Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Dan Brown: beyond good and evil?

In Chapter Four of The Noughties, I discussed the biggest (if not necessarily the best) books of the decade, and the surrounding phenomena: Oprah; the Kindle; chick lit; misery memoirs; JK Rowling; and of course Dan Brown.

Sadly, although we knew Brown’s sequel to The Da Vinci Code was in the pipeline, it was embargoed until the middle of this month. The subject matter of The Lost Symbol is a little less provocative than that of his previous volume – Freemasonry rather than Catholicism – which has enabled critics to focus their energies on another controversial facet of Brown’s success: his writing skills. How can such as bad writer sell so many copies? Is he really a bad writer, or is just not a ‘literary’ writer? Do such distinctions matter? In a decade of e-mail, Twitter and texting, how many people know or care? Here are a few contributions to the debate, from the Daily Telegraph (London) and the Globe and Mail (Toronto). Philip Pullman hates it; John Grisham is more sympathetic. At the Daily Beast, Michael Baigent (who unsucessfully sued Brown for plagiarism) is dismissive; Brennig Jones, meanwhile, castigates those who castigate Brown, but doesn’t actually say he’s any good.

In fact, nobody does; the best his fans can come up with is “I like it”, which isn’t quite the same. Is one of the best-selling authors of the Noughties literally indefensible? And what does that say about our age?


  1. I loved the Da Vinci Code and can't wait to have a crack at the sequel.
    Brown's strength is his absolute command of story-telling and ability to pull the threads of a plot together brilliantly.
    The wall of sneering intellectual snobbery is fuelled, quite obviously, by jealousy.
    (Ok a "wall" can't be "fuelled but who gives a monkeys?)

  2. I don't think it's jealousy. I hang out on writing forums and wade through a fair amount of amateur writing littered with beginners' mistakes. Reading Dan Brown's work is similar, albeit with less spelling errors and a much better instinct for narrative structure.

    The musical equivalent, I reckon, is James Blunt.

  3. I reckon it's Arthur Mullard and Hilda Baker.