The DaVinci Code

Review: The DaVinci Code, by Dan Brown

One really has to review this book on two different levels, I think. The first is as a puzzle-driven investigative romp through France, a fast-moving adventure reminiscent of any number of spy and detective novels. The second level is as an intriguing summary of one side of a debate about the history of the Christian religion.

As a part-detective, part-spy novel, it's a fairly good one. I wouldn't say that it particularly stood out, but it definitely kept me reading, and the pacing was excellent. The only flaw that really bothered me is with the narration, which falls into the trap of telling rather than showing quite a bit. The narrative voice always felt a bit stilted and forced to me and at several points in the story I felt like I was being led around by the nose rather than following the plot. Even worse, Brown tends to employ the utterly cheap and exasperating narrative hack of showing something to the viewpoint characters but not revealing it to the reader for several paragraphs or pages. Yes, this builds tension, but not in a way that you actually want. It is invariably annoying and does little for me except making me want to jump past sections of the book.

Of course, this isn't why people are talking about the book. It's popular because it lays out in detail the theory that Mary Magdalene (who was not a prostitute, incidentally; that's one of the things in the book that's rather well-supported by the available evidence) was the wife of Jesus Christ, one of his disciples, and the mother of his child. This isn't a new theory, but it's been a fringe theory that hasn't gotten a lot of mainstream attention before now.

If you've not heard this before, and you're not the sort to find the idea offensive (if you are, you're probably not the sort to enjoy my journal in general), it's pretty interesting stuff. So are the details about Leonardo DaVinci and the codes he embedded in his paintings, something that I'd not heard about before. Unfortunately, the theory is also presented as a pretty one-sided polemic, and therefore suitable only for a whetting of the appetite. If you're interested in really analyzing the theories about Mary Magdalene, expect no help here; this book picks one side of the debate and doesn't even bother to acknowledge another side.

Overall, that's the real flaw in the book both as a story and as an exploration of ideas: it has a strong feeling of shallowness about it. You sort of get to know the characters, but they seem like rather shallow people. One of the heroes is motivated largely by such a ridiculous overreaction to an incident in her past that it strains credibility to the breaking point and rather than invoking sympathy, mostly just makes you want to shake her. The ideas presented are interesting, but one gets the feeling there are all sorts of other sides to the story that are just being ignored in order to increase the plausibility of the favored theory. The narration continues to be annoying throughout the book, and the ending is strained at best (another review describes it as frantic backpeddling).

It's a good book. I enjoyed it. But it's not a great book. And if you're really interested in the theories about Mary Magdalene, I recommend the PBS special.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Posted: 2004-01-24 16:54 — Why no comments?

Is the author reaally professional? Credentialed?

Posted by Jim at 2004-02-18 19:21

I have no idea, and frankly, I don't care. That's not a criterion that I use to judge my enjoyment of fiction, nor is it any particular evidence as to whether the other details he presents in the book are true or not. Why would you think it would matter?

Posted by eagle at 2004-02-19 13:14

Material in the book seems to fall into three categories:
Factual; fictional; and something in between. At least it got me thinking. Im still confused about what falls into which category. I think that the worst untruth in the book is that Constantine, a pagan, settled the issue of the canon. I would enjoy visiting some of the lesser known church buildings in the story assuming, that is, that they really exist.

Posted by Jerry Elliott at 2004-02-23 18:00

This book is hogwash - the story is only there to serve as a thin skeleton to hang worthless theories on. No doubt, the author can hide behind the contention that "it's only fiction". Like people who love to influence others but don't have enough faith in their own material to just come out and say it. And in that strategy, Mr. Brown definitely has been successful - we have been conditioned by the media and entertainment industry to NOT think logically. To equate entertainment value with True Value. In this post modernist world of no absolutes, what else is there? So when we see something that tickles our funnybone for whatever reason, we allow it to influence our thoughts, WITHOUT EVER TESTING THE THEORIES THAT WE ARE ALLOWING TO INFLUENCE US.
The irony is thick. The author spins a (mediocre) yarn for the sole purpose of shoveling crap onto his audience and the audience responds with heartfelt appreciation by going out and PAYING for this crap. If you have read the book and have thought any of the theories we "intellectually stimulating" please visit the following websites.
http://www.crisismagazine.com/september2003/feature1.htm
and
http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/newsletter/2003/nov7.html

You may ask "well, how do I know THEY aren't lying to me too?" my answer is:
You don't.
But if there is Truth, it is meant to be looked for and found. Look for it.
Entertainment value has no real influence on Truth and therefore should have no influence on our beliefs about the Truth, no matter how popular or en vogue that entertainment is. Logic & History are much better guides...

Posted by Nat Whilk at 2004-03-02 12:20

You may well be right that it's a bunch of nonsense, but I have to tell you, a couple of Christian web sites are very unpersuasive. Talk about intensely biased. I really have little interest in what the Christian church says about things like this; I want to hear from real historians and real scholars.

However, on the larger issue, it's simply an enjoyable book. I'm sorry your biases got in the way of enjoying the action, but mine didn't, and regardless of one's opinion on the early Christian history, the bits about Da Vinci are much less controversial and no less fascinating. I would have no problem paying for this sort of entertainment.

Posted by eagle at 2004-03-02 19:28

I thought this book was a fresh look on the history on paganism and Christianity. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and while, yes some parts were a bit hard to believe, we must remember that this book was based on fact but it was meant to be a fiction novel. I think it's awful that there are so many people who cant see past their own beliefs and accept someone else's point of view. Just because you don't believe what he wrote about, doesn't mean that it's in some way wrong. I wish you would get off your high horse and try to see another persons point of view. Because you're right, you can't prove this, it's impossible, so how are you going to say that your opinion is the right opinion?

Posted by Angela at 2004-03-04 13:30

I'm about 2/3 done with this very enjoyable book. One frustration for me is that I want to know which parts of the book are fiction and which have some real historical basis. That said, even the fictional content in this book is a lot more believable to me than much of formal religious belief, no matter what "flavor." I believe that the Bible was written by people, not handed down by God. I am a very non-religious Jew; my beliefs about God are my own and tend to mix the Judeo-Christian with the Hindu and Buddhist. I have little patience with orthodoxy of any kind, but I am considerate and respect these attitudes and practices in others - within reason. However, I understand that a devout Christian would consider this book hogwash, heresy, or a mixture of the two. Hardly surprising...

Posted by Melanie at 2004-03-20 11:26

In the beginning, the wotd senechaux is used and I have tried to find the meaning by several means and cannot find it. Could you enlighten me ?

Posted by Lucy at 2004-03-20 11:30

Senechaux is French for seneschals. A seneschal is an agent or stewart in charge of a lord's estate.

Posted by eagle at 2004-03-20 12:03

I don't understand it. This book is one of the more interesting books I've read in the sense that it spurs the mind to think beyond the status quo. If you are not familiar with the whole theory of Mary Magadalene being the wife of Jesus, than this implants a thought of "what if"? The thing I cannot understand is why people are so close minded when it comes to this book and its ideas. Many people are ignorant and think their view is the only one that matters when it comes to a controversy like this one. I am completely open in allowing myself to be recognize the fact that something like this very well could have happened, in that Jesus was married. More often than not, Jewish men were not bachelors in the time of Christ, which provides further evidence for the idea of Christ perhaps being married. All i can say is, at least be open to the possiblity, and don't automatically shut the idea out.

Posted by Pat at 2004-03-20 19:57

Jesus is Lord, that is my belief. I had a friend recommend this book to me and it is not worth my time. It is kind of funny how people like to try to disprove someone who lived to die for everything we have done wrong. God nor his Son Jesus can be disproven, so people do the next best thing, write trash to discredit him. The Devil did it in the garden of Eden, (Yea, Hath God said...? Gen. 3:1), and it continues today in trash like the Da Vinci code. Sorry folks, this man is trying to do what millions have done in the past, and like everyone else he will die trying.

Posted by Alejandro at 2004-03-29 23:30

Hm, anyone want to lay any bets on whether that last guy ever even actually read the book? Not that it would have mattered, since it's pretty clear that he feels his religion requires him not to think.

Sad.

Not, I should add, that this book is a particularly good one to prompt a lot of thought. It's not trying to be particularly informative, just exciting and controversial. I will say again that I really do recommend seeking out more scholarly research if one is interested in the early Christian religion; pop fiction is never a good source of facts. But wow, is it ever amusing to see fundamentalists scurry whenever anything comes even remotely close to challenging their world view. One would think that their beliefs were so brittle that they couldn't withstand a bit of poking.

Posted by eagle at 2004-03-30 09:10

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