Conspiracy Fiction

Interesting review of The Da Vinci Code by David Klinghoffer (author of The Discovery of God: Abraham and the Birth of Monotheism) in the current issue of National Review[sub. req.] . Klinghoffer enjoyed the book for what it was but is highly skeptical, to say the least, of the conspiracy that forms its plot. Along the way he makes some interesting points. On the “narrative art” involved in this kind of book:

The conspiracy theory at the heart of Dan Brown’s huge bestseller was not invented by him (it has been kicking around for years), but it’s a juicy one and he’s made the most of it, creating a story with a very effective cliffhanger at the end of almost every one of his 105 chapters. You are pulled along relentlessly — a feat of narrative art that really does deserve to be called art, no matter what Yale literary critic Harold Bloom said recently in mocking the “immensely inadequate” Stephen King (a similarly gifted writer) when the latter won a lifetime literary prize. If you don’t believe writing in this vein merits appreciation, try thinking up a plot like the one in The Da Vinci Code yourself.

On the books influence on the broader culture and what that bodes:

What about the book’s influence in the broader culture? Here, I am calmed by the reflection that there’s something profoundly religious about conspiracies in the first place, even fictitious ones. Think about this next time you are at the beach in chilly weather. Though the sky is cloudy and a cold wind is up, you’ll see people sitting on blankets in the sand just staring out to sea. Why? Be cause when you look at the ocean you get the intuition that just under the surface resides a vast hidden world of exotic, usually unseen creatures. The realization that there’s all that life underneath — in some ways a mirror of our own world on dry land but in others dramatically different — is simply thrilling. It’s what keeps people’s eyes glued to the ocean even when there is ostensibly nothing going on out there. This, too, is what makes a conspiracy thrilling, the revelation of concealed complexity all around. Likewise, it’s what attracts many of us to thinking about spiritual matters — the gut-level perception, powerful if unproven, of an existence beyond the one of our mundane daily lives. The Da Vinci Code may be silly; but in its fashion, it’s also thrilling. If its popularity means people are thinking about invisible realities, that’s good news.

Kilinghoffer’s review is excellent. It give the book its due but is not unduly fawning. It speaks to the larger culture without ignoring the book itself. It is always a good sign when the book review makes you interested in the book (if it is a good one) and makes you think at the same time.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).