Sunday, November 11, 2007

It Just Goes On and On (Warning: Spoilers of Awfulness Within)

Okay, if they're going to recall Angels and Demons, I decided to just plough right through it, damn the torpedoes. And I have, kicking and screaming every page, because it's so unremittingly, delightfully, shrilly badly written.

I can't, for the most part, argue with the plot--it's fast, there are twists and turns and action and murder and intrigue and suspense. There is romance, too, though that is the one part of the plot that is very poorly handled, very clunky and insincere-seeming; I understand it's been an intense five hours, and she's totally hott, but that doesn't spell a soulmate.

Aside: it's weird to read a 500+ page book that takes place all within a few hours. Usually a book this long would take days, at the very least, and I have these weird instinctive moments of thinking it's been a while, then being jerked back to "reality" by a comment about the time that's passed.

But the badness here is just so relentless that I've documented a little of it for you. Some of it might not come across as clearly as I'd like when I explain it, but I hope that at least you'll get a glimpse of the density of literary missteps here. Mind you, these are only the ones that a) bothered me enough to pick up the pen to write them down and b) could be pinpointed to a single line or a few words, as opposed to something vague or pervasive.

p. 367 "What he saw was so unexpected, so bizarre, that Langdon had to close his eyes and reopen them before his mind could take it all in." This is not the best example, but this construction (Langdon sees something so crazy he can't quite believe/process it) is used a heaping helping of times in this book. In this instance, what he sees is a building that is on fire. There is also a dead body hanging from the ceiling, which admittedly is weird. But in one of the previous instances of this construction, what startles him is a chapel with particularly elaborate carvings. Mind you, the man is an art historian (renowned symbologist, actually, but attached to the art history department).

p. 379 This is a speech by a priest we're supposed to like and trust. The book sets up what I believe is a melodramatization of what, even in the real world, is a false dichotomy of science and faith. I really, really don't get how God and science are mutually exclusive (AT ALL), and I could go on about that, but let me give you a few highlights of nonsense from this "moving and stunning speech."
  • "Our sunsets have been reduced to wavelengths and frequencies." As though someone who understands the idea of wavelengths of light can't see that a sunset is beautiful.
  • "Does science hold anything sacred?" Well, no, no it doesn't. Oh, except ideas like the scientific method and faith in reproducible experiments. And, from another angle, things like the fact that matter is composed of atoms, the Earth revolves around the sun, things like that.
  • "[Science] shatters God's world into smaller and smaller pieces in quest of meaning...and all it finds are more questions." Wow, God's world is pretty fragile, huh? If it can be shattered by wondering and noticing things that are taking place in it.
  • (moving on a couple of pages in the same speech) "Since the days of Galileo, the church has tried to slow the relentless march of science...always with benevolent intention." Because we would all be so much better off if we didn't know the FACT that the Earth revolves around the sun. (And let's make this clear, God set it up that way. It's just we were better off not knowing that, you see.)
  • " your quest for smaller chips and larger profits." Wait, wait, what does science have to do with capitalism? If your argument is that capitalism is hurting more people than it's helping, we can have a conversation. But a lot of history's science was done by amateurs doing it for the love of thinking, of using the reason God gave them to observe closely the world that God put them in. You're diluting your message there, boss.
p. 390. We've moved on from the speech, and now we're with the assassin in his secret lair, which is also the ancient meeting place of the Illuminati. And as he enters this lair, where he's been living and plotting and coming and going from for some days now, he thinks, "The church of the Illuminati. The ancient Illuminati meeting room. Who would have thought it to be here?" Anyone remember the line from The Simpsons where Lisa's summing up how they wound up in the car on their way to wherever, and Homer asks her, "What are you, the narrator?"

p. 429 Our hero finds the fortress in which is concealed the assassin's lair. The assassin handily dispatched our hero a few minutes earlier, in spite of Langdon having the element of surprise and a gun. Langdon is now unarmed and alone, but he finds a network news broadcast van nearby. He offers the driver the story of his life to let him climb on the van get over the wall into the building. And what story does he give him? Does he tell him that the assassin that everyone's looking for is inside, and ask him to send backup? No--he tells him where he just came from, where the tumult is downtown, and then proceeds to storm the castle alone. Unarmed.

p. 435 "Langdon was still in a state of shock over the location of the lair." You'd think that after four hours of trekking around Rome and finding out that the Church's golden boy artist was their secret logo-creator, that secret symbols are in all their churches, that the Illuminati exist, for crying out loud, you would not go into a "state of shock" (trembling? low basal body temperature? That's a very clinical term you're using there, Mr. Brown. Or is it a <gasp!> cliche?) over the unlikely building.

p. 436 Okay, last time you met the unarmed assassin, you pointed your gun at him and shouted, in essence, "Freeze!" At which point, he disarmed you with minimal effort, finished killing his victim, and very, very nearly killed you, leaving you for dead (nice dodge, Langdon--this failure to kill you was, I'll grant you, cleverness on your part and no fault of his). So now when you approach him with no gun, only a steel pipe, but from behind and with the element of surprise, do you challenge him to a duel, or do you hit him unceremoniously over the head with your pipe? Apparently, the answer is you shout, "Get away from her!"

p. 442 "'But no one could possibly get into Vatican City right now!'

The assassin looked smug. 'Not unless he had an appointment.'

Langdon was confused. The only person expected at the Vatican right now was the person the press was calling the Eleventh Hour Samaritan--the [anonymous] person Rocher said had information that could save--"

But, I'm confused? Who could possibly be the person with an appointment who is the head terrorist? Certainly not the anonymous informant who offered valuable information to the investigation if he would only be allowed deep inside the threatened Vatican! The idea is preposterous!

I could go on. This is about 3/4 of my notes from that stretch of almost 100 pages. But I think you're getting the picture.

I want to apologize to anyone who loves this book. Like I said, the plot is keeping me right there with it. It's like reading a movie. It's got action/adventure, daring near-misses, and sweeping intrigue. It's only, you know, the writing that's a problem.

And even that is almost tipping over into being so bad it's good. My shouts of rage are starting to border on satisfaction, or even delight. It's like, have you ever seen the Nicholas Cage vampire movie? It's like that--just so awful that you can't resist.

No comments: