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A few years ago, I wrote a piece called Dan Brown’s 20 Worst Sentences. Because I’m not all that good at this writing stuff myself, there were actually 21 of them, and they were phrases, not sentences. But nonetheless it amused a few people.
Other people, though, were furious. A few of them pointed out that I, unlike Dan Brown, did not live in a platinum space mansion and could only rarely afford to wipe my bottom with £100 notes, and so had no right to criticise him. Others said that it’s hardly fair to go through the man’s five enormous books and pick a few little examples.
Unfortunately my space mansion is still under construction and normally I use Tesco own-brand quilted like everybody else, so I can’t do anything about that. But the second point was sort-of reasonable. So today, with Brown’s new book Inferno out, I decided to go through the first few chapters and see if I could find something in each which was worthy of mockery: that it is, indeed, shooting fish in a barrel, rather than panning a great, pure, flowing river for tiny nuggets of crap. I’ve taken this challenge, despite the fact that our own reviewer, Jake Kerridge, says that “As a stylist Brown gets better and better: where once he was abysmal he is now just very poor.”
Chapter 1. Through the dolent city, I flee.
Their existence has kept me underground … forced me to live in purgatory … laboring beneath the earth like a chthonic monster.
“Chthonic” means “Of or relating to the underworld”. He’s also underground, and labouring beneath the earth. So, underground, then. “Dolent” means “sorrowful”. It appears Mr Brown has bought a thesaurus.
Chapter 2. He had a shaggy beard, bushy mustache, and gentle eyes that radiated a thoughtful calm beneath his eyebrows.
Above his eyebrows, though, he was boiling with fury.
Chapter 3: Five miles off the coast of Italy, the 237-foot luxury yacht The Mendacium motored through the predawn mist that rose from the gently rolling swells of the Adriatic… With a price tag of over 300 million U.S. dollars, the craft boasted all the usual amenities – spa, pool, cinema, personal submarine, and helicopter pad.
Two hundred and thirty-seven feet, you say? That is certainly a relevant detail, Mr Brown. And I suspect that the 80 million sales of The Da Vinci Code have given you a very strange idea of what “the usual amenities” are.
Chapter 4: Her expression transformed before his eyes, her young features hardening with all the detached composure of a seasoned ER doctor dealing with a crisis.
The seasoned ER doctor’s face hardened with all the detached composure of a seasoned ER doctor. This is an innovative piece of writing: the non-metaphorical metaphor.
Chapter 5: Emerging from the darkness, a scene began to take shape … the interior of a cave … or a giant chamber of some sort. The floor of the cavern was water, like an underground lake.
A giant chamber – perhaps like a cave! And a giant cave with a watery floor – why, you’re right, that is like an underground lake. Uncannily so, in fact.
Chapter 6: As Langdon stared into his own weary eyes, he half wondered if he might at any moment wake up in his reading chair at home, clutching an empty martini glass and a copy of Dead Souls, only to remind himself that Bombay Sapphire and Gogol should never be mixed.
I have no idea what is going on here. I think it might be a joke of some sort. But we can be reassured that Dan Brown knows who Gogol is.
Chapter 7: Langdon looked at the iconic faces of Comedy and Tragedy gazing up at him, and suddenly he heard a strange humming in his ears – as if a wire were slowly being pulled taut inside his mind.
Do wires hum when slowly being pulled taut? His insect eyes flashed like a rocket.
Chapter 8: “Sienna, eez Danikova! Where you?! Eez terrible! Your friend Dr. Marconi, he dead! Hospital going craaazy! Police come here! People telling them you running out trying to save patient?! Why!? You don’t know him! Now police want to talk to you! They take employee file! I know information wrong – bad address, no numbers, fake working visa – so they no find you today, but soon they find! I try to warn you. So sorry, Sienna.”
Now that exposition isn’t clunky at all. Of course the doctor’s friend would phone up and explain to the doctor’s answerphone that her employee file was full of bad information! Why wouldn’t the doctor need to be reminded about her fake working visa? And why wouldn’t the doctor’s apparently Eastern European friend talk like a character in a Mexican remake of ‘Allo ‘Allo?
Anyway, there you go. Just a few thoughts. Now, Mr Brown, go and dry your eyes on the handkerchiefs woven from gold and happiness that you bought to celebrate the billionth sale of Deception Point.