Occasionally there is some book that hits it big and has all kinds of people praising how well it is written. I’m starting to get a reflective skepticism of such claims, because I’ve been burned too often by them.
I know, de gustibus non disputandum est, but some things are just poorly written.
This was what happened with the Harry Potter craze. People were going on and on about how well it was written, but when I read the first Harry Potter novel, I was stunned at how poor the writing was. I acknowledge that the book has some interesting ideas in it, but the way in which these ideas were given literary form was utterly incommensurate with the level of praise being heaped upon the book. It made me wonder about the people had who want to put J. K. Rowling up there with Shakespeare. Just how much exposure to literature did they have? Not much, if they thought that Harry Potter was the bee’s knees.
In case you haven’t read it or seen the movie, the basic plot of the first Harry Potter novel involves a young boy who has lost his parents and leads a dreary existence but who then discovers that he is the most famous, most important person in the world. Since readers typically identify with the protagonists of the books they are reading, it’s easy to use this premise as a ham-fisted, over-the-top, delusions-of-grandeur fantasy for the reader. Rowling has noted that she started writing the series while she was leading a rather dreary existence herself and working out her feelings over her divorce. Reading the first Harry Potter novel, I couldn’t help the feeling that on some level she was writing it for her own sons to atone for her divorce, giving them a marvelous escape fantasy from the realities of their broken family.
(If you want to read a sci-fi novel with a smilar premise that is more like what Harry Potter *should have been,* read Jerry Pournelle’s Starswarm.)
So when people started hyping how well written The Da Vinci Code is supposed to be, I was very suspicious. Once again, “interesting ideas” are delivered with an utter lack of literary style. The books is appalling written, but I don’t need to explain why because someone else already did.
Read this analysis from Language Log about Dan Brown’s incompetent wordsmithing.
“Brown’s writing is not just bad; it is staggeringly, clumsily, thoughtlessly, almost ingeniously bad.”