Sunday, March 26, 2006

Dan Brown Is Better Than Ian McEwan. Sort Of

Dan 'Da Vinci Code' Brown. OK the haircut sucks, and makes him look like a deflated squirrel. But the plots are GOOD.

Cracking the Dan Brown Code

Throughout the peculiar 'trial' of the world's best-selling novel, the Da Vinci Code, one thing has been clear. A lot of literary people really despise Dan Brown and his damn thriller. Stephen Fry went so far as to call it 'arse dribble'.

Why? Two reasons. One is sheer envy. Most literary novelists - like me - get by on about £30,000 a year, and are happy with sales of 10,000 copies. Dan Brown has sold 40 million copies, and made £200 million.

The other reason 'highbrow' people reject the Da Vinci Code is because they don't understand its appeal. They look at the prose and they see clumsy phrasing and clunky sentences. They look at the book's 'love interest' and they see risible dialogue and emotional flatness.

And they're right. The Da Vinci Code has all these flaws. But what saves the Da Vinci Code is Story. Dan Brown's thriller has a brilliantly conceived, fabulously well-placed plot (whether or not it was inspired by previous works). And readers adore a cracking plot: think of the most popular novels in literature, from Oliver Twist to Pride and Prejudice. Great stories all.

This, I think, is what annoys and confuses modern highbrow writers. A lot of them can't do plot. Because it takes sheer inspiration plus tons of hard work. You can learn to churn out fancy prose in creative writing schools - but 'plot' is much more difficult.

Moreover, smart writers who could write plot, often don't. Because they look down on it, as a marker of cheap fiction. This is a strange thing. Why sneer at narrative thrust, yet admire, say, poetic prose? Plot is the melody of fiction, the 'tune'. Too many contemporary novelists can't write a tune to save their lives. And they fear and resent Dan Brown, because he's written a song that has gone around the world.

1 comment:

David Duff said...

Sorry, I can't agree with you on this one. I am no literary critic but I am something of an 'expert' on what I call 'pulp fiction'. I claim that 'expertise' on the fact that I hoover my way through tons of it every year. I *do* agree with your strictures on the 'EngLit lot' who scorn anything with a plot and action, however, the 'Da Vinci Code' was, indeed, as clunking as you describe, so much so that I broke down about one quarter of the way in!

On my 'blog' I have a running feature called "Pulp Fiction" in which I recommend various examples of the genre that I have particularly enjoyed. It's been sometime since I added a new one. However, I have just finished the latest Michael Connelly, "The Lincoln Lawyer" which is an absolute corker! Again, I must emphasise my inability to judge literary merit but one or two of these 'pulp fiction' authors seem to me to be very literary, indeed.