Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Many of you will have seen blogs that aim to guide their readers through the less penetrable paths of literature: the Bible; Ulysses; the new Pynchon. These sites vary in their approach, but they are united in a core idea; that these books are in some way important, and worthy of consideration, but they can be pretty tough going. Readers want to read them, but need a fairly intensive level of encouragement. So the blogger takes them through, one page or chapter or section at a time. It's like a micromanaged reading group, I suppose. Or an interactive Coles Notes.
My project for 2007 is slightly different, considerably lazier, but (I hope) interesting in its own way. I want to take my readers by the hand and lead them through a work that is by no means difficult or challenging. On the other hand, it has not only sold shedloads of copies, but has captured the imaginations of thousands of people, forcing them to look anew at religion, history, art, even their holiday plans. At the same time, the conventional critical wisdom is that the book itself is a ludicrous concoction of discredited conspiracy theories, held together with cardboard characters and subliterate prose that makes John Grisham read like Nabokov.
I speak, of course, of The Da Vinci Code. Now, it's already had dozens of books written about it, and plenty of blogs, too. But these tend to focus on the subject matter; whether from the perspective of amateur symbologists and conspiracy nuts who think the book contains some long-repressed truth; or concerned Christians who see it as an equally dangerous lie, and want to pick it all apart.
Of course, I'll deal with some of that. But I'm a writer. I do words. They're my babies. And I want to find out why a book that (by conventional critical standards at least) is so egregiously badly written, is so successful. Does it succeed because of the bad writing, or in spite of it? Indeed, do those standards, maintained in an unspoken pact between Eng Lit departments and broadsheet book reviewers, actually hold water any more?
Anyway, that's the plan. I'm looking to kick off at The Chasms of the Earth on January 1, and proceed at a pace of roughly one chapter a day, which shouldn't be too taxing for anyone. If you'd like to join me for this journey into mediocrity, all you need is a copy of The Da Vinci Code (available at all good charity shops) and the passion for a decent literary scrap. I'm especially looking for people who enjoyed the book, and are willing to defend it. Remember, the end purpose of this isn't to decide whether or not Jesus was married to his mother, or Leonardo was a lesbian Scientologist, or even that the Pope shits in the woods. It's to crack the biggest mystery of them all - why this book was so successful. See you at The Chasms of the Earth, and if anyone's got Audrey Tautou's mobile number...