Dan Brown, world’s worst bestselling novelist, takes on the Masons
It’s a great day for those who read only one book a year: Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, successor to his inexplicably popular The DaVinci Code–80 million copies sold worldwide since 2003!–has finally arrived.
I know this kind of sneering makes me look like an elitist, but I don’t care. Dan Brown practices the “See Spot run” style of writing, with short chapters, toilet-paper-thin characters, and stilted dialogue. He’s the worst writer among bestselling phenoms since Robert James Waller inflicted The Bridges of Madison County on an unsuspecting public in 1992.
Before I go on, here are some links if you want to join the Dan Brown “fun”: USA Today has an interview with the author; for a relatively generous early review, see the Los Angeles Times; the Times also has a good article on the publishing backstory (5 million copy first printing!); for a smart parody, see John Crace’s piece in the Guardian (sample: “He strode onwards through the clunky sentences and the turgid repetition of pointless information till he reached his destination.”
Really, I enjoy a good pulpy thriller as much as anyone, and that’s what I expected when I picked up The DaVinci Code a few years ago — only to find the novel is nothing but an extended series of sketchy chase scenes, with a lot of mumbo-jumbo about the Knights Templar, the Holy Grail, Jesus marrying Mary Magdalene and blah-blah.
Brown claims the “information” in the novel about how the Catholic Church has suppressed knowledge of Mary Magdalene is all true, and that veneer of historical accuracy no doubt helped fuel The Da Vinci Code’s popularity. People love secret history and conspiracy theories. In fact, the story of Christ’s bloodline as the real Holy Grail does not go back to the first century but was invented from scratch in 1956 by Pierre Plantard, an anti-Semitic French conman, with the help of Gerard de Sede, a writer.
Although long and thoroughly discredited in France, Plantard’s humbug was was successfully repackaged by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln in their 1982 “nonfiction” bestseller Holy Blood, Holy Grail, which is most likely where Brown found it. If you don’t believe me, check out this excellent expose by Laura Miller at Salon.
Still, I have to admire a good hoax — or a bad one improved upon –and do not really wish to spoil the fun of those who want to read The Lost Symbol in peace. Admittedly, I could not defend all my enthusiasms. I watch the Syfy Channel, for example, and not just for “Battlestar Galactica.”
But how such very bad writers as Brown, or Waller, or James Patterson, or John Grisham become so fantastically popular is an enduring enigma. As J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, Elmore Leonard, Anne Rice, James Michener, and any number of bestselling novelists have shown, stylistic imbecility is not a requirement of literary entertainment.
Finally, Brown’s new book aims to do for the Masons what The Da Vinci Code did for the Catholic Church — make it seem a shadowy, nefarious secret cult up to no good. But whereas the Vatican dutifully responded with outrage of incalculable publicity value, the Masons are viewing The Lost Symbol as good clean fun, reports Reuters.
How disappointing for Brown and his publisher, Doubleday. Maybe the new novel will sell a mere 70 million copies.