May 15, 2013

Clive James on Dan Brown: “I pity him deeply”


Not that Dante.

Have you heard that Dan Brown published a book called Inferno? Well, one of our best and most searing critics, Clive James, certainly did. James recently translated the original Inferno, which was written by a guy called Dante Alighieri in the 14th Century.

Although James himself writes on his website that “I loathe seeing “quotes” carved out of my work. Even when they are not mangled in the transcription, they are falsely emphasised by the lack of context,” in a recent email interview with USA TODAY‘s Bob Minzesheimer, he gave such good quote that it bears repeating. I can’t help it, he’s so eminently quotable.

It’s worth reading the interview in its entirety, but a few choice bon mots…

James’ reaction to the news of Brown’s latest novel:

“My initial reaction, when I heard that Dan Brown was writing a thriller inspired by Dante’s Inferno, was to rewrite the translation I had been working on so that it would become the story of a secret society of present-day scholars of medieval literature conspiring to take over the Catholic Church and install P. Diddy as pope. Then I got drunk for a couple of days and woke up to the realization that Dan Brown’s book would sell a thousand times more copies than mine no matter what I did. But any reader of his book who thought it was a bit short on rhyming verse might just buy mine as well.”

On Dante v. Dan Brown:

“Dare I say that there are moments of narrative poetry in the Divine Comedy that would challenge even Dan Brown’s subtlety and sense of nuance? Catching the shades and tones took me all the skill I had, which meant that it took a lifetime to get ready: a lifetime of writing verse, with the occasional very small check and a croak of approval from a literary critic. Dan Brown has spent his lifetime learning to write the kind of prose that has earned him nothing except millions of dollars. I pity him deeply.”

And a nice farewell zinger on Jeffrey Archer:

“I once met a man who told me that he was reading all of Jeffrey Archer’s novels for a second time because of Archer’s ability to ‘tell a story.’ I asked for more details, but the man was led away to take his meds.”


Ariel Bogle is a publicist at Melville House.