There is no reason why a book written by an American should not win Britain’s Book of the Year award though Americans honour only American writings in the Pulitzers and the National Book Awards. The British Book Awards, or Nibbies as they are called, don’t celebrate exclusively British books and British authors. What matters apparently is how much buzz a book created and how good it was for the book trade, the things that really matter to the publishers and booksellers who choose the award winners.
No wonder then that Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code won the British Book of the Year award. With more than 17 million copies sold, a movie in the making, and generating a huge controversy which is yet to die down, there can be no question this was a humongous bestseller.
I recall a time when one could scarcely travel on a bus or a train in Singapore without seeing someone clutching a copy of The Da Vinci Code. And it is not as if Singapore commuters invariably travel with a book; they are more likely to carry a newspaper or a music player or fiddle with their cell phones. One reason why the book sparked so much interest was of course the subject matter: many Singaporeans are regular churchgoers.
But I, for one, found the book a huge disappointment. Not that I am inclined to denounce the book with the fury of the Catholic Church which has its own reasons to pour down fire and brimstone. I am all for freedom of expression and reading the book as a work of fiction, though there can be no question that the author was bent on mischief that would play very well in the bestseller lists. But it is such a bad book, even as a work of fiction.
The writing is humdrum, the characters are cardboard cutouts. It seemed to have been written to be made into a movie. It may play well as an action thriller movie, but one thing it is definitely not is a literary thriller. Compare The Da Vinci Code with anything written by John Le Carre or even Len Deighton or Elmore Leonard, and Dan Brown stands exposed as not much of a writer. He may have done his research and he may be able to build a plot, but the writing does not snap and sparkle. It is absolutely leaden. It is sad a book so lacking in style should be Book of the Year, especially in a country which gave us Le Carre and Deighton and Graham Greene.