The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown

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This was recommended to me by a couple co-workers. When they were describing it to me, with its plot referencing the Knights Templar and other secret societies, I said it sounded a lot like Umberto Eco’s
Foucault’s Pendulum, dumbed down into a thriller format for an American audience. So when I was at my parents’ house for Christmas, and they had a copy lying around that one of their friends had left behind, I read it. And my opinion remains unchanged. It’s a reasonably well-written thriller, with several twists and turns. But I felt the background information of the secret societies was used in a self-aggrandizing way, more in the sense of “look how clever I am at having done this research” than as an integral part of the plot. The thriller plot itself was somewhat stilted, especially with the puzzles scattered throughout the book; the protagonists are set in motion by a murder, the victim of which set up a puzzle that only they can solve, whose clues lead them around Paris throughout the book.

It’s interesting comparing this book to Foucault’s Pendulum. It’s been several years since I read that book, but it draws upon many of the same source materials as The Da Vinci Code. But the difference between the two books is remarkable. Eco is an Italian semiotician, who studies the meaning of signs, and the wide variety of meaning that can be ascribed to signs of all sorts. And this instability is evident in Foucault’s Pendulum, where it’s unclear whether secret societies really exist, or whether they are brought into being by the machinations of the protagonist. Everything is uncertain, and there are no easy answers. In contrast, Dan Brown is apparently a thriller writer, so his puzzles only have one answer. There’s a definite path from start to end in his book, and the secret societies are treated as real entities and his research as fact, the good guys are always the good guys, and the bad guys lose. It makes for a quick read (I finished it in less than a day), but it also leaves one feeling kind of empty, and I suspect I’ll forget everything about the book in a few weeks. And I’m left with a desire to re-read Foucault’s Pendulum to get a better compare and contrast. But we’ll see if I get motivated enough to do that.