July 19, 2005

Don't look at their eyes!

Ben Zimmer has pointed something out to me concerning Dan Brown's Digital Fortress, and since this is the book of Dan's that I plan to read next, I am not entirely sure I am grateful. What he has revealed may be somewhat distracting. I was expecting a novel about cryptanalysis, probably one in which on the first page a renowned male expert at something dies a hideous death and straight away a renowned expert at something quite different gets a surprise call and has to take an unexpected plane flight and then face some 36 hours of astoundingly dangerous and exhausting adventures involving a good-looking (and of course expert) member of the opposite sex and when the two of them finally get access to a double bed she disrobes and tells him mischievously (almost minatorily) to prepare himself for strenuous sex. But what Ben has pointed out is that Digital Fortress is first and foremost a book about eyebrow movements.

Really. Dan Brown is a specialist in eye descriptions, but in this novel it's eyebrows. Don't take my word for it or Ben's; take a look at the textual evidence that Ben sent me, courtesy of Amazon.com's rather frightening search-within-the-book capability:

Page 13: "Susan arched her eyebrows coyly";
Page 28: "Strathmore arched his eyebrows";
Page 54: "Strathmore raised his eyebrows";
Page 55: "Strathmore raised an eyebrow";
Page 76: "Strathmore raised his eyebrows expectantly";
Page 104: "Hale arched a surprised eyebrow";
Page 140: "raising her eyebrows in mock anticipation";
Page 141: "Rocío raised her eyebrows";
Page 148: "Rocío arched her eyebrows";
Page 186: "Brinkerhoff arched his eyebrows";
Page 253: "Numataka arched his eyebrows";
Page 369: "The enormous man arched his eyebrows";
Page 396: "Smith arched his eyebrows, impressed";
Page 408: "He arched his eyebrows, obviously impressed"...

Whether they're coy, expectant, or impressed, it's always the same with these people: up go those eyebrows. The cover of the paperback edition has a depiction of a sheet of paper with encrypted stuff on it. And at one point, just below EKNERLM `QLFRHNDF BN GBKIA0UFO, the sheet is split and peeled back, and looking through it is a pair of eyes. Can't quite see the eyebrows, but my bet would be that they are... arched.

I'm planning to read this novel during a plane flight on September 1. I do hope Ben hasn't started to spoil it for me.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at July 19, 2005 09:00 PM