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Monday, November 01, 2004

Flushing the mystery out of the Louvre

The Da Vinci Code is an airport novel turned global trend (buy yours here). Sure enough, I counted countless copies at an airport recently, and at least three copies on the flight itself. I’ve been reading the book as part of an impending book club inaugural meeting, a.k.a. drinking session, and found it interesting for various reasons. The plotting suggests a good grasp of the thriller formula, with chapters usually closing on a final line where someone encounters ‘the thing that s/he feared the most’. Two chapters on, you can find out what this actually was. Avuncular author Dan Brown is on hand, or on the web, to help explain what it’s all about without revealing vital plot twists.

The book concerns ‘Harvard symbologist' Robert Langdon and his various allies as they attempt to ensure that a ‘stunning historical truth is not lost forever’. What’s more interesting than this real-time chase around various authentic settings is that it has become a bestseller and a source of theological controversy. How has this come about?

Several of Brown's characters, in odd moments of self-reflexivity, suggest that everyone loves a conspiracy these days. (You almost expect them to start chatting to a fictional version of Dan Brown about it.) Whereas once it was the province of the political Right to blame things on secret societies, Jews and Communists, now such sentiments have become both more mainstream and more common on the Left. Likewise perceptions of the Catholic church have shifted. In a 1970s bestseller like The Godfather, the Vatican gets an easy ride. These days the 2000 year-old organisation is treated like it was set up in order to facilitate child molestation. In other words, it’s also a conspiracy.

A different theory is that The Da Vinci Code lets readers get a religious something or other from it, without having to make a formal commitment. All part of a society where adults feel defensive about discussing matters of the soul.

Whatever the explanation, it’s clear that folks are reading it. For now at least, the book has provided a point of connection in a fragmented society, when organised religion keeps failing to do so. The movie has been announced and the knock-off versions alleged. More from me on this topic after the book club meets.


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