I love Dan Brown books, they are real page turners (though I enjoy them more as audio books most). It’s not great art for sure, but on a purely engaging level, they are hard to beat. They also seem to make pretty terrible movies too – I think for many of reasons I cite below as to (paradoxically) why they make SUCH a great read.
So why is Dan Brown so successful?
The Art Of Mystery
Dan Brown sure knows how to make anything sound mysterious. He also knows EXACTLY when to reveal the facts behind the mystery. We all love mystery, we love to figure it out as we go, it’s human nature… how is this going to work out? What will happen next? And Dan Brown seems to be able to manage this basic engagement with some aplomb. He can also pull of the ultimate mystery twist again and again – making what would normally be considered a preposterous ‘reveal’ actually read plausible and authentic. He also knows he must NEVER slip into being so cryptic as the msytery gets lost (as, ironically, ‘Lost’ ended up doing). That’s a real writing skill. This is one reason why I believe his books don’t make good movies – what reads SO well on the page, slips into the absurd onscreen. As a book, I willingly hang up my cynicism and engage with a broad grin, LOVING these huge moments of revelation. Can’t get enough.
A world that cunningly mixes believable ‘fact’ with the near absurd
Dan Brown also knows how to create a believable but extraordinary world – a fusion of hi tech stuff, spies, assassins and secret societies, fused with the ancient and mystical, even paranormal… This fusion works very well on the page. He goes to great length to add loads of credible detail (road names, full serial numbers of kit, real people and their achievements etc) into the mix before slipping in some enormous and ridiculous plot device that I for one, rarely notice (or chose to ignore). Again, this makes for a great read but in a movie, it ends up feeling a little silly. Sky diving pontiffs in ‘Angels and Demons’ for instance.
A James Bond like world, only no Bond…
It’s true, Dan Brown reads like James Bond, only Bond in an academic world. And the girl is usually super smart, her glamour being more sassy than sexualised. I always fall in love with the girl in a Dan Brown book, and Lucia my other half, loves the female characters too. So he wins the male and female readers. Of course I still LOVE the James Bond universe on-screen, but as a novel, I suspect I would lean more to Robert Langdon world. Again, this is another reason the films don’t quite work – there’s just too much talking and running around while figuring out mystical conundrums.
Dan Brown sure as heck knows how to write a cliffhanger. Just as the big reveal is upon us, he flips to another plot or set of characters. This creates a senses of real urgency and pace. His chapters are short too, feeling more like cut scenes than chapters in a novel. This would lead the reader to believe that this would make an awesome movie.
Now here’s what I don’t like about Dan Brown, and this has NOTHING to do with him. I don’t like the way he is vilified and attacked by so many who should really take a chill pill. Do a quick Google on his name and you will find an endless list of sneering blogs and critic reviews just having a pop. I guess success breeds envy and contempt.
I don’t know what makes something ‘great’, but I do know this – if a lot of people like it, then surely that is a marker of some kind of greatness.
Ultimately, it comes to this….
A few years back I bought the audiobook of Angels and Demons and began listening to it on a long road trip. When I didn’t return home on time, Lucia my other half, looked out of the window worriedly… only to find me parked and still in the car, unable to switch off the audio book! I stayed there for about an hour apparently. That’s GREAT writing.
Right… back to my iPod.
Onwards and upwards!