Best-selling Dan Brown gets hellish time from critics
The latest Dan Brown blockbuster was released this week: cue line-up of detractors rushing to rubbish it, while secretly seething with jealousy at his soaring sales figures.
Brown's newest thriller stars Harvard professor Robert Langdon and this time follows Langdon through Italian cities and some other European locations as he tries to stop the spread of a deadly virus.
The book is basically a rehash of Dante, specifically his Inferno, the first part of The Divine Comedy. Brown's fans have made it an instant chart-topper.
Brown's book sales have already exceeded 200 million, but, in spite of this history of strong sales, he has once again attracted oodles of criticism for his literary abilities.
One reviewer called it Brown's "worst book yet". The Daily Mail dismissed it as "bilge, but one hell of a page-turner".
On top of this, Brown's books are utterly unrealistic.
He chooses to ignore the extreme difficulty of producing and storing antiprotons in his tale Angels And Demons. The plot features a criminal mastermind, who threatens to blow up the Vatican using a bomb made from antimatter stolen from CERN.
But to produce enough antimatter to make one of his bombs, you'd have to use all antimatter currently produced in the world for hundreds of millions of years. But who cares when every chapter ends in a cliffhanger? In spite of all this, the new thriller has managed to top the Amazon book sales chart on the strength of its pre-orders alone, which were 24% higher than those for his previous book, The Lost Symbol.
I hardly ever read thrillers now. When I was a teenager, I read little else. But now I'm grown-up, I want more from novels than verbless sentences, boilerplate plotting and ludicrous dialogue.
But fearing that a phenomenon was passing me by, I bought The Da Vinci Code. I didn't think it was great. But Brown is proud of his weak narrative mechanisms – and I loved it. Not for what it was so much as for what it reminded me about reading: that sometimes you feel simple pleasures more intensely.
Dante's account of his midlife religious crisis is generally acknowledged as a Renaissance masterpiece, so it's no surprise that the knives are out for Brown.
I'm not sure Dante would have minded; he was a master of the fast-moving, high-stakes plot.
Dante did more than most to bring his knowledge of classical literature and history to a wider, less scholarly audience.
He wrote not in Latin, but in Italian, the language of the people. In his day he was dismissed as a shameless populist, too, but history has forgotten his critics' names.
So ignore the genre snobs. Brown knows better than any of his critics what the public wants.