I have not always been a good person.
I don’t have regrets, as such; I find that regret seldom achieves anything and is generally unpleasant. But I have known shame. Shame, though equally unpleasant, is at least motivational: one is shamed, and so one resolves not to do (or at least, not to get caught doing) the shameful thing again. But sometimes I remember the occasions when I have not been a good person and I feel shame. I remember those occasions when I failed to live up to my self, my ethics, or my morals; I recall unhappily those times when I said precisely what I shouldn’t, did precisely what I shouldn’t, wanted precisely what I shouldn’t. I don’t like those recollections. They whine like the most vampiric mosquito imaginable over the tender surface of the soul.
But today I was brought face-to-face with one of these memories, and it is with some considerable shame that I relate it to you now. There is no pride to be found anywhere in this. The knowledge that so afflicts me is this:
Six years ago, I, voluntarily, uncoerced and of my own free will, read Dan Brown’s book Angels & Demons.
It hurts, this knowledge. It buzzes and stings like a hornet, continually pricking at my sense of self-worth. There are excuses I could make, and believe me, in the privacy of my own head, I make them. I was in an English-speaking country for the first time in six months and was desperate for some – any – reading material. (Admittedly I was in the US, so I was only nominally in an English-speaking country, but bless them, they try.) I hadn’t been forewarned. The book was on special offer and I had very limited funds available. The cover looked interesting. It has antimatter bombs, which are cool. And so…I bought it (from Borders in San Diego, if memory serves) and read it.
I read it in just over an hour. Now, I read ludicrously quickly anyway. I own, by this stage, probably more than 1000 books, because I read the damn things so fast they don’t last me and I need new material on an expensively frequent basis. But I also read A&D so rapidly because it made no demands on me whatsoever. Not a one. Nada. Zip. It’s extraordinary, but the only effort I recall making at all was, occasionally, turning the book upside down to check that the ambigrammatic writing really did do what it said on the tin. (I can’t now remember the point of a code that reads exactly the same as it did before you figured out the trick, but I’m sure there was one).
The other thing I remember was the shocking state of the writing. It was atrocious. I mean, it was really, truly, cataclysmically awful. Think Jeffrey Archer on ketamine. It was right up there (or down there, depending on your point of view) with Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins’ woeful Left Behind series, which for me represents the very pinnacle (or, again, nadir) of dreadfulness. To be fair, Dan Brown hasn’t quite plumbed those sorry depths. His characters may belabour their turgid way through reams of expository prose (although, again, there was several forests’ worth of fantasy written in the ’80s that was every bit as bad, if not worse) but they do at least sound vaguely (very vaguely) like human beings while doing so, a claim I cannot in good conscience make for the Left Behind characters. (Please allow me to indulge my passion for shocking puns when I say that Left Behind is a right arse.)
I read The Da Vinci Code as well, and it is exactly the same as Angels & Demons structurally, linguistically, tonally, thematically, emotively, editorially, and probably culinarily, sartorially, and hygienically too. Then I went and saw the film, which is probably the only movie ever in the history of humanity or any other species to include, as a piece of reasonable, realistic dialogue, the immortal phrase “We have to get to a library – fast!” No one, not even in those last few coffee-fueled adrenaline-mainlining moments before the completion of an overdue dissertation, has ever said such a thing. Tom Hanks saying it made it, if anything, worse. I used to respect him. A bit. Though not after that movie with Meg Ryan.
The movie adaptation of Angels and Demons comes out this week. Tom Hanks reprises his role as a Harvard symbologist (never mind that there’s no such thing as a Harvard symbologist. Never mind that ‘Harvard’ shouldn’t be used as an adjective, or that the word ‘symbologist’ was invented by people who couldn’t remember how to spell ‘semiologist’ or ‘semiotician’), and there is obligatory prettiness in the shape of Ayelet Zurer, who plays an improbably attractive physicist (I seem to recall something about French cryptographers, in the aftermath of the Da Vinci Code film, issuing an official statement about Audrey Tatou being rather more comely than was average – ah, here it is).
It’s likely to be undemanding. It’s likely to be inoffensive fluff. It’s also likely to be a toss-up between brainless and brain-dead. Go and see it if you wish, enjoy it if you must, but don’t come running to me when you feel ashamed of yourself afterwards.
Oh, go on then – console yourself with today’s moment of Zen: