Book Group: Christina Patterson reveals your views on the most talked-about book of 2004, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

A blurring of fact and fiction
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

When a book becomes an international phenomenon, it seems perverse to ignore it. That, at least, was the thinking behind the selection of The Da Vinci Code as the last Independent book group choice of 2004. Everyone was reading it. Some even admitted their vice in print and Trevor McDonald picked it as his book of the year. At times there seemed to be more copies of it on the Tube than there were people.

The first responses, during last month's faltering poetry discussion, were not encouraging. "Christina has finally decided to enervate everybody," said SamT70. "This is a book for people who don't like books. Excellent choice... for a book club," he sneered. Worried that we hadn't quite got the point, he returned to the subject later. This time, he was quoting Richard Eyre. "It is, to borrow from Blackadder, as badly written as the most badly written bad book that you've ever thrown across a room in disgust." He called upon me to "redeem" myself. Haven't got time, Sam. Am too busy chasing the Holy Grail.

The first official contribution to the discussion was a little more positive. "For me one of the attractions of this book was its sheer readability," said Fennardus. "Seldom can there have been such easy-going prose." He added: "So much prose is so much more complex than it needs to be." Er, yes. But he was right, of course, to identify the pitfalls of blurring the boundaries of history and fiction. "I fear", he said, "that we may soon be deluged by Americans believing every word of it, and looking for Grails and Temples and such." According to some reports, Fennardus, we already are.

Mo245 was "not particularly looking forward to this one" but gamely agreed to "suspend my disbelief and immerse myself". At least, she said, "it will be a distraction from Christmas". BadDobby was equally open-minded. "To me, the overriding theme of the book is not who is right and who is wrong," he declared. "It is that history is written by the 'Winners'. And, as such, we need to constantly rethink our documented accountings to fill in the missing pieces, if we are ever to approximate the truth". He ended with a plea for some "serious dialogue and investigation within our communities, our spiritual places, our institutions of learning, our families and ourselves". Blimey. I was just hoping for a bit of lively chat.

Ramblingsid's verdict was short and not particularly sweet. "My view of this book is simple" he said. "It's hokum. Read it, enjoy it, forget it." MissSuzy's response was: "Well said!" Pproudlock picked up a copy of the book on a boat off the American east coast. "I thought it would get better but it didn't!" he lamented. "The book was without doubt one of the worst modern novels I have ever had the misfortune to read." But he had a shameful admission. "Somehow I was unable to put it down." Was he, he wondered, alone?

I'm afraid it was beginning to look like it. Mshannonbcn was "disappointed". The book "deteriorated into a sloppily written exercise in cribbing and repackaging the hokum from 'Holy Book, Holy Grail'... The parlour puzzle hooks and cliffhangers soon lost their charm". Mo245, responding in relatively measured tones to BadDobby's anxieties about historical accuracy, thought the facts must, at least, be consistent. "While the plot lines seem engaging, the characterisation is poor, and the research clearly very sloppy... I was always led to believe that medical and forensic accuracy were key to crime and thriller novels."

MPLeeds (presumably not the MP for Leeds) was disappointed. "Load of tosh it certainly was" she said "but I was unprepared for the terrible quality of the writing. I spent most of the time itching to take a red pen to it". Mrsboggart shared her view of the "abysmal writing" and "blinding inaccuracies" but confessed she had been gripped. "There was always a cliffhanger at the end of a chapter which made you want to carry on reading," she said.

Jellyfeeble was finding the story "fascinating" but struggling with "horrible" prose. "Did this book have an editor?" She did confess that she wanted "to know what happens in the end". Trufle1 had been open-minded. She thought that "a book read by virtually everyone on the train to work must be okay. And it was OK - but not better than that." She "just couldn't care about the characters... Even if either of them had died, I'd have just shrugged."

Mo245 agreed. "I thought the weaving together of 'fact' and fiction did not work to heighten the suspense but instead dulled it... But it has to be said, some perfectly intelligent males, normally quite capable of identifying good writing, have been unable to put this book down." Quite. But on the evidence so far, Mo, it's not just men. 2wabbits didn't mince his words. "Utter rubbish proposed as fact... Cliché piled upon clap-trap, piled upon a derisible plot into a huge pile of cxxx (cash)... I groaned so much on the Tube reading this rubbish that I started to get looks." So irritated was he by the fusion of fact and fiction that he spent "six hours trawling the Net the other day to do some research... I wasted a day to find out that basically the whole thing is a pile of tosh." Luckily, he said, it was "a slow day at work".

There was a lone positive voice that came at the end. Shirley, a faithful participant since the beginning of the book club, had been "without a computer most of the month" but was now back in the fray. "I thoroughly enjoyed The Da Vinci Code," she declared. "I found the storyline a bit far-fetched at times, but mostly it was totally believable fiction. Fascinating stuff!" she concluded.

And then, worryingly, there was my mother, not a member of the book group but one of the millions who devoured it and enthused. At least she read it in Swedish. The content would still be rubbish, but the prose could only be better.