“I couldn’t get out of MA marking mode,” said my colleague form Australia. “I was trying to read The Da Vinci Code on the plane. I was so disappointed. I would have failed it.”
Just sour grapes, I thought. She’s jealous. Because with the sort of money that book brings in she could afford to do what the heck she liked the rest of the time. It can’t be that bad, can it?
A couple of years later I read it.
What a disappointment indeed. Where was all that promising intrigue about Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene producing a family? All exposed in a short fast-paced episode when unbelievably the detective involved in the case is one of the “sang royal”. Oh come on, if my undergraduates constructed something like that they’d get exclamation marks all over their scripts. Never mind failing an MA.
“It gets worse,” said another colleague. “The first one’s not so bad.”
“Isn’t it?” I say.
“The first is bearable,” she says. “But after that, it’s the same old story over and over. When you’ve read one, you’ve read them all.”
But he must be doing something right, mustn’t he?
Well, yes, he is and actually I wouldn’t fail him on a BA assignment. I’d give him 58. A strong 2.2. His plots are well worked out even if they’re infuriatingly formulaic and improbable. He handles dialogue well even if it’s often trite. His characters are consistent even if not well drawn and believable. He has control over his writing – or he’s well edited - because he doesn’t have the lack of consistency and lack of grammatical accuracy that so often spoils the work of our otherwise talented students. But oh my, their work is so much more exciting, so much more convincing most of the time.
So when it comes to assessing my students’ work I ask myself –“Better or worse than Dan Brown?” Of course, there are other components to mark than just the wonderfully innovative but often quite raw piece of creative writing, so sometimes our students arrive at even less that Dan by another route.
Nevertheless, he’s a useful benchmark