Taking Down Dan Brown

Clive James, who recently translated The Divine Comedy, has some damning words for Dan Brown and his Dante-inspired Inferno:

Having read The Da Vinci Code with close attention to its sales figures, I have a great belief in Dan Brown’s attractions as a writer. The belief is all the greater because I can’t quite define what those attractions are. Certainly they don’t have anything to do with his prose, which would be unreadable if it were not so riveting. From that strange anomaly, I deduce that it’s his ability to ‘tell a story’ that pulls in the customers. (I once met a man who told me that he was reading all of Jeffrey Archer’s novels for a second time because of Archer’s ability to ‘tell a story.’ I asked for more details, but the man was led away to take his meds.) …

All I can say at this point is that Dante can ‘tell a story,’ too, and that I have tried to make my translation faithful to the story he tells. Dare I say that there are moments of narrative poetry in the Divine Comedy that would challenge even Dan Brown’s subtlety and sense of nuance? Catching the shades and tones took me all the skill I had, which meant that it took a lifetime to get ready: a lifetime of writing verse, with the occasional very small check and a croak of approval from a literary critic. Dan Brown has spent his lifetime learning to write the kind of prose that has earned him nothing except millions of dollars. I pity him deeply.

Recent Dish on Brown’s Inferno here. Update from a reader:

Gotta tell you I am sick to death of all the interwebz literary snobbishness. So, FINE, Dan Brown probably won’t win the next Pulitzer or Man Booker or whatever. Neither will James Patterson or Nora Roberts or Robert Parker (RIP) or Terry Pratchett or Christopher Moore or whoever? But what is so Goddamned wrong about wanting to just ESCAPE for a few hours, laying aside our OH SO HEAVY INTELLECT for just a little while? Do we always have to be reading something “IMPORTANT”? Clive James seems like a real drag, and should probably get over himself as soon as possible.