Home » Publications » Probability and Risk in the Real World and Clive James on Dan Brown

Probability and Risk in the Real World and Clive James on Dan Brown

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Probability and Risk in the Real world, here. Look out Harvard Psychologists, US Journalists, and Economists.

Clive James, Prospect, The heroic absurdity of Dan Brown, here. James is much rougher on Brown than Taleb is on the Economists. Maybe Taleb is conflicted about the Economists?

Dan Brown has no ear for prose at all, a handicap which paradoxically gives pathos, and even tenderness, to his attempts at evoking Sienna’s charm. He has no trouble evoking her brains. She has an IQ of 208 and at the age of four she was reading in three languages. You can picture the author at his desk, meticulously revising his original sentence in which, at the age of three, she was reading in four languages. Best to keep it credible. But how to register her beauty as an adult? Here goes: “Tall and lissom, Dr Brooks moved with the assertive gait of an athlete.”

Would that be the assertive gait of a Russian female weightlifter? Probably more like the assertive gait of the British pentathlete Jessica Ennis. Anyway, as usual with a bad writer, the reader has to do most of the imagining. A canny bad writer keeps out of the way so that the reader’s mind can get to work with its own stock of clichés, but Dan Brown shows deadly signs of an ambition to add poetry to his prose. Take, from quite early in the book, his chilling portrait of the beautiful female assassin who is stalking the heroic couple as they flee from one famous location in Florence to another. Later on they will flee from one famous location to another in other famous cities, notably Venice and Istanbul, but early on they are stuck in the famous city of Florence, being hunted down by the beautiful female assassin whose name is Vayentha. How can she be described, in view of the fact that all the “tall and lissom” adjectives have already been lavished on Sienna? Langdon looks out of the window, and there she is:

“Outside his window, hidden in the shadows of the Via Torregalli, a powerfully built woman effortlessly unstraddled her BMW motorcycle and advanced with the intensity of a panther stalking its prey. Her gaze was sharp. Her close-cropped hair—styled into spikes—stood out against the upturned collar of her black leather riding suit. She checked her silenced weapon, and stared up at the window where Robert Langdon’s light had just gone out.”

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