This Is Vitruvius

The Da Vinci Code is finally out in paperback here and I'm finally reading it. I borrowed the large illustrated edition that I bought my mother for her birthday last year. (I play the long game.) It's not as large or illustrated as Helmut Newton's SUMO, which is so large it comes with its own four-legged stand. Apparently it was printed in The Vatican, the location of the only printworks in the world capable of handling the task with its history of over-sized Bible-making.

It's an odd read. I dig very much the mystery, the small cast of characters, the claustrophobic setting of the main narrative (I'm only 150 pages in, so that might change) and the educational aspect. The illustrations do tend to break the book equivalent of the fourth wall and give your imagination the afternoon off but, for the most part, a classic art philistine like myself gains more than he loses. The comparison of the two versions of Leonardo's Madonna On The Rocks was almost fascinating! Indeed, the art history lessons are the best thing about the book.

The downside to Brown's unwavering eye for detail is that he describes everything methodically, whether it's a salient plot point or not. He's either obsessive compulsive, showing off the depth of his research, intentionally obfuscating which elements of the story will turn out to be relevant or not, or - as I am beginning to suspect - meeting his publisher's word count. I've learned a good lesson for the short story I'm currently writing: there's a thin line between building a believable world using factual information and letting your drama become overshadowed by minutiae.

His choice of writing style - assuming it is a choice - reeks of consideration for beach reading. The chapters are an average of five pages long and seldom fail to recap previous events at their tops. The frequent four- to six-word paragraphs are no more than repeated iconic phrases, really and there are superfluous references to Robert Langdon's previous adventure that add nothing particular to this story. It's so ridiculously easy to read that it's starting to feel like an episode of Monk or Cracker in prose form.

"Messieurs! Ne nous deranger pas sous aucun pretexte." Langdon had hung enough NE PAS DERANGER signs on hotel room doors to catch the gist of the captain's orders. [They] were not to be disturbed under any circumstances.

There then follows a scene where the speaker in the above quote takes umbrage at being interrupted. Good lord! I don't speak French but I recognize "ne pas" as a negative and a quick search of the mental thesaurus throws up "disturbed" as a synonym for "deranged". Brown persists in immediately translating every single bloody French word spoken, even when they're phonetically identical to the English: "Prieuré de Sion" into "Priory of Sion", for example. I get it already! Stop making me feel dumb!

But it's certainly a page turner and I'm quite new to this kind of fiction so I'm willing to be spoon-fed in exchange for the thrill ride. Just like a T.V. whodunnit, there's no way I can quit before I get answers despite the predictable formulaity. Two characters so far have found themselves unintentionally imitating the stance of The Vitruvian Man (pictured above). Since Dan Brown "outed" Da Vinci as homosexual in an early chapter I anticipate a gratuitous sodomy scene before the book is done. You know... just to hammer the point home one more time. (No pun intended.)


Anonymous sarah said...

Wow...it took that long for the book to make it over there in paperback? It's been out for three years, about. I admire you for getting through it--I've been told time and again that I need to read it but there's no way I could deal with the writing style. Maybe I'm just jealous that he's published and I'm not.

Blogger The Paranoid Mod said...

It's really enjoyable shite. The publishing equivalent of a burger, perhaps.

Anonymous sarah said...

Huh, I don't eat burgers.:)

Blogger DrHeimlich said...

Why would they have published the book in paperback earlier when it was still on the top of the bestseller charts at $30 a copy?

"Guilty pleasures" have been an accepted staple of film and television for ages. Books are no different.

Of course, this book is going to be a film next year, and probably a damn good one. Ron Howard directly, starring Tom Hanks, Ian McKellen, Alfred Molina, Jean Reno... and the whole thing reads like a movie already as it is.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Haven't read it...been told it's not what it's cracked up to be, and I have 20+ books already on my shelves I haven't read.

I haven't read any Harry Potter either. What kind of lit person am I anyway?

Anonymous sarah said...


I'm a litperson,too, and I haven't read any Harry Potter. Nor have I read The Great Gatsby, which is apparently horrifying for someone with a degree in creative writing. There's a million books I haven't read that I "should" have by now.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

sarah--glad to hear it! However, Gatsby is great! A few years ago, I went out buying books that "everyone" had read except me. Some have been good, some are still sitting on my shelves. Anyone want a hardback of Jane Eyre or Emma?

As for DaVinci--Maybe I'll get the books-on-cd version :)

Anonymous sarah said...

Gatsby's been sitting on my shelf for years, and I know it's great, and I'll read it, I really will...I'm trying to read some Faulkner now, just so I can catch up on my cannon. Not a fan of Jane Austen? Or, do you just give books away when you're finished with them? If the tape deck in my car weren't broken, I'd be inclined to go for the book-on-tape myself. Or, I'll just go see the movie.:) BTW, kitkat, I'm guessing your phd work is in English?

Anonymous Anonymous said...

sarah, it's MA actually, not PhD. Sadly. Anyway, yeah, English. I'm not a fan of Austen, but Barnes and Noble always has those B&N classics on sale! I can't resist, but hell if I'm going to read those buggers now that I'm almost finished with my degree!

I tend to space out when I listen to things, so I think unfortunately, audio books might not work either. I'm doomed.

Sorry, Marcus, for taking up space on your blog :)

Anonymous Anonymous said...

p.s. faulkner is one of my favorites.

Blogger DrHeimlich said...

Jane Eyre was excruciating. Several hundred pages of, as Eddie Izzard might put it, "arranging matches."

Anonymous sarah said...

At least Charlotte Bronte wasn't as tedious a writer as her sister--I've never made it more than four pages into Wuthering Heights. I wouldn't like Austen except that I think she's making fun of herself and her characters the whole time she's writing--I think she herself thought the Victorian voice and match-making and cousins marrying each other was all bullshit. But that's how she got published. Dear god, Marcus is thinking, this is what they're using my comments section for? Nerds, the lot of us.

Blogger thisismarcus said...

Far from it! Come in, people. Let me take your coats. Martinis all round?

Amazon.com says the paperback has been out in the States since January but I never saw it in stores. They probably still had hardbacks in stock.

The movie sounds fun. The book with "the voice of the author" missing would instantly be improved! I imagined the actors you mentioned in specific roles and, checking IMDB, (except for McKellen who plays a charatcter I haven't met yet) the casting seems spot on. Though I did think of Sophie more as a Julie Delpy-type than Audrey "Amelie" Tatou.

Anonymous sarah said...

Audrey Tatou--another one I'd have to hop the fence for.:) Marcus, you have the best comments section.

Blogger Trundling Grunt said...

I read this on my last flight to the UK - if I'd known it wasn't out in paperback there I'd have tried to flog it.

Fairly mindless escapism with just enough conspiracy theory to appeal to a mainstream American audience. I'm not sure quite why it has created such a furore but the film should be good. Especially if it has Audrie Tatou in it (she's just s-o French).

I also read the precursor to this, but I can't even remember the title which shows the impact it had on me.

Anonymous sarah said...

What? You don't compulsively update your blog, like, every two seconds? FYI, another interview with Neil Gaiman's up in the AV club of this week's onion.

Blogger The Paranoid Mod said...

I was really underwhelmed by the Great Gatsby, probably cos i'd heard so many times how good it was. And Jane Austen can fuck right off too, endless novels about rich people wearing clothes that are too tight for them. pah.

Currently reading Ian McEwan - Atonement, which is pretty good. Not as good as Neil Gaiman, but then, what is?
(Neil Stephenson?)

Blogger thisismarcus said...

Marcus, you have the best comments section.

Better than the actual articles, some might say! Back now from a brief sojourn in London. I'll post new stuff shortly.

Anonymous sarah said...

Has anyone ever read any of Alan Moore's work? Because, Marcus, I aim to turn your blog into a book club.:) I'm glad you'll be posting soon, as you actually post fun stuff.

Blogger The Paranoid Mod said...

I used to love the Ballad of Halo Jones back in the 2000AD days... And Watchmen of course.

Anonymous sarah said...

I haven't read any Moore, yet, but I've recently started reading graphic novels and I've heard nothing but good things about him. Too many books and too little time (says the book nerd). I really want to read Voice of the Fire. I think he's publishing a new one, soon.

Blogger Count said...

Thanks, mines a scotch, I'll have the seat by the fire, is that saturday's Guardian? Hmmm nice decore. Fine selection of lit!

Wuthering Heights is my all time favourite novel btw!
Also the Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe (great coloquial writing style) and Pilate, Anne Wroe (how history should be written!)

Back on line after more enforced absence...

Blogger erika said...

I just wanted to be the 23rd comment.


Blogger thisismarcus said...

Welcome back, Count. I thought perhaps you'd breached your restraining order. Cheers!

I'm on page 249 and chapter 58 of Da Vinci if that gives you any further clue how lightweight this is. Also, I HATE the way the cliff-hangers are almost always just the main character making a deduction but not telling you what it is so you have to carry on reading the next chapter. Lame!

I just heard Neil Gaiman's gonna be writing for Marvel comics again soon. More news when I know it.

24 comments is something of a blog record, even when you factor in the stalkers and harem members. Sweet. Ybbgkv!


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