informational value and the “truth by association” trick, with the author mentioning Shakespeare’s sister (actually, this one) and Dorothy Wordsworth (although it keeps to the spirit of the original, by not saying anything that is actually true).
The first mention of the Mona Lisa seems to be on p. 97, where it is described thus:
‘[…]Think of the Mona Lisa… Leonardo’s most famous image.’
‘Ah yes. The original smiley,’ said Robert, nodding. ‘Only not so yellow. Or so circular.’
There’s a lot more in the book, especially about cods (“The secret sign of the Cod [..] visible in any map of central London”) but I will let you discover all those shocking revelations by yourselves.
As a final shot, towards the end of the book (p. 165) there’s this:
[..] He had been shot in the stomach.
Robert, uncoiling from his instinctive flinch, smelt the tang of cordite in the air, and looked to Sophie. Cordite is an explosive propellent made from two chief ingredients, nitrocellulose and nitroglycerine, to which has been added […]
↩I don’t mean criticisms of Dan Brown’s lying about history, or his utter ineptitude in matters like cryptography (for an author who writes books about it). I refer solely to criticism of his “literary” style, which includes “Even Dan Brown must live. Preferably not write, but live” from Salman Rushdie, “complete loose stool-water” and “arse gravy of the worst kind” from Stephen Fry, “intellectual equivalent of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese” (and of “Jokes for the John”) by Stephen King, but most of all Geoff Pullum’s brilliant bunch of posts at the Language Log. In what has been described (by a coauthor, it must be admitted) as “the funniest bits of stylistic criticism since Mark Twain took on Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses” (itself a “tour de force“, read!), Geoff Pullum pointed out:
- that “Brown’s writing is not just bad; it is staggeringly, clumsily, thoughtlessly, almost ingeniously bad” in The Dan Brown code,
- (again) his violation of “Show, don’t tell” in The sixteen first rules of fiction,
- his “feast of ill-chosen word combinations” in Dan Brown still moving very briskly about,
- his (consistent) “anarthrous NP” in Renowned author Dan Brown staggered through his formulaic opening sentence,
- musings about an illustrated edition — “entered the room like a rocket”, etc. — in Oxen, sharks, and insects: we need pictures,
- the movie, and his use of “lectured” as a “said word” in Thank God for film: Dan Brown without the writing,
- “mixing oil and Lego” in The kaleidoscope of power,
- mixed metaphors, “It was then that Rachel saw” and that “this man is simply not competent to write prose for public consumption” in Learning the ropes in the trenches with Dan Brown,
- that “Digital Fortress is first and foremost a book about eyebrow movements” in Don’t look at their eyes!,
- that to call these novels “formulaic is an insult to the beauty and diversity of formulae” in A five-letter password for a man obsessed with Susan,
- some plagiarism of these articles by Mark Steyn, in Some striking similarities, Is Mark Steyn guilty of plagiarism? and A tale of two copiers,
- and finally, that even the title is absurd, as “da Vinci” is not a name, in Cutting in line: what would Of Nazareth do?.
↩A quick search reveals at least
The Givenchy Code: An Homage and A Parody by E.R. Escober
The Givenchy Code (Code, Book 1) by Julie Kenner
The Dick Cheney Code: : A Parody by Henry Beard
The Da Vinci Mole: A Philosophical Parody by “Dr. Ian Browne”
The Michelangelo Code: A Parody by Kaye A. Thomas
Da Vinny Code by by Carson Leah,
not to mention the same book published as The Va Dinci Cod with evidently minor changes.
Update [2009-09-18]: The Guardian has a piece on Dan Brown’s 20 worst sentences.
Update: Post–Lost Symbol (which I haven’t read, but a friend said it was so bad he would “never read a book again”), there is more: Cradled in his palms: The genius of Dan Brown by Steven Poole, and Sam Anderson at New York Magazine set up the “Vulture Reading Room”. It begins with another sharp parody by him, and the rest of the observations are fun too.