Last time on The Da Vinci Code, Bob and Sophie found a cryptex, which is kind of like a stone bicycle lock full of vinegar and papyrus. Yes, I know it sounds silly, but Dan Brown actually invented the cryptex all on his own like a big boy writer, so we may as well applaud. And there was something about hanging roses. And dong. I don’t really remember. Look, just read the previous post; it’s probably easier than listening to my garbled understanding of this madness. Continue reading “The Da Vinci Code 48-49: Worst. Secret. Society. Ever.”
Previously on The Da Vinci Code Langdon and Sophie went to Gringotts or some such shit, and a Swiss banker named Andre Vernet – who conveniently knew her grandfather – tells them that Sophie’s mysterious key is to a safe deposit box, but it’s useless without the account number. This leads to our brilliant heroes drooling on themselves for a number of pages while they attempt to remember where they might have seen a random number sequence written in blood and blacklight pen some two or three hours ago.
After some prolonged creaking of rusted mental gears, these rocket scientists finally figure it out, input the number and end up with a wooden box with a rose on it, most likely the work of the late, lamented and impressively batshit Jacques Sauniere. And they opened the box on a cliffhanger, because everything in this book ends on a cliffhanger. Continue reading “The Da Vinci Code 45-47: Wood Recognition At The Monty Python Learning Annex”
…may very well contain the answer to Life, The Universe and Everything, but probably doesn’t. Still, at least our heroes are no longer in the back of that taxi. It was rapidly becoming the new Louvre in terms of OH MY GOD JUST CHANGE THE SCENE ALREADY.
Thankfully they are about to detaxify in front of a Swiss bank. Continue reading “The Da Vinci Code 42-44: A Bunch of Inevitable Box Jokes”
Previously on The Da Vinci Code, Sophie and Robert found themselves driving through the porno woods, Bob droned on a lot about the Knights Templar, and a multiple choice involving buttocks turned out to have ‘buttocks’ as one of the least ridiculous options. And Bob didn’t go for the buttocks. He’s no fun.
But never mind, because look who’s back. Continue reading “The Da Vinci Code 39-41: Died Peacefully In Bed Of A Blunt Traumatic Head Wound”
Last time on The Da Vinci Code, Bish Bling tragically succumbed to the plague of unnecessary flashbacks, Robert Langdon outed himself as a Disney fan and a sniffer of keys, Sophie pretended to get on a train to Lille and our heroes discovered that Sauniere had written an address on the back of the key they discovered behind the Madonna of the Rocks. We left Langdon about to Explain Things, but before we crack the crust on this infodump, we’re going to go to the porno-woods. No, really. We are.
The heavily forested park known as the Bois de Boulogne was called many things, but the Parisian cognoscenti knew it as ‘the Garden of Earthly Delights’. The epithet, despite sounding flattering, was quite the contrary. Anyone who had seen the lurid Bosch painting of the same name understood the jab; the painting, like the forest, was dark and twisted, a purgatory for freaks and fetishists. At night the forest’s winding lanes were lined with hundreds of glistening bodies for hire, earthly delights to satisfy one’s deepest, unspoken desires – male, female and everything in between.
Oh my. Professor Whitebread’s going to come down with the vapours, isn’t he?
Ahead, two topless teenage girls shot smouldering glances into the taxi. Beyond them, a well-oiled black man in a G-string turned and flexed his buttocks. Beside him, a gorgeous blond woman lifted her mini-skirt to reveal that she was not, in fact, a woman.
Excuse you, Bob. As a well-hung lady once said, some of the most beautiful women in the world have gigantic penises.
Sophie prods Langdon to talk about the Priory of Sion once more and I’m not sure which thing I want to hear less about – the Priory and the inevitable Augean landslide of bullshit that goes along with all that, or another paragraph about well-oiled buttocks. On the whole I’m leaning towards the buttocks.
He wondered where to begin. The brotherhood’s history spanned more than a millenium…
Well, you can start by explaning why it’s a fucking brotherhood, Bob. Seriously – when I think about societies for the preservation of the sacred feminine or whatthefuckever I immediately think of frizzy haired wiccan ladies, not brotherhoods.
“The Priory of Sion,” he began, “was founded in Jerusalem in 1099 by a French king named Godefroi de Bouillon, immediately after he had captured the city.”
According to Bob (and *COUGH*HolyBloodandHolyGrail*COUGH*) Godefroi possessed a powerful secret that had been in his family since the time of Jesus, and in order to protect this secret he founded the Priory of Sion and…uh…passed on the secret from generation to generation?
I think this book has already broken my brain. I had to explain this entire scenario to someone as yet untainted by The Da Vinci Code in order to gain confirmation that Godefroi de Bouillon’s secret-keeping strategy is – in fact – really, really dumb.
While in Jerusalem, the Priory learned of ‘a stash of hidden documents’ which had been buried beneath the ruins of Herod’s temple. Supposedly these documents corroborated Godefroi’s secret and the Priory vowed to get at them and protect them so that the secret would never die. This was when the Priory set up their military shell corporation – the Knights Templar.
You see, the Templars were only pretending to protect pilgrims in the Holy Land. What they were actually up to – according to Bob – is rummaging around in the temple ruins trying to find the secret documents. Sophie asks if he knows if they found them.
Langdon grinned. “Nobody knows for sure, but the one thing on which all academics agree is this: The Templars discovered something down there in the ruins…something that made them wealthy and powerful beyond anyone’s wildest imagination.”
Like blueprints for an early but remarkably effective system of banking?
But no, apparently the Templars were hanging out at the Temple because of the secret Priory documents, and for ten years these nine Templars hung out beneath the ruins turning into some kind of holy mole people in their subterranean quest. Then, Langdon claims, whatever the Templars found down there was powerful enough for them to blackmail Pope Innocent II into doing whatever the hell they wanted, whereupon they became the Pope’s unofficial heavily armed boot boys.
After that, as we all know, it went spectacularly tits-up for the Templars, probably a) because they got far too powerful for the likes of Clement V and b) because the King of France owed them an eyewatering sum of money and quite rightly feared the holy shakedown he had coming to him.
In a military manoeouvre worthy of the CIA…
Bay of Pigs, anyone?
…Pope Clement issued secret sealed orders to be opened simultaneously by his soldiers all across Europe on Friday, October 13th of 1307.
I love the little urban legend sprinkles on top of this shit sundae of a book.
On that day, countless knights were captured, tortured mercilessly and finally burned at the stake as heretics. Echoes of the tragedy still resonated in modern culture; to this day, Friday the thirteenth was considered unlucky.
Yeah, okay, Dan. I don’t have the energy to get into the Friday the thirteenth shit right now, because I’d really like to focus on two words in that paragraph above.
That part is true. When the Vatican hit squads got hold of the Templars they held their feet over the fire until they were so thoroughly cooked that the bones slid out like in a well-prepared lamb shank. Consequently the Templars confessed to – well, just about everything. They copped to everyday infractions like usury and homosexuality and then took it all the way up to the kind of Grand Guignol gibberish that torturers used to delight in yanking out of ‘witches’ – devil worship, black masses, heresy and offering their tender pink anuses up for the delectation of Satan himself. Eventually – as it turns out – people will tell you pretty much whatever you want to hear if they hope it means you’re going to stop pulling their fingernails out sometime soon.
“The Templars potent treasure trove of documents, which had apparently been their source of power, was Clement’s true objective, but it slipped through his fingers.”
In other words, you’d better believe that when the torturers were going to town on Templars they asked about the mole people antics under the ruins in Jerusalem. And yet not one of them gave up the secret. Not only that, but apparently the Templars managed to squirrel their secret documents out from under Pope Clement’s nose and smuggle them to France. Yes, France – that country whose king was – even in this version of events – absolutely up to his debt-addled neck in the sting operation against the Knights Templar.
“For a thousand years,” Langdon continued, “legends of this secret have been passed on. The entire collection of documents, its power and the secret it reveals have become known by a single name – Sangreal. Hundreds of books have been written about it, and few mysteries have caused as much interest among historians as the Sangreal.”
Yeah. Few mysteries. Like the identity of Jack the Ripper, or what happened to the princes in the Tower. Or how they built the pyramids. The collapse of the Maya. The sudden death of Tutankhamun. Or what happened to the Roanoke colony. None of these things have ever preoccupied historians – you know, people who are concerned with things that actually happened – quite as much as some King Arthur shit cooked up by Chretien de Troyes or whoever.
Because, yes – that’s where we’re going. We have passed through the porno-woods and we are now on a quest for the Holy Grail. Like most quests for the Holy Grail, it promises to be completely ridiculous. So gird your loins, strap down your tracts of land and holster your Holy Hand Grenades of Antioch, because we ride…for Camelot!
No, I’m joking. We’re still in the back of a taxi. And we’re not going to Camelot. (It is a silly place.)
Sophie scrutinized Langdon in the back of the taxi. He’s joking.
Not nearly as much as Dan’s joking with that sentence. Why are you telling me they’re still in the back of a taxi, Dan? I read the previous chapter. I know they’re in the back of a taxi. Presumably they’re also still deep in the porno-woods, with well-oiled tits and bottoms mashing up against their windows and windscreen every time the car goes over a speed bump. Also – and I’ve never noticed this until now – but if you add ‘in the back of the taxi’ to a verb it makes it sound sleazy beyond imagining. Try it. It’s fun!
Langdon nodded, his expression serious. “Holy Grail is the literal meaning of Sangreal. The phrase derives from the French Sangraal, which evolved to Sangreal, and was eventually split into two words, San Greal.”
Holy Grail. Sophie was surprised she had not spotted the linguistic ties immediately.
I wouldn’t be too surprised, Sophie. He’s probably talking complete shit, like when he asserted that the Mona Lisa was a deliberate anagram of the names of two Egyptian Gods. I seem to remember Holy Blood and Holy Grail coming up with a more convincing etymology than this, but I just can’t be bothered to look it up, although all this talk of Sangrails has left me with a distinct hankering for some Saki.
Langdon explains that the Holy Grail is not a cup at all but the cup is just a metaphor for
the friends they made along the way for whatever explosive secret it was that got the Templars/Priory members tortured and set on fire.
Sophie, who is currently having one of those chapters where she don’t brain so good, asks again that if the Grail is not a cup, then what the hell is it?
Langdon had known this question was coming, and yet he still felt uncertain how to tell her. If he did not present the answer in its proper historical background, Sophie would be left with a vacant air of bewilderment – the exact expression Langdon had seen on his own editor’s face after Langdon handed him a draft of the manuscript he was working on.
Bob, you are an insufferable douche. I can’t sugarcoat the truth any more; in fact I’ve probably hardly even tried at all, but yeah. You’re a shallow, pompous, know-nothing windbag who thinks that a Harris tweed jacket and a pair of hornrims is the only path to enlightenment that you’ll ever need, because God blessed you with half a brain, a distinct lack of melanin and a penis.
Come to think of it, I think you might have been my personal tutor at one point.
“This manuscript claims what?” his editor had choked, setting across his half-eaten power lunch. “You can’t be serious.”…
“…this is practically identical to the bestselling Holy Blood and Holy Grail by Michael Baigent and Henry Lincoln. Are you insane, man? We’ll get sued to the point where we can no longer afford to buy toilet paper.”
You know how Bob just did that wildly condescending paragraph about how he’s going to have to explain something lengthy and reeking of bullshit to Sophie? Yeah, well – guess what happens next.
a) the taxi slows down and there’s another description of buttocks.
b) Bob explains the lengthy and bullshit-reeking thing to Sophie.
c) Bob explains the lengthy and bullshit-reeking thing in a flashback to another character who is not only not even in this scene but is making his first appearance in the book just now, thus necessitating Bob having to explain the lengthy and bullshit-reeking thing to Sophie at some other point in the book.
I’ll give you a clue. It’s not about buttocks.
Prominent New York editor Jonas Faukman tugged nervously at his goatee. Faukman no doubt had heard some wild book ideas in his illustrious career, but this one seemed to leave the man flabbergasted.
Yep. He went with option C. God help us all.
It turns out that Langdon pitched a shocking book idea to prominent New York editor Jonas Faukman. A book that could set the world on fire.
“No book has yet explored the legend of the Holy Grail from a symbologic angle. The iconographic evidence I’m finding to support the theory is, well, staggeringly persuasive.”
It sounds thrilling, doesn’t it?
In the course of this conversation Langdon hands Faukman a bibliography of works by ‘real historians’ to lend credence to his assertion that the search for the Holy Grail is more than just the province of Monty Python comedies and the wild-eyed ravings of cranks, kooks, Nazis, dingbats and people who got far too invested in the adventures of Indiana Jones.
Faukman was still staring at the list. “My God – one of these books was written by Sir Leigh Teabing, a British Royal Historian.”
Fact: There is no such title as a British Royal Historian.
“You’re telling me all of these historians actually believe…” Faukman swallowed, apparently unable to say the words.
Langdon grinned again. “The Holy Grail is arguably the most sought after treasure in human history. [snip] Throughout history, the Holy Grail has been the most special.” Langdon grinned. “Now you know why.”
I don’t, and we don’t. Because why would we use words to convey information in a book? That would just be stupid. Also he really needs to stop grinning. Is he coming down with tetanus or something?
Then Sophie screams ‘put it down’ and Robert comes out of his flashback to find himself still in a taxi in the Porn Woods.
Langdon jumped as Sophie leaned forward over the seat and yelled at the taxi driver. Langdon could see the driver was clutching his radio mouthpiece and speaking into it.
Sophie turned now and plunged her hand into the pocket of Langdon’s tweed jacket. Before Langdon knew what had happened, she had yanked out the pistol, swung in around, and was pressing it to the back of the driver’s head.
Don’t you just hate a backseat driver?
No, but seriously. What the fuck just happened? Since when was Yawny Mcdroneface packing heat in his Harris tweed? I’m guessing they grabbed it from the security guard at the Louvre, but by that point I was starting to skim the Louvre scenes in the desperate hope that they’d finally leave.
So yeah. That just happened. Sophie whips out a pistol and holds up the taxi driver, because reasons.
It was then that Langdon heard the metallic voice of the taxi company’s dispatcher coming from the dashboard. “…qui s’appelle Agent Sophie Neveu…” the radio crackled. “Et un Americain, Robert Langdon…”
Langdon’s muscles turned rigid…
…see? I told you it was tetanus. That or he’s still got that fainting goat thing going on.
They found us already?
Yes, Bob. They did. You’ve spent what feels like a short Ice Age driving very slowly through a wood full of well-oiled tits and bums, all the while talking loudly about secret societies and how you’re on the run from the law and how you just escaped from the Louvre. Also the people chasing you through the pages of the book occasionally – and I do mean occasionally – do things that look a lot like things they might do in real life, like sealing off the routes to the Embassy or putting an APB out to taxi services and other public transport.
So anyway, Sophie jacks the taxi and…makes Langdon drive? I don’t know why. Presumably this is so we can enjoy the hilarity of watching Langdon attempt to drive stick when he’s used to an automatic.
I wish Dan Brown wouldn’t try to do jokes.
Previously on The Da Vinci Code, Robert Langdon once again demonstrated why he is a Professor of Shape Recognition and not one of Art History, the stammering Sister Sandrine of Saint Sulpice met an alliterative end at the hands of Silas the (not very) Silent Assassin, and Sophie had a flashback hinting at some monstrous thing she caught her grandfather doing circa 1994. Possibly the Macarena. We just don’t know. Oh, and they finally left the Louvre!
This is a fast paced thriller, remember. And our heroes have been in the Louvre for almost thirty chapters, mostly because about ten chapters ago they both decided it would be fun to start having flashbacks all over the place.
…sees our nimrod heros driving around frantically in a SmartCar while Sophie shoves the key she found behind the painting under Langdon’s nose. Oh God, and he’s going to tell her stuff about it, isn’t he?
The key, as we have all figured out by now, bears the official device of the Priory of Sion, an organisation so secret that they have a logo and presumably a bunch of safe deposit boxes that can only be opened with keys like this one, bearing their logo. They’re about as good at secrets as Silas is at killing people inconspicuously, quietly and without smothering the crime scene in his DNA.
Langdon felt a chill to imagine what kind of secrets a man like Jacques Sauniere might keep. What an ancient brotherhood was doing with a futuristic key, Langdon had no idea. The Priory existed for the sole purpose of protecting a secret. A secret of incredible power. Could this key have something to do with it?
No. They probably just kept it around for shits and giggles.
Langdon examines the cross and Sophie says it looks Christian, which is a terrible mistake on her part because actually Langdon knows a lot about crosses.
The head of the key [snip] was a square cross – with four arms of equal length – which predated Christianity by fifteen hundred years. This kind of cross carried none of the Christian connotations of crucifixion associated with the longer-stemmed Latin cross. Langdon was always surprised by how few Christians who gazed upon ‘the crucifix’ realised their symbol’s violent history was reflected in its very name…
Absolutely. I would never have guessed the cross was a symbol of the violent death of a mouthy Jewish carpenter in Roman occupied Judea. That guy nailed hand and foot to it, bleeding from various wounds? Nah. He’s probably just up there on a jolly, right?
…‘cross’ and ‘crucifix’ came from the Latin verb cruciare – to torture.
Actually lot of people know this, but that’s mostly due to Harry Potter. Onwards.
“Sophie,” he said, “all I can tell you is that equal-armed crosses like this one are considered peaceful crosses. Their square configurations make them impractical for use in crucifixion…”
Except when you rotate them forty-five degrees. Just ask St. Andrew.
When Langdon is forced to admit that he’s actually a know-nothing windbag about this subject – which is his subject, by the way – Sophie says they need to find a safe place to figure out what the key opens. I would usually wonder why they can’t drive and figure it out, but after thirty-three chapters in the company of these rocket scientists I have no difficulty believing that they’d struggle to walk, talk and chew gum simultaneously.
Langdon thought longingly of his comfortable room at the Ritz. Obviously that was not an option. “How about my hosts at the American University of Paris?”
No, Bob. Even if that wasn’t obvious they’ll just rave about your tweedy charm, your chocolate voice and probably attempt to bang you. And my God, the last thing I need right now is Dan Brown trying to write a sex scene at me.
Sophie has another one of her plans and tells Robert to trust her, which prompts him to check his watch for some reason, perhaps because he’s as confused as to the timeline as we are. Only he can’t even look at his watch without this book piling on yet another layer of weirdness. Just look at this.
Pulling back the sleeve of his jacket, he checked his watch – a vintage, collector’s edition Mickey Mouse wristwatch that had been a gift from his parents on his tenth birthday. Although its juvenile dial often drew odd looks, Langdon never owned any other watch; Disney animations had been his first introduction to the magic of form and colour, and Mickey now served as Langdon’s daily reminder to stay young at heart.
Dear Dan Brown – WHY ARE YOU MAKING ME READ THESE WORDS? What relevance does this have to anything, other than telling us that the author almost certainly owns a collector’s edition Mickey Mouse watch and has been the recipient of a fair few odd looks in his time? What does it tell us about Langdon that he liked Disney as a child, other than that he is so absolutely basic he could probably turn a litmus paper blue from fifty yards away?
At the moment, however, Mickey’s arms were skewed at an awkward angle, indicating an equally awkward hour. 2:51 AM.
So, in other words, it’s been about two hours and twenty minutes since we first met Robert Langdon. It feels longer, doesn’t it? Much, much longer.
Sophie says “Interesting watch,” and I finally give into madness and start screaming at the unresponsive page, because if Robert Langdon explains one more thing at me I am going to lose my shit. He says “Long story,” and I start sobbing at God for letting this book happen, but thankfully for once Robert doesn’t get into the long story and instead we return to the plot, such as it is. Apparently they’re going to jump on the next train out of Paris.
…is just Bish Bling wandering around having flashbacks and thinking thoughts that leave you in no doubt that he’s a nasty old Catholic bad guy. He’s supposed to be travelling to the Vatican Observatory at Castel Gandolfo, but on his travels he thinks of the trip he took to the Vatican Observatory at Castel Gandolfo five months ago instead. No, I don’t know either.
Some of his many grumbles include that he no longer as the Vatican seal on his car because “the world had gone mad and in many parts of Europe, advertising your love of Jesus Christ was like painting a bull’s-eye on the roof of your car.” He’s obviously never been to Britain, because I see plenty of those little Jesus fish on rear bumpers, including all the other unasked for information people like to slather all over their back windows.
Further pouts are aimed at the Vatican Observatory for doing science stuff and also at the Church in general for being okay with the concept of evolution and not being more like those backwards creatures from Texas who think you can treat the Bible as a scientific document and that Jesus rode around on a dinosaur.
Unbiased science could not possibly be performed by a man who possessed faith in God.
Yeah, pretty sure plenty have managed it in the past, Bish. Bish Bling has wildly swinging characterisation as regards theology. He goes from Ken Ham to full-blown Dawkins in about the space of two pages.
Approaching the door, Bishop Aringarosa would never have imagined the shocking news he was about to receive inside, or the deadly chain of events it would put into motion. It was not until an hour later, as he staggered from the meeting, that the devastating implications settled in. Six months from now! he had thought. God help us!
In other words, we’re not going to tell you the shocking news, and this entire flashback sequence has been a complete waste of your time.
The bishop briefly returns to the present to worry whether Silas has the keystone or not, but as we all know, Silas does not have the keystone and is presently bludgeoning a nun.
…returns us to Paris, where Sophie is at the Gare du Nord coming up with another brilliant plan, this time to pay for two tickets to Lille with Robert Langdon’s credit card and then…wait for it…not get on the train at all and leave the police think they’ve gone to Lille.
Wait, isn’t this basically the same thing she did with the bar of soap?
In the distance to the right, at quay three, the train to Lille was already belching and wheezing in preparation for departure…
See? I told you time behaved strangely in this novel. Apparently France is still in the age of steam.
Sophie and Langdon then jump into a cab for more aimless driving around Paris while staring at a key. Hurrah.
Langdon examined the cruciform key again, holding it to the window, bringing it close to his eyes in an effort to find any markings on it that might indicate where the key had been made. In the intermittent glow of the streetlights he saw no markings except the Priory seal.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” he finally said.
From your lips to God’s ear, Bob.
Langdon then decides to sniff the key. No, I don’t know either. I scribbed IDEK on the corner of the page here, and I stand by it. On the other hand, learning that Robert Langdon is some kind of a habitual key sniffer has lent him more characterisation than all previous attempts to give him a personality. Yes, it’s a weird personality, but so far he’s come off as robotic as Mitt Romney.
“I think this key was cleaned recently.”
“It smells like rubbing alcohol.”
She turned. “I’m sorry?”
Why does everyone in this chapter keep saying what I’m thinking?
“It smells like somebody polished it with a cleaner.” Langdon held the key to his nose and sniffed. “It’s stronger on the other side.” He flipped it over. “Yes, it’s alcohol-based, like it’s been buffed with a cleaner or-”
I take it back about at an attempt at characterisation. Clearly what is happening here is that Captain Infodump has suddenly morphed into Sherlock Holmes because the plot demands it. Don’t you just hate it when that happens?
Anyway, Langdon – who knows so much about the smells of solvents that I can’t be sure if he’s not morphing into Sherlock Holmes by way of noted turpentine-aficionado Charlie Kelly – diagnoses the key smell as black-light pen.
Thankfully Sophie still has a small black-light on her, because if she hadn’t then I have a horrible feeling they’d attempt to break back into the Louvre to get one. And there’s writing on the key, because of course there is.
Sophie stared in amazement at the purple writing on the back of the key.
24 Rue Haxo
An address! My grandfather wrote down an address!
Sophie’s characterisation is the worst. She vacillates wildly between being the woman with all the plans and the anagrams and then…this. Yes, Forrest. It’s an address. Try to contain yourself.
And why is she excited that Jacques Sauniere of all people wrote down an address? By this point in the book if someone told me that Jacques Sauniere had used his dying moments to build an intricate scale model of the Cutty Sark, write a complete annotation of James Joyce’s Ulysses and still found time to yank out his small intestine and rearrange it on the floor to spell a Shakespearean couplet before carking it – well, put it this way: it wouldn’t merit an exclamation point. What didn’t this man do before turning up his toes on the floor of the Louvre?
Sophie asks the cab driver if he knows the way to Rue Haxo and wonders what they will find there.
Her mind filled again with images of the secret ritual she had witnessed in the basement grotto ten years ago, and she heaved a long sigh. “Robert, I have a lot of things to tell you.”
You would think this is the perfect place to end the chapter with a classic Dan Brown ball tickle, wouldn’t you? Yeah – well. Think again.
She paused, locking eyes with him as the taxi raced westward. “But first I want you to tell me everything you know about this Priory of Sion.”
WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS, SOPHIE? WHY?
The chapter promptly ends in time for us to assume the crash position in anticipation of an almighty Langdon infodump…
…and then we predictably fuck off to join Bezu Fache and Collet, who are fuming to discover that Langdon and Sophie have escaped from the Louvre.
Fache quickly figures out that Sophie’s trip to Lille was a fake-out similar to the one that saw him chasing his mastermind nemesis Bar of Soap (RIP) across Paris some twenty or so chapters ago. Glancing back I now realise this is the third time Sophie has pulled this move. The first was when she first appeared in the Louvre and pretended to flounce away from the murder scene, the second was when she lobbed the exquisitely characterised Bar of Soap from the window and now she’s pretending to get on a train to Lille. This woman literally has one move – she says “I’M GOING OVER THERE NOW. THERE. WATCH. THAT DIRECTION I’M POINTING IN. THAT IS THE WAY I AM GOING. OKAY?” – and it’s only now that Fache has figured out that it might be a trick.
Everyone in this book is so wonderfully dim.
Fache gets Interpol involved and then stands around staring out of a window for some reason.
Even a trained field agent would be lucky to withstand the pressure that Interpol was about to apply. A female cryptologist and a schoolteacher? They wouldn’t last till dawn.
Oh, they will, Bezu. They will. Because, unlike you, I know that the thicker chunk of this bloated volume is still very much in my right hand. And Robert Langdon is about to explain things.
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.