17 July 2013

Clive James on Dan Brown's 'Inferno'

[The hero, Robert] Langdon, though an American, still favours English tailoring. It must be easier to run in. Running beside him is Dr Sienna Brown, described as a “pretty, young woman”, in keeping with Dan Brown’s gift for inserting the fatal extra comma that he or one of his editors believes to be a sign of literacy. And indeed I should perhaps have written “the fatal, extra comma”, but something stopped me: an ear for prose, I hope.

Dan Brown has no ear for prose at all, a handicap which paradoxically gives pathos, and even tenderness, to his attempts at evoking Sienna’s charm. He has no trouble evoking her brains. She has an IQ of 208 and at the age of four she was reading in three languages. You can picture the author at his desk, meticulously revising his original sentence in which, at the age of three, she was reading in four languages. Best to keep it credible. But how to register her beauty as an adult? Here goes: “Tall and lissom, Dr Brooks moved with the assertive gait of an athlete.”

Would that be the assertive gait of a Russian female weightlifter? Probably more like the assertive gait of the British pentathlete Jessica Ennis. Anyway, as usual with a bad writer, the reader has to do most of the imagining [...]

I had better not reveal how it all comes out: there might be a few readers of this review who have not already read the book. But just in case you haven’t, let me suggest that it ends the way it began, as a fizzer. Your enjoyment will eventually depend on how much you, in your role as a symbologist, can revel in the task of decoding the text to lay bare the full extent to which the author can’t write.

- Clive James, 'The heroic absurdity of Dan Brown', Prospect Magazine, 11 July 2013
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