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It seemed like I was the only person in the world who had not read this book, and this was severely limiting my ability to participate in dinner party conversation. My first comment after finally getting around to reading it was really a question: "What is all the fuss about?" It is a reasonably well written pulp thriller, but it bears no more similarity to reality than any other book in the genre. I happen to like spy fiction and this book would be unremarkable if it had come from the typewriter of Robert Ludlum, Tom Clancy, Frederick Forsythe, Colin Forbes … (I include Ludlum even though he is dead, for two reasons – he has managed to produce about a dozen posthumous books through the miracle of ghost writers and plot notes, and anyone who had read The Bourne Identity would experience deja vu while reading about two strangers running around Paris trying to dodge an unknown enemy.) John le Carré could have written this on the plane between London and New York.
As for the theology in the book, there is nothing new there either. The court case against Dan Brown by the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail looks a bit silly when you see that Brown mentioned that book in his as coming up with the ideas earlier, but the gnostic ideas have been around for a very long time. I've just been reading a rather mainstream book called Who Wrote the Gospels, and one of its theses is that the author of Luke and Acts was a woman and these books set out to demonstrate the importance of the feminine influence in Christianity. The supposed secret of the Knights Templar and the existence of the Priory of Sion are far less secret than the recipe for Coca Cola, and the idea of a sexual relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene is about five minutes younger than the story of the resurrection and should come as no surprise to anyone. Please note that I am not confusing "surprise" with "offence". It may very well offend some people, but so what? A lot of decisions were taken at the Council of Nicea but they were just that – decisions to include some matters in dogma and leave other matters out.
There has been some criticism that the book doesn't correctly represent the way the Catholic Church works and how Opus Dei fits in. Again I ask "So what?" There is no doubt that all the thriller writers mentioned above misrepresent the internal workings of the CIA, the KGB and MI5, but we are talking about fiction here. Some of the things suggested about Opus Dei are a bit outlandish, but the organisation is big enough to fight back, as they have done here. Australian author Morris West wrote several books about the Catholic Church, but he realised that reporting things as they really happen would be like chronicling the day-to-day events of any large and ponderous bureaucracy. Anyone who has ever worked inside one of these outfits must realise how dreadfully dull any such book would be.
I rather liked the book. There are a few obvious mistakes in it (the errors about Opus Dei mentioned above, MI5 is not a police force, you can't pace out a six-pointed star by walking in six straight lines between six places as you can a pentagram with five lines and five places, and it would be hard to kick a hole in the canvas of a painting which is not on canvas), but it moves along at a good pace and there are no glaring plot errors. The use of coincidences to solve plot problems is no more common than in other books of this type, and like many of those books the last few chapters look like they were written on the instructions of an editor who said "Get on with it, you don't have another thousand pages to get to the point". I don't think I will bother with the film because stories like this often work better in print where the author can explain things better. I will, however, get Brown's previous book, Angels and Demons, because that's about the Illuminati. I mightn't know much about Opus Dei, but … .
Returning to my original question (what is all the fuss about?) I can only answer that I have no idea. Why this book sold 40 million copies and got everyone talking and why it has stirred up so much publicity is a mystery that every book editor at every publisher in the world would pay a lot of money to solve. Perhaps they could get John Edward to ask Robert Ludlum to ask St Josemaría Escrivá to ask Emperor Constantine.
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