davidd (davidd) wrote,

Da Vinci Code: Done!

P. 160: preceptory -- an estate belonging to a member of the Knights Templar.

P. 164: Titulus -- the "INRI" plaque or scroll supposedly affixed to The True Cross.

That's about it for words I felt compelled to look up.

As for the historical stuff: I found The Da Vinci Code to be just another suspense novel, interesting in places, but leading me to call into question the accuracy of the so-called "research" (there we go: sneer quotes and the phrase so-called) that, according to the popular press, left readers all agog.

There is a specific instance that leads me to question all of the "facts" (yep, more sneer quotes) presented in the book. On page 137 (hardcover edition) the character Sophie claims her smart car achieves fuel economy of 100 km per liter of gasoline. This would equate to nearly 240 miles per gallon! A quick check of smart car facts online indicates a fuel economy of approximately 60 miles per gallon for the European version of the smart car. (The upcoming U.S. version is expected to achieve numbers in the mid-40s). If "gallons" refers to "imperial gallons," actual mileage would be closer to the U.S. estimate of 40-something mpg. There is a significant difference between the 240 mpg (equivalent) suggested by the novel and 40 to 60 mpg. This single instance provides me with a yardstick of sorts by which to guage the veracity of the remaining facts used in the novel: Grain of Salt factor -- about 20%.

As previously mentioned, I found the mathematics passages intriguing, and hope to look further into the mysteries of the number PHI. Having watched too many Da Vinci Code documentaries on Discovery Channel (the one with Baldric from Blackadder was amusing), I understand that the author took artistic license with the locations and layouts of some of the architectural landmarks featured in the novel, but nonetheless, the architectural discussions entertained me. There were fewer discussions of the symbology appearing in renaissance art than I expected, but what little that appeared I also found interesting.

The plot, however, left me squirming with frustration, particularly the author's complete disregard for the passage of time. The characters spend endless amounts of time in lengthy abstract conversations while both cops and killers are on their trail. They drive to and fro all over creation and back again (in the smart car, a taxi, a stolen taxi, an armored car, a stolen armored car, a Range Rover...), they engage in several physical altercations, they roam around a museum, they go to a highly secure bank, they visit an old friend at his country estate... all in the same evening! And the story gets underway at 11:00 p.m. I found it completely implausible, having some experience driving around in Europe, and in America, that the characters could have engaged in so much travel and so many lengthy visits and long conversations in the short amount of time suggested. This temporal implausibility strongly undermined the suspension of disbelief necessary to become fully engaged in the story.

That, plus the use of the term "rest room" several times in the Louvre setting. In Europe, they use the term "toilet." Out of American habit, I or my companions have occasionally asked for directions to the "bathrooms" or "rest rooms" while traveling, only to be confronted with either blank looks or long pauses before receiving, "ah, yes, the toilets are...." Okay, so now I'm being picky, or picayune, perhaps. My objective, however, is not to nit-pick the novel. Rather, it is to emphasize my disbelief that so many people could have taken this book so seriously. In fact, I am pressed to believe that the intrigue and controversy aroused by the novel may have been, in fact, more the result of clever marketing than general public fascination with dreary historical trivia.

If the result of the novel is to stir up a greater interest in art, architecture, and history among the general populace, I am pleased. If people are truly surprised and shocked by the startling "facts" revealed in The Da Vinci Code, I'm rather disgusted. Look, people: it's just a story! It's fiction! And a lot of the "facts" aren't necessarily facts at all!

Oh, and where were all those "black Madonnas" that feature so heavily in the TV documentaries? Did I inadvertently skip a page, or what? I don't recall a single mention of a Madonna figure (other than in paintings), black or otherwise, in the novel. There was nothing about Sarah the Egyptian (whom I still hope to visit one day), nor even the number or gender of the supposed offspring of Jesus and Mary Magdelene. Apparently the documentary producers felt a need to pad their versions of The Da Vinci Code story... while completely ignoring the fascinating smart car.

One final observation, and not a flaw as such in the novel, but rather an admission of personal taste. I know this was a suspense novel first and foremost; not usually my cup of tea (although now I shall have to try Earl Grey with lemon). I would rather have read a similar novel without all the killing and without the emotional distress of families torn apart. I would have been content with a similar story told from the perspective of, say, rival scholars racing to solve the puzzle, or cooperating scholars with different areas of expertise coming together to find a hidden treasure or solve an ages-old mystery. This is just me, I suppose, dull to the core, but I would like to see a clever novel involving historical enigmas without the blood and drama. There's enough murder in the world. There are enough people who lose loved ones under traumatic circumstances. There's enough sorrow. I don't find these things entertaining. Paralleling my taste in movies, I prefer fiction reading in which nobody dies, hearts are not unbearably wrenched, and there's a happy ending. Factual accuracy would be a bonus.

Anyway, it's done. I've read The Da Vinci Code. I was not shocked, astonished, or offended. The lengthy "drawing room scenes," that is, the drawn-out conversations over the minutia of Da Vinci's coded artwork, I found untenable in the framework of a "chase" novel, and particularly within the timeframe as presented in the story. I can't say it's a work I would recommend.

Which leaves me wondering: why did it become so popular? I have a theory, based on an experience I had at the Adelaide Botanic Garden. Those musings, however, I shall save for another time.

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