Snark of the Day: Dan Brown’s 20 worst sentences

From the Telegraph (UK):

Below we have selected 20 phrases that may grate on the ear. It’s not a definitive list. It couldn’t be: he has published five novels, each around 500 pages long, and the arguments over which are the worst bits will go on for a while. But it’s our list. Add your own …

This book is not to be tossed lightly aside, but to be hurled with great force
(~ Dorothy Parker)

My own experience of reading Dan Brown was my initial disbelief at his galumphing purple prose eventually transforming into the sort of horrible glee one feels when watching one of the great comedy grotesques such as Hyacinth Bucket, Edina Monsoon, David Brent or Basil Fawlty – pure awe at just how hideously awkward a social catastrophe can be. But unlike the writers of Keeping Up Appearances, Absolutely Fabulous, The Office or Fawlty Towers, Dan Brown doesn’t appear to be doing it deliberately – it’s too ponderous for that.

So, what’s something you’ve read which makes you come over all Dorothy Parker?

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27 replies

  1. Hmmm, some of those are not single sentences so the title of the article seems to be misleading. (If they’re going to be pedantic they can only expect that sort of criticism in return.)
    I’ve admitted before and I’ll admit again to quite liking Dan Brown. There’s enough people in the world to criticise his grammatical/descriptive errors, and I’m happy to let them do their job. Besides which, Brown’s clunky prose is akin to the wobbling sets of an old Hammer film – it adds to the fun.
    I get more offended by authors who really let their characters down. Most recently this happened in the latest Alastair Reynolds space-opera-steam-punky-thing I was reviewing. Reynolds attempts to play on your sympathy by sacrificing – in the last pages of the novel – the life of a character. You would feel sorry for her, too – if Reynolds had bothered to actually give her a character in the rest of a novel. As it is she’s just a cipher for 9/10ths of the novel. I hate it when authors pull crap like that on you – that really is hurl-book-across-the-room stuff.

  2. Silly man ought to know that he’s supposed to kill off the Red Shirts much earlier in the narrative!
    I agree it’s much more frustrating with a character who’s been hovering in the background for so long that you half-expect An Important Revelation about them at some point – and then they’re just sacrificed to add a layer of emotional response to the Main Protagonist. Bah.

  3. I agree it’s much more frustrating with a character who’s been hovering in the background for so long that you half-expect An Important Revelation about them at some point – and then they’re just sacrificed to add a layer of emotional response to the Main Protagonist.
    On topic though — I actually find myself quite fond of a lot of authors whose prose is, when examined closely, not all that great. For instance, I have a GREAT LOVE for J. K. Rowling and Charlaine Harris, even though I LOL at their writing sometimes. I’m also rather fond of the Baby-Sitters Club books, which I loved so hard when I was 9-10 — the writing in those is DREADFUL, yet somehow, it makes me more fond of the books, rather than making me want to throw them against the wall.

  4. Funny you should mention JK Rowling, Beppie, cause I was going to say, the last two Harry Potter books were attrociously written. They must have given up editing her properly or something, and it really shows cause the prose is just clunky and the plot points wallow in useless prose that doesn’t add anything to the storytelling. Just – blah. *shakes head*

  5. My problem with Dan Brown is not so much the prose (although it is excruciating) or the fact that people for some reason seem to think he was writing history, as it is the assumption, running deeply through the text, that the audience cannot be trusted to grasp a single aspect or motivation of a character unless it is spelled out for them in minute detail.
    Because, of course, we are all deeply stupid. Brown therefore finds it necessary to spell out each character’s motivations, etc, with the net result that you can see each plot point coming a million miles off, so there’s no suspense and are no suprises.
    The one Dan Brown book I’ve read was a close-runner up as worst book ever to Twilight, which does the same thing only with an added bonus anti-feminist stalking=sexy and women=the housework message.

  6. So, what’s something you’ve read which makes you come over all Dorothy Parker?
    The Australian.

  7. Pavlov’s Cat has found an interesting blog which is written by ”Dorothy Parker”.
    [while I don’t think the name of the blog is intentionally ableist, it is really, YMMV]

  8. That Tele article is worthwhile (despite the delicious irony of a news outlet like the Tele publishing an article about good writing), if it does nothing more than make a few more people discover Geoffrey Pullum and Language Log. If anyone here hasn’t read that blog, here’s the link in the Tele post. Down the bottom of the post, also, you’ll find MOAR links to related articles. You’ll be hooked, I promise.
    I loved the technical term specially invented by Pullum for Dan Brown – the “anarthrous occupational nominal premodifier”. (“Renowned linguist Geoff Pullum staggered across the savage splendor of the forsaken Santa Cruz campus, struggling to remove the knife plunged unnaturally into his back by a barbarous millionaire novelist”)
    Language Log is a must-read!

  9. I think that J.K. Rowling could have replaced the phrase “Harry, Ron and Hermione …” with the word “they” and saved a lot of money in freight costs, as well as keeping a tree or two alive a little longer. But it did make some colourful door stops.
    Sorry. That was harsh. But, honestly, I never want to read that phrase again. Someone else will have to read the books to my grandchildren.

  10. btw that Tele article is brilliant. Bookmarked.

  11. I’m reading a Pride and Prejudice re-write called Pride/Prejudice at the moment and it is AWFUL. The premise is quite good – Darcy and Bingley are secretly lovers, as are Lizzie and Charlotte Lucas – but the execution is just painful! Purple Prose abounds and Darcy allows himself to be called “Fitz” (also, the sex scenes are excruciating!) I have to be impressed with the author for getting it published though and I’m continuing to read it just to see how much worse it can get. Then I’m passing it around all my friends so they, too, can experience the glory.

  12. I will always point to Laurell K Hamilton because even years after reading ~9 books in her Anita Blake series I am still bitter about just how crappy a writer she turned out to be. I think her 20 worst sentences could easily beat Dan Brown’s.

  13. @Astraea: Her sentences could beat Brown’s, both in horribleness and the turgid member count.

  14. @napalmnacey: LOL, yes. Is there anyone she couldn’t beat in turgid member count?

  15. Right now, no names are coming to mind. But there’s no lack of badly written modern fantasy books with bonus pr0n out there. 🙂 (Thankfully, there are also quite a few well-written ones!)

  16. I’ve just finished reading Legend of a Suicide by David Vann, a jolly little novel (or collection of short stories plus a novella) which makes Cormac McCarthy’s The Road look like Enid Blyton.
    There’s much to like about it – it’s not bad writing a la Dan Brown – but I found the repeated use of “hike” as a verb clunky, distracting and lazy. This quote is from one paragraph:

    …Jim hiked on, hearing his breathing the only rhythm…Jim could feel himself on the edge of crying again, so he hiked on faster and counted his steps in rhythm, onetwothreefour in a group, fivesixseveneight, over and over. He hiked on until he stopped because he was tired and then he turned around and hiked back, but he didn’t like the thought of arriving…”
    And the next paragraph contains the word “hike” as a noun. Too much!

  17. I like hike, you like hike, everybody like’s hike…

  18. Apostrophe catastrophe in previous comment. 😦

  19. The Chronicles of Blarnia.
    I like a good parody, but this is not one. The author (Michael Gerber) seems to assume that it’s his job to attribute the most malicious, vicious, perverse, and sadistic motives to characters in a much-loved children’s novel (ie, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), and that this will be funny – but of course it’s not.
    Aside from anything else, C S Lewis himself could be so funny, eg: ‘There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he very nearly deserved it…’ That’s funnier and sharper than anything Gerber could write.
    A vomituous book.

    • I like a good parody, but this is not one.

      Sadly, too many people think that just because a work meets the technical requirements of a parody that it therefore will be an enormously funny joke. Then they accuse the people who don’t laugh at their failed technical exercise of lacking a sense of humour.

  20. TimT, way back up at #1

    Besides which, Brown’s clunky prose is akin to the wobbling sets of an old Hammer film – it adds to the fun.

    I was thinking last night that his over-descriptions in his narrative actually help make the film adaptations work rather well – they all get stripped out of the dialogue for a start, and then you’ve got a reasonable thriller with a fundamentally silly plot, but so what? Does Dan Brown write with one eye always on a possibly movie adaptation, I wonder?
    If he does, it’s an interesting contrast with another writer who definitely always writes with an eye on the movie script – Michael Chrichton, who is facile rather than clunky but no less hurl-worthy because of it.

  21. I think Brown probably has in mind both future film adaptations, and films that he’s seen in his childhood that have influenced the way he structures plots and narratives.
    But one interesting thing about his books: his reliance on codes and anagrams and games make a lot of his plot twists, essentially, unfilmable. I’d describe them as literary plot twists, rather than dramatic or cinematic, because they require elaboration and description, and ‘tell’ rather than ‘show’ (I’ve come to doubt the old writing rule ‘show, don’t tell’, btw).
    I have seen things like Browns codes and anagrams and literary conspiracies on the telly from time to time – but usually on BBC or NBC documentaries on historical or scientific subjects, not dramas.
    In that respect I think his talents (stop laughing!) or whatever you want to call them really are literary, rather than cinematic.

  22. One thing about Brown – at least he doesn’t seem to whinge, like other bestselling writers, about how he’s so much better than literary authors, and how he could really truly write a literary novel if he really wanted to.

  23. Oh boy, don’t get me STARTED on Courtenay. I’ll admit to adoring The Power of One as a teenager, and so I read Tandia. Wow. I did not expect that gratuitous sexual violence!! Then I read The Potato Factory. WOW gratuitous sexual violence. Then I read the sequel to The Potato Factory and hurled the book against the wall and fervently hoped someone recommend that Mr Courtenay seek some therapy. GET A NEW THEME douchebag! Sheesh. Writing down the most disgustingly sadistic sexual abuse scenes perpetrated against the vulnerable as part of your own plot twist doesn’t make you cutting edge (take note Mr Tarantino).
    Similarly Jodi Picoult. WHY do people so love her? Formulaic manipulation based on cliched narratives of tragedy. And those things I hate even more than poor prose, though both above are guilty of that as well. SO SO BAD.
    I second the vote for Laurell K Hamilton; I only read three chapters and the astonishment and resentment at having paid $12 for writing that crap has been seared into my grey matter.
    Wow…I just read that rant of Courtenay’s. If he had Bliss in him why didn’t he pull it out instead of the rehashed crap he did produce?

  24. Thank goodness! I thought I was the only person on the planet to have had that reaction to The Potato Factory. And do you know the really sad thing … I had given the book to my mother-in-law (!!!) as a gift without reading it or anything about it, and didn’t discover how awful it was until she’d read it and lent it back to me. Mortification +++

  25. For those of us who were teens in the 80s, I have two words for you. Virginia. Andrews. God. Awful. So Bad. They were our generation’s Twilight, and I was a Twihard. But I grew out of them, and I just keep reminding myself that so will many of today’s Twihards.

  26. Oh, I remember those – Flowers in the Attic etc etc. Horrific.

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