Monday 14 October 2019

Lorraine Courtney: Book snobs can't bear it but Brown's laughing all the way to the bank

THE latest Dan Brown blockbuster was released this week. Queue a line-up of detractors rushing to rubbish it while secretly seething with jealousy at his soaring sales figures. His newest thriller stars Harvard professor Robert Langdon and this time follows Langdon through Italian cities and some other European locations as he tries to stop the spread of a deadly virus.

The book is basically a rehash of Dante, specifically his 'Inferno', the first part of 'The Divine Comedy'. Brown's eager fans have made it an instant chart-topper.

Brown's book sales have already exceeded 200 million. But despite this history of strong sales, he has once again attracted oodles of criticism for his literary abilities. One reviewer even called 'Inferno' Brown's worst book yet. 'The Daily Mail' dismissed it as "bilge, but one hell of a page turner".

The 'Guardian' said the book was "engineered with miraculous efficiency, a tasty cocktail of high culture and low thrills". Brown loves cliche. He commits countless crimes against grammar and sense. 'Inferno' is no better than any of his previous works. The best-selling novelist in modern history remains the worst-writing.

On top of all this, Brown's books are utterly unrealistic. He chooses to ignore the extreme difficulty of producing and storing antiprotons in his tale 'Angels and Demons'. The plot features a baddie who threatens to blow up the Vatican using a bomb made from antimatter stolen from CERN.

To produce enough antimatter to make one of his bombs, you'd have to use all antimatter currently produced in the world for hundreds of millions of years.

Even if the bomb-makers could wait that long, they would somehow have to store their antimatter. Besides, antimatter is real and the amount used in the book would take out the suburbs of Rome for a distance of about 10 miles.

But who cares when every chapter ends on a cliffhanger?

Despite all this, the new thriller has managed to top the Amazon book sales chart on the strength of its pre-orders, which were 24pc higher than those for his previous book 'The Lost Symbol'.

I hardly ever read thrillers nowadays. When I was a teenager, I read little else. But now I'm fully grown up, I want more from novels than verbless sentences, boilerplate plotting and ludicrous expositional dialogue. Well, that's what I tell myself, anyway.

But fearing that a phenomenon was passing me by, I bought 'The Da Vinci Code'. I didn't think it was great from beginning: "Renowned curator Jacques Saunihre staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum's Grand Gallery" to end: "For a moment, he thought he heard a woman's voice the wisdom of the ages whispering up from the chasms of the earth."

But the book is proud of its weak narrative mechanisms, and I loved it. Not for what it was, so much as for what it reminded me about reading – that sometimes you feel simple pleasures more intensely. And Brown is an outstanding storyteller.

Dante's account of his midlife religious crisis is generally acknowledged as a Renaissance masterpiece, so it's no surprise that the academic knives have come out for the shamelessly populist Brown. In truth, I'm not sure Dante would have minded much. Despite his revered status, the 14th Century author was a master of the fast-moving, high-stakes plot.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the 'Inferno', an action-packed, cinematic tour-de-force epic poem of heaven, hell and purgatory that is set amid the piazzas and palazzi of Florence and culminates with the image of a three-faced Satan sunken in ice, perpetually devouring the traitors Brutus, Cassius and Judas Iscariot.

Dante did more than most to bring his knowledge of classical literature and history to a wider, less scholarly audience. He wrote not in Latin but in Italian, the language of the people. In his day he was dismissed as a shameless populist too, but history has forgotten his critics' names. Publishing thrives on such paradoxes.

Ignore the genre snobs. Brown knows much better than any of his critics what the public wants. We'll all be immersed in 'Inferno' for the next few weeks until the 'World War Z' zombie fest usurps it from the bestseller lists.

Irish Independent

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