Saturday, July 01, 2006

Bending Reality to the Breaking Point

I’ve been limping my way through you-know-who's ANGELS AND DEMONS, and it’s led me to give more thought to a point I touched upon here the other day: authors who twist or ignore facts for the convenience of their plots, or simply fail to invest the time to check their facts before they sit down to write.

Now, I don’t have a problem with bending reality a bit; we are talking fiction here. And everyone, no matter how careful, makes mistakes; God knows I’ve done it myself. But I quickly lose interest in a book—and respect for an author—when someone who’s supposed to be writing a suspense, romance, thriller, or mystery acts like he’s writing science fiction and can just make stuff up as he goes along. Big, important stuff.

Thus we have thrillers in which Saddam Hussein—a dedicated secularist—is hobnobbing with Islamic fundamentalists, medieval romances where the heroine acts and talks like a Valley Girl, and mysteries where a hurricane is about to hit New Orleans during Mardi Gras. In my current read, for example, our author would have us believe that the world is watching, breathless, as the Catholic church prepares to elect a new pope, yet the BBC has only sent one journalist—and a newly-hired one at that. Is Dan Brown that naive, or does he simply assume most of his readers are? Better yet, consider the central premise of the plot: a bunch of loonies are about to blow up the middle of Rome, yet four incredibly inexperienced people—one a priest, one a scientist, another a Harvard scholar—take it upon themselves not to tell anyone? A plot device, obviously; calling in the Italian army and every expert from across Europe would have left our heroine and hero with precious little to do. Yet the situation is so silly, and so obviously not what would happen, that I would expect most people to groan and throw the book across the room. From looking at the book’s sales record, however, that obviously isn’t happening. And don’t get me started on all the historical mistakes in the Da Vinci Code.

So am I unusual in finding my pleasure destroyed by this kind of gross inaccuracy?

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