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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Book reviews: compare "The Da Vinci Code" with "Quicksilver"

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown vs. Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson

Not recommended. This book was disappointing. All style and not enough substance. I was looking forward to something that would be informative or entertaining but it really dragged.

The idea is that in the late 1600's to early 1700's an imaginary individual called Daniel Waterhouse was involved indirectly and directly with all of the luminaries of the day; Cromwell, Charles II, various nobles, various proto-scientists of the Royal Society, or alchemists (Hooke, Boyle, Newton, Liebniz etc.) Of course, he lives in Cambridge with Newton, he assists Hooke with vivisection experiments and is somehow on the scene when anything vaguely significant or exciting happens in this time period. The Plague, Great Fire of London etc. etc. Plus, our hero founded MIT, as well as naming New York city. I mean, who writes this stuff?

An early cameo, which introduces Ben Franklin as a boy was, shall we say, a really obvious plot device...and this was page 8...a mysterious stranger meets a smarty-pants kid in Boston in 1713, the kid's called Ben...Oh, I's going to be Benjamin Franklin . Sadly, it was. One of those books that's grown out of the effluent of the creative writing courses so popular in the USA. "Imagine yourself meeting an important historical character..." Well, why not imagine meeting all of them? Sigh. At least with Ahab's Wife (Sena Jeter Naslund) which is of a similar vein, the writing was compelling.

The style of Quicksilver, is unfortunately, sorely lacking an editor's lash. We're not really sure why it's called Quicksilver, except that various characters are trying to poison themselves with it (mercury). Kind of a shame it didn't work faster, really. The few passages that read quite eloquently are usually abruptly followed with a short paragraph of jarring drivel. In addition the writer persists in following an especially irritating spelling scheme which feigns the language of the period - but only about once in a hundred words - adding in something like "philosophickal" or "fabricks". Together with a lot of modern-sounding expressions and occasional fairly modern puns, it just doesn't ring true.

The plot is unconvincing. There is occasional excitement to be sure, albeit a gratuitous and long drawn out encounter with pirates (Blackbeard no less, none but the best for our hero!) but again, I was unmoved. By the time this 440 page martyrdom was half done, I was ready to give up. Who cares about this...but, gentle readers, I persisted. Shame, it got worse if anything.

There are a number of gruesome depictions of everyday life in the period. Crap everywhere, toothless rabble, grotesque punishments (assorted hangings, brandings, nose removal, heads on pikes etc.) but again, unconvincing. Even the walk-on parts for actresses and whores (about the only female speaking roles) didn't have any life to them. Not to mention the laughably ungraphic sex scene, about page 418/440, which basically means a long wait for very little hide-the-sausage.

Don't waste your time with this book. When I got to within 20 pages of the end and realized that I'd have to wade through the sequel (and, of course, the obligatory last book in the trilogy) to get to a resolution of the plot, I decided that I wasn't going to waste any more time or money on this.

The Da Vinci Code:
One star, is that the lowest I can give? Too much for this junk.

I know it's popular but it's crap folks. Pseudo-scientific claptrap with ancient conspiracies, romance and a gripping thriller theme.

I mean, grow up, y'all. While the plot is OK, if you like that kind of thing (ripped off though), the characters are really poorly-drawn, with motivations about as obvious as if they had signs hung around their necks:
"I'm the masterly, athletic, scholarly hunk from the good ol' USA who's going to sort out this den of foreign rogues and charlatans." I mean have you seen what a literary scholar looks like after getting a PhD and spending years in the stacks? Not credible.

As for the improbably gorgeous French tart oo talks like zees and was mysteriously traumatized by seeing her grandparents shagging in front of a bunch of party animals; does anyone seriously believe this? Doesn't anyone edit this stuff anymore? This is a teenage wet dream, surely.

The crippled but wealthy British nobleman who appears to be a friend but is really a villain...that has to be to stupidest comic book characterization that I've read in many years. Anyone who didn't see this one coming is an idiot.

It's just the kind of thing that grown up fans of Harry Potter will love, but it's a bodice ripper. The sex scenes are well done, and the villains are pretty compelling. However, don't waste several precious hours of your life reading this, when you could be walking the dog or emptying the cat litter box. Don't buy it for heaven's sake. If you must, borrow it from the library. You'll have to beat 40 housewives and pensioners to get it, fer sure.

In summary, I think the Da Vinci Code is the better book, although it is crap. Dan Brown (and his editor) do a reasonable job of keeping the plot moving and you can't see the joins. Certainly it has more excitement, and cynical suspension of disbelief apart, is a much better read. At least it wasn't a struggle getting to the end, although I felt as guilty as if I had binged on a whole box of Turkish Delight. Quicksilver is a waste of time; should have been much more tightly edited. Stephenson has got some interesting turns of phrase here and there, but it doesn't work in the full-length novel form. Could do better.

1 comment:

Thuli Mhlanga said...

The Da Vinci Code

For an excellent author, a standing ovation: A hearty applause for a book well written. Dan Brown is, in my opinion, one of the world’s most talented authors. The Da Vinci Code was for me an excellent read which clarified a few common misconceptions. Friday the 13th for example.

Believe me when I say that this book is very good. It took me three days to read every word from cover to cover. Now that doesn’t happen very often because I never come across such intriguing books. Full of action, adventure, suspense at every turn…your imagination becomes heavily involved in the book and it seems as though you are actually on scene. For this reason I would be thrilled to watch the movie, directed by Dan Brown, with his book as the script. Word for word and thought for thought. Not the boring one that came out a couple of years back.

I haven’t majored in psychology or psychoanalysis but I do have a very creative and speculative mind; with which I drafted the following.
After reading the book I came to the conclusion that Dan Brown was (and possibly still is) a Christian. Catholic maybe, but I can’t say for sure. He, or some one very close to him had an unpleasant encounter with the Church. I prefer the latter because it is the basis of my analysis. The way I figured it, this very close individual was a woman. That’s why his book immeasurably reveres the so-called “Sacred Female”. In a moment of offence and a high state of emotion, the author set out to right this wrong. He gathered all the information he could about the Church and the secret organisations mentioned in his book. I must say he did a great job. For the material that he amassed is truly astounding.
He set on this mission to write a book that took a jab at Christianity, more so the Catholic Church. And at the same time, make amends for the offence this woman incurred.
He ‘argues’ his points well. I use the word argue with caution because all the points are made through fictitious characters who cannot be held responsible for any implications. He has carefully knitted fact and fiction together to allow room for shallow-rooted Christians to become confused. I can’t understand how but I know it is very possible for some people to be left asking questions after reading the book. Wanting to find out what this “truth” is that is mentioned on more occasions than I care to mention. This “truth”, that disagrees with the Bible. This “truth”, that has been hidden in the artwork of 15th and 16th Century artists. Da Vinci to be precise.

With particular reference to the ‘Grail’, which apparently is Mary Magdalene, shown in the painting of the Last Supper by Da Vinci. It is very true that there are thirteen cups in the picture and not one as is written in the Bible (Matthew 26:17, Mark 14:12, Luke 22:7) What does the Bible say though? It says, “…he took up the cup...” There is no mention of that cup being the only cup at the table. Surely the cup of the Christ would have been the only cup that had his blood.

And to the right of Jesus is a woman. That is true. It is also true that the figures of the woman and Christ are leaning away from each other, thus forming the letter “V”. The chalice. Symbolising the female. Yes, this is true about the painting. However there is one crucial mistake the author made. It is believed that Jesus Christ was crucified at the age of thirty-three. Which places his death around the year 33 A.D. As far as the “truth” that is “clearly” portrayed in the Grail, that is the painting, it is not clearly the truth now is it? Now, here is the mistake the author made. Da Vinci was born in 1452 and died in 1519. So unless during his troubled lifetime he invented a time machine and travelled way back in time, there is no way he could have painted the Last Supper from direct observation. Which means that this so called “truth” is not the truth at all. What it is in actual fact is an expression of something that Da Vinci believed in. Something he wanted others to believe in. Something he strongly believed was…the “truth”. This was a story that he told as an artist. A story that sated him so well as to have completed and kept the piece. As an artist there is one thing I love most about the practice. Artistic Licence. With this, you can paint a “lie” as best you feel, and it becomes the “truth”, your truth. Who can disprove it? After all you are the one who painted it. But as long as you cannot paint your lie convincingly enough, it will be chewed up and spat out.

Suppose I paint a picture depicting the Last Supper. Suppose in this picture, I paint four beer mugs, three popcorn bowls and eleven people. Ten of who are women, and the eleventh, placed in the centre, would be myself. With five women on either side leaning in to admire me. Suppose I had painted such a picture. Would the fact that it can be seen, touched, smelt and interpreted by whom ever wished to do so hold any water. Would all those things make it historically accurate? Would all those things make it the “truth”? I think not. It’s a ridiculous supposition isn’t it? But why is it that my piece along with my ego and credibility as an artist would quickly be ripped apart by the vicious words of critics. And yet many people are willing to believe the lie so well told by Da Vinci’s painting?

At the end of the day, it is entirely up to each individual to choose for him or herself what to believe. After all, it is our beliefs that keep us going aren’t they. What would life be without something…or someone to believe in? As for me, I chose God. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I chose the Bible. And I’m sticking to my choice.


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