introducing readers to writers since 1995

May 03, 2004

Linguists on Literature
(Update of AM Entry)

by Ron Hogan

People go to great lengths to attack the "history" Dan Brown spins in The Da Vinci Code, but if you really want to discredit him, there's a much easier way: Geofrrey K. Pullum of Language Log explains why his prose style sucks.

Brown's writing is not just bad; it is staggeringly, clumsily, thoughtlessly, almost ingeniously bad. In some passages scarcely a word or phrase seems to have been carefully selected or compared with alternatives. I slogged through 454 pages of this syntactic swill, and it never gets much better. Why did I keep reading? Because London Heathrow is a long way from San Francisco International, and airline magazines are thin, and two-month-old Hollywood drivel on a small screen hanging two seats in front of my row did not appeal, that's why.

Meanwhile, one of his blogging partners, Mark Liberman, is puzzled by the prose stylings of Matthew Pearl as evidenced in The Dante Club:

For the first few dozen pages, I figured that Pearl was just trying to give his prose a 19th-century tone by using awkward constructions, making up unexpected figures of speech, and substituting rare words for common ones... a much more plausible hypothesis is that Pearl graduated from a slightly different Harvard University, in a universe slightly different from our own, and read a body of English and American literature that is also just a bit different.


So that's the reason why I never made it past page 30 of THE DANTE CLUB!

As for Dan Brown, well, sometimes I wish I could start a deprogramming session to teach would-be buyers to reach for thrillers that entertain and are well-written with great (OK, serviceable will do) prose instead of that book.

Posted by: Sarah at May 3, 2004 01:30 PM

And if you must have wacky historical theories thrown into the mix, then the best alternative is Tim Powers' Declare, which has the Best Kim Philby Theory Ever.

Posted by: editor at May 3, 2004 01:33 PM

Applause all around. Though I suspect that anyone who can stoke up so much steam over Brown (who is fairly innocuous, as they go) and the like has never splashed around in the pits of Grisham or Ludlum.

Posted by: Linus at May 3, 2004 01:39 PM

'syntactic swill". heh. love it.

Posted by: patricia at May 12, 2004 07:07 PM
If you enjoy this blog,
your PayPal donation
can contribute towards its ongoing publication.