Previously on The Da Vinci Code, Robert Langdon mentally mansplained the history of female oppression while simultaneously ignoring the actual woman attempting to catch his attention, we were introduced to a new anagram (SO DARK THE CON OF MAN) and Silas discovered that all the shit he’s been doing in the long-suffering church of Saint Sulpice has been a spectacular waste of his – and our – time. Oh, and Langdon and Sophie have been caught in the Louvre by a security guard, because they’re still there.
Security warden Claude Grouard simmered with rage as he stood over his prostrate captive in front of the Mona Lisa.
I love this sentence. It’s like the first line of a masterclass in how to write like Dan Brown. It goes Name + job title + emotion + redundancy + verb + namedrop masterpiece/landmark/esoteric bullshit = international bestseller.
Raging Claude here is simmering because he thinks Langdon killed Sauniere, who had been like a father to Claude and his security team. Then Sophie shows up and says ‘he didn’t kill my grandfather’ and Claude is all ‘Sophie? Sacre bleu – how you’ve grown since you were a little girl who used to come to the Louvre with your beloved grandfather’.
Sophie prances off with her blacklight to another painting – the Madonna of the Rocks – also known as the Virgin of the Rocks, but for the purposes of anagrams is going by Madonna. (Have you got it yet? How dark the con of man?)
Sure enough, she rummages behind the painting and finds the key/mcguffin that she got into trouble for looking at when she was nine. By this time the security guards are circling so Sophie decides that the best way to make her escape is to take the painting hostage and threaten to put her knee through it.
I think I’m going to have to give up figuring out what goes through these characters’ heads.
Also it’s a mercy – for Sophie’s knee – that she tried to do this with the Paris version of the Madonna of the Rocks. I seem to remember that the London version is painted on wood.
So, yeah. She tries to take a priceless painting hostage, the guards agree to let her and Langdon go and these two idiots maybe – finally – might actually leave the Louvre at some point in the next ten years.
…starts with me sighing heavily and realising I’m going to have to take back what I said about Sister Sandrine.
Oh, Sandrine. I thought you were the sensible one. I thought you were the one character who wasn’t walking around drooling on herself like her brain had been removed with an ice-cream scoop.
“They’re dead!” Sister Sandrine stammered into the telephone in her Saint-Sulpice residence…
Also, small tip. If your Sister is the Sister of Saint-Sulpice then maybe don’t call her Sandrine and definitely don’t have her stammer, stutter or sussurate.
…she was leaving a message on an answering machine. “Please pick up! They’re all dead!” The first three phone numbers on the list had produced terrifying results – a hysterical widow, a detective working late at a murder scene, and a sombre priest consoling a bereaved family.
Sandrine, does the deadness of the other three people on your list suggest something to you about what might have happened to the fourth? I know you’re panicking right now, but I’m just throwing that out there.
We know that the people she’s calling are the four senechaux – four men, by the way. Again, for a society for the protection of the sacred feminine or whatever these people are, they seem to have a surprising amount of testosterone wafting about the place.
If that floor panel is ever broken, the faceless messenger had told her, it means the upper echelon has been breached. One of us has been mortally threatened and been forced to tell a desperate lie. Call the numbers. Warn the others. Do not fail us in this. It was a silent alarm. Foolproof in its simplicity. The plan had amazed her when she first heard it.
Yeah, I feel you, Sandrine. I’m amazed, too. But possibly for different reasons. Okay, I’m going to keep reading and see if this starts to make any more sense.
If the identity of one brother was compromised, he could tell a lie that would start in motion a mechanism to warn the others. Tonight, however, it seemed that more than one had been compromised.
Yep. Still stupid. Basically this plan is foolproof unless someone finds out the names of all four senechaux and tortures them all. And it also assumes that whoever finds out the information that the senechaux is sworn to protect is dumb enough to stomp into the church and start smashing up the floor with a votive holder.
And speaking of our favourite floor smashing dumbass, here’s Silas.
He tells her to hang up the phone, then tells her that they’ve played him for a fool and demands she tell him where the real keystone is. She says she doesn’t know and that information is guarded by others. Way to keep your mouth shut, Sandrine.
Then she dies of bad writing.
A sudden explosion of rage erupted behind the monk’s eyes. He lunged, lashing out with the candle stand like a club. As Sister Sandrine fell, her last feeling was an overwhelming sense of foreboding.
All four are dead.
The precious truth is lost forever.
Mark the date, babies. This is the chapter where Robert Langdon finally leaves the Louvre. I seem to remember this book being more of a breathless gallop between famous locations; so far he’s spent over twenty chapters wandering around the Louvre failing to solve anagrams and mansplaining himself blue about how the Catholic Church has – historically – been very bad news for women.
Sophie and Langdon run for Sophie’s car, then he has a strange spasm over its diminutive size, because she’s driving a SmartCar. What are you driving, Robert? And more pertinently, what are you compensating for?
Langdon had barely thrown himself into the passenger seat before Sophie gunned the SmartCar up and over a curb onto a gravel divider.
Is this a dig at women drivers?
They drive off. At last!
…Langdon turned in his seat, craning his neck to look out the rear window towards the Louvre. The police did not seem to be chasing them. The sea of blue lights was assembling at the museum.
Luckily for everyone else in this book, the French police make Inspector Clouseau look competent. A small reminder – they’ve finally returned to the Louvre after a brief spell chasing a bar of soap on the back of a semi truck. And no, I don’t know how time behaves in this novel either. I think it’s just something we’re going to have to let slide, because attempting to figure out the timeline may very well break your brain.
His heartbeat finally slowing, Langdon turned back round. “That was interesting.” Sophie didn’t seem to hear. Her eyes remained fixed ahead.
Uh oh. Sophie’s gone into some kind of convenient trance so that Langdon can be alone with his deep, deep thoughts. You know what this means, don’t you?
Yep. Grab some waders and a shovel, folks, because it’s Deep Brown Bobby Bullshit time.
Sophie had said her grandfather had left her something behind the painting. A final message? Langdon could not help but marvel at Sauniere’s brilliant hiding place.
I think at this point we’re all marvelling at Sauniere. Not only did he – while bleeding to death from an abdominal gunshot wound – compose a bunch of anagrams and make it to the Mona Lisa and back in time to arrange himself into the shape of a fucking crossword puzzle or whatever, but also he managed to sneak a further mcguffin behind the Virgin of the Rocks. Face it – renowned curator Jacques Sauniere was a beast.
Then we get into some ridiculous bullshit about the Virgin of the Rocks, about how Leonardo had filled the painting – specifically the Louvre version – ‘with explosive and disturbing details.’
Let’s get down to this, shall we? Here she is, the Virgin of the Rocks, the Louvre version, widely believed to be the earlier version.
The painting showed a blue-robed Virgin Mary sitting with her arm around an infant child, presumably Baby Jesus. Opposite Mary sat Uriel, also with an infant, presumably Baby John the Baptist. Oddly, though, rather than the usual Jesus-blessing-John scenario, it was baby John who was blessing Jesus…and Jesus was submitting to his authority!
I don’t see how this is especially shocking, Dan. I don’t know if you’ve read the Bible, but John – being the Baptist and all – administers this particular sacrament to Jesus before Jesus begins his official ministry. To a Catholic like Leonardo the act of administering the sacraments would be inextricably twined with priestly authority, so it’s entirely possible that baby John’s blessing of Jesus is a reference to John’s later adult role as the baptist and the forerunner of Christ.
More troubling still, Mary was holding one hand high above the head of infant John and making a decidedly threatening gesture – her fingers looking like eagle’s talons, gripping an invisible head. Finally, the most obvious and frightening image: Just below Mary’s curled fingers, Uriel was making a cutting gesture with his hand – as if slicing the neck of the invisible head gripped by Mary’s claw-like hand.
Dan, Dan, Dan. What the fuck are you talking about, man? Invisible heads? Have you listened to yourself lately? The angel is clearly pointing at John the Baptist. It’s definitely an interesting composition, with the way the eye is drawn from one figure to the other, but claws and throat cutting? I think we’re just going to have to chalk this one up to whatever it is that constitutes a wild night in at Chez Langdon, which is probably two cups of watery coffee and a late night snack of Cream of Wheat.
Langdon’s students were always amused to learn that Leonardo eventually mollified the confraternity by painting them a second ‘watered down’ version of the Madonna of the Rocks…
Okay, we may as well just come out and say it; Langdon’s students are hopelessly easily amused. Every time there’s a classroom flashback I die a little inside because I know it’s going to be another sequence in which minor walk-on characters praise Langdon as the wokest fount of knowledge that ever did spout and gurgle, instead of a droning fool who gets almost everything wrong and repeatedly demonstrates an IQ not much above that of a small ham sandwich.
At this point Langdon prods Sophie out of her trance to ask what was behind the painting, and she reveals that it was a ‘physical object…embossed with a fleur-de-lis and the initials P.S.’ Even now we can’t come out and say it’s a key, even though we have known for about eight chapters that it’s a fucking key. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that delights so much in going absolutely nowhere.
Anyway, we’re about to learn what was going through Sophie’s head while Langdon was taking a hard and lengthy brain dump on the Virgin of the Rocks, thus proving my horrible suspicion that Dan Brown is sort of attempting to do that trick where time darts back and forth in order to convey the same scene from different points of view.
This is not an easy authorial trick to pull off. I feel like I’m watching a toddler crawl towards a woodchipper.
Sophie thinks they’re going to make it to the embassy, muses on the strange character of the laser cut key and then promptly disappears into a flashback. Dan, what the fuck are you doing? Stop it before it gets all Fargo up in here.
Oh my God. It should probably go without saying that if you’re attempting to write a fast-paced thriller with overlapping limited third person narratives and a timeline that evokes mental images of Salvador Dali’s melted clocks, don’t keep piling on with the flashbacks.
I think about two hours are supposed to have passed in the book’s timeline, but because everything is either drawn out with about five separate cliffhangers and leaden lumps of Langdon exposition, it feels like we’ve just spent about forty years dicking around in the Louvre. You have a pacing problem, Dan. A big one. And the flashbacks are really, really not helping.
On the other hand, it looks like we’re about to hear something about the Awful Unspecified Thing that Sauniere got up to in the mid-Nineties. This could be any number of things, including making Spin Doctors mix tapes, knowing how to Macarena or owning and wearing – in public – an item of Global Hypercolor clothing. Remember those? God, those were stupid. Did they ever make leggings? I hope they never made leggings. We had enough to deal with back then without being traumatised by a heat-sensitive colour-change moose knuckle. Jesus, maybe that was the Awful Unspecified Thing. Poor Sophie.
Goddamn it. I’m succumbing to Dan Brown pacing problems myself.
So, in her flashback, Sophie goes home to Paris to meet her grandfather, but he’s not around.
It was the weekend. Jacques Sauniere despised city driving and owned a car for one destination only – his vacation chateau in Normandy, west of Paris.
A chateau? Dan, is this like the French version of how some Americans think all British people live in castles?
Sophie decides to drive for three hours to surprise Pop-Pop, only to find Sauniere is having some kind of moneyed shindig for people who drive ‘Mercedeses’. Is that really the plural of Mercedes? It seems almost as unwieldy a word as symbology.
Anyway, Sophie knocks on some doors, is puzzled to receive no answer and mooches about until she hears what sounds like chanting or singing coming from a basement that she was sure – until now – didn’t even exist. She knocks on a wall and discovers it’s hollow and then finds a secret door and by this point is rendered wide-eyed by the kind of gothic discoveries that Catherine Morland spent most of Northanger Abbey straining after.
Sophie slipped through the door and found herself on a rough-hewn staircase that spiralled downward. She’d been coming to this house since she was a child and yet had no idea this staircase even existed!
Wait, I thought Sophie was supposed to be an absolute truffle-pig of a child when it came to secrets? Her previous characterisation says she sniffed them out wherever possible. And now you expect me to believe she spent part of her childhood rattling around a Normandy chateau and didn’t look for secret passages?
So, Sophie, who has clearly never heard of Northanger Abbey, wanders down the secret stairs and comes across a bunch of people doing the kind of things that used to give Geraldo Rivera the jibblies. Or at least I think that’s the general impression.
Everyone in the room was wearing a mask. The women were dressed in white gossamer gowns and golden shoes. Their masks were white, and in their hands they carried golden orbs.. The men wore black tunics and their masks were black. They looked like pieces in a giant chess set. Everyone in the circle rocked back and forth and chanted in reverence to something on the floor before them…something Sophie could not see.
Obviously we don’t get to find out what this is, because this is The Da Vinci Code, a book that revels in endless, unnecessary teasing, like a burlesque dancer who has wandered on stage wearing three bras, four pairs of knickers and all of this under a full set of Antarctic survival gear as worn by the likes of Douglas Mawson and Robert Falcon Scott.
In that instant Sophie could finally see what they were all witnessing. Even as she staggered back in horror, she felt the image searing itself into her memory forever.
But still we’re not going to tell you what it is, so there. Again, I’m going with the Macarena. And maybe something involving goats.
Sophie quickly emerges from her flashback when Langdon starts yelling. Why is he yelling? Well, it’s because the police have sealed off the route to the US embassy. This is the one of the strangest things about this book, by the way. After spending over thirty chapters behaving like Inspector Clouseau after a head injury, the police come back and do something that actually looks like the kind of move that law enforcement might make in a world where everyone still has their frontal lobes intact.