Culture - Issue 1 - Magazine | Monocle

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The Dan Brown spin-off industry

Dan Brown’s most famous novel, The Da Vinci Code, has sold an estimated 58 million copies in 42 languages; the film adaptation starred the dependably emollient Tom Hanks and grossed $536m (€411m).

Intelligence in the publishing industry suggests that Brown’s follow-up will be called The Solomon Key and will be on shelves this spring. Brown has confirmed that symbols used to illustrate the original Da Vinci Code dust jacket pertained to the content of its successor: Freemasonry, symbolism and the secrets behind the foundation and governance of the US.

The safe money is on the style and the star: fast, simple, filmic prose and Robert Langdon, that dependably eminent Harvard professor for whom no revelation is too world-shattering to unearth. But no one can be sure: it’s a mystery, after all.

Other than the author himself, it serves no one better than his publishers to keep those mysterious home fires burning. Bill Scott-Carr, Brown’s editor at Transworld in London, insisted that he had “genuinely, absolutely no clue whatsoever what the new book will be about, what it will be called or when it will be published.”

The rest of the industry, unworried by the ignorance professed by official channels, has ploughed ahead with guides, updates, companions, almanacs and other collective sub-cyclopaedic works on Dan Brown’s in utero offering. These exist in two main camps: the rough guess, such as W Frederick Zimmerman’s The Solomon Key and Beyond; and the more definite article, such as Greg Taylor’s The Guide to Dan Brown’s The Solomon Key, which describes itself as an “essential primer”, promising “an unprecedented tour of the new book before it is even published.” Mercifully, The Guide vows to spare the faithful from any “plot spoilers”; presumably because Brown himself has yet to finish his book.

The rest of the Dan Brown industry chugs along turning out work similar in subject and style to the superstar’s back catalogue, bound in covers that ape the typeface, suggestive shadows and quasi-ecclesiastical architecture of Brown’s signature dust jackets.

Other similarities might only matter in court. In April 2006 London’s High Court threw out a plagiarism case brought against Random House at which the Code’s creator himself was star witness.

The irony that Random House publishes both Brown and the plaintiffs proves that the business Brown helped create is just that, and mercenary with it. The key to The Key is to keep it under your hat.

Monocle music

Fine side lines

In rock music, spring 2007 is the season of the side project. Damon Albarn’s The Good, the Bad & the Queen is a spare, soulful collaborative holiday from Blur and Gorillaz, while Grinderman is the sound of Nick Cave getting wild and dirty with a handful of his Bad Seeds.

The most intriguing collection comes from Dave Boulter and Stuart Staples of the deep, dark, desolate Tindersticks, whose version of English soul makes Scott Walker sound like Britney Spears. Their Songs for the Young at Heart is a rediscovery and re-rendering of children’s TV themes, poems and schoolyard songs plucked from the musicians’ English childhoods in the 1960s. While its surface shimmers with childlike simplicity, the melancholy of memory lingers beneath every homespun arrangement. Robert Forster re-imagines “Uncle Sigmund’s Clockwork Storybook” and “Bonnie” Prince Billy unlocks the sadness of “Puff the Magic Dragon”, while Staples’s own bruised baritone steals the show on “Hushabye Mountain” from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. A haunting school disco.

Lust in translation

Bringing Murakami to the big screen

Adapted from the Haruki Murakami short story of the same name, All God’s Children Can Dance captures the mystery of Murakami’s prose and the sex and magic of his story. Director Robert Logevall has enlisted an exciting cast and crew: Jason Lew stars in his first lead role opposite Joan Chen and Sonja Kinski (Natassja’s daughter). Producer Steve Golin was behind other notably odd success-stories Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; Being John Malkovich and the Golden Globe-winning Babel.

“How can you adapt Murakami?” asks Logevall. “What he can say in a sentence makes for an impossible challenge to translate into film. I just hope this is a nice little sketch of a Murakami story.”
All God’s Children Can Dance is expected to debut at the Cannes Film Festival in May

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