On cliches, formulas and being let down…yet again.

I hate clichés. Like, absolutely abhor them. Maybe that’s the one reason you wouldn’t find me screaming Christmas and New Year wishes from my status message. No offence meant for all those who have already done that, though. Clichés are clichés for some reason, afterall. And it wasn’t until recently that I started ruminating on something that one of my friends, who incidentally shares this hatred for clichés, had mentioned in passing almost a year and a half ago. I remember we were talking about the kind of books we both read (that’s anyway the first thing I talk about, with anybody I meet) and he’d mentioned that he’d never wanted to read a Jeffrey Archer, or a Sidney Sheldon and the likes, for the simple reason that they were over read, and thus kind of clichéd. I had kept my peace at that time, although the opinionated debater in me was screaming to justify that they were bestsellers, and hence over read, duh. Or maybe the other way round. Doesn’t matter. To each his own, though. At that time I thought he was carrying it a little too far, while I was still making up my mind whether I was one of the masses who religiously relished and digested anything that the so-called bestselling authors doled out, or I was closer to developing my own taste and say, no thank you, I do like your work most of the times but that doesn’t mean I won’t concede that some of yours suck.

Anyway, coming back to me ruminating on this a year and a half later, well… firstly, maybe, just maybe, I finally have found out which category I belong to. Or maybe I just have gathered enough courage to say it out loud. Secondly, I think I have found out a whole new dimension to this whole cliché thing. Cliché is not just reading what everybody else is reading and for the sole reason that everybody is reading it. Cliché is when a bestselling author uses the same formula that worked on one book for all the following books of his. And mind you, the Thesaurus that comes along with Microsoft Word does say “formula” is a synonym for cliché. And maybe its now that I can understand what my friend had meant by them being clichéd. I had given up on Sidney Sheldon long time back just for the simple reason that by the time I was reading his fourth novel, I just had to read the first few chapters of a book to predict which one of the characters would turn out to be the bad guy towards the end of the book (it was always the one who seemed the nicest to the protagonist who in turn is always a woman on whom some sort of misfortune had befallen at some point of time or the other).  Although that didn’t stop me from reading all the rest of his work. That was a time when being a stickler to an opinion was less important than being able to brag about having read all of somebody’s work.

Its been a long way since then, though. So when the whole of India was going gaga over “Two States”, all I could say after reading it, was that yet another author has been added to my “never will read” list. It’s sad, really. I still maintain that “Five Point Someone” was one of the most amazing piece of fiction to be written by an Indian writer, and a debut at that. But then, I took up “Three Mistakes of My Life”, just to get over “One Night at the Call Center” (a call from God? Give me a break, oh please?). And I did make the same promise of washing my hands off Chetan Bhagat after reading that book. Yet, year and a half later I again have one of those “when will I ever learn?” moments after I feel let down having wasted precious hours the day before my end term exams started, on reading “Two States”. I remember having said that if I wanted spicy entertainment like that, I would go watch a Bollywood movie. Bhagat’s novels have all the ingredients to make a typical “masala” movie that our “janta” savor and slurp up with pleasure.

That was a month ago. Just recently, when I got infected with the contagious enthusiasm with which another of my very close friends bought and read Dan Brown’s books, I decided to follow suit. Overlooking the fact that the last book that I had abandoned half read (I never leave books half-read, but I had attributed it to the fact that it was the e-version and not the hard copy) was “Deception Point” by the same author, I took up Dan Brown’s latest “The Lost Symbol”. And within pages I realized just why I had abandoned “Deception Point”.

Admitted again, that “The Da Vinci Code” had me spellbound. So much that I swore I couldn’t rest in peace till I had seen for myself all the paintings and artworks mentioned in the book. I “Google”d everything, from the Louvre Museum to “The Last Supper”, and even watched the movie. I was even more thrilled, if possible, on having read “Angels and Demons” and was absolutely fascinated by the ambigrams and how all the pieces in the story fit together like a well made jigsaw puzzle, even though the graphic deaths mentioned in the book had me getting nightmares long after. But then, “Digital Fortress” was something of an eye-opener. Although I found it quite difficult to admit to myself, disloyal even, I had to accept that it was also going the same “good guy turning out to be the bad guy” way, which was the only reason I had given up on Sidney Sheldon. And just yesterday, wiping the tears off my eyes for the umpteenth time (having sat in front of the laptop reading “The Lost Symbol” for five hours straight), I was getting that same “let down” feeling back. I found myself wondering just why Dan Brown had to yet again stick to the formula, when the study of symbols and cryptic codes and stuff is in itself so goddamn interesting. I almost started feeling poor for Robert Langdon, who always found himself in the middle of a life-threatening situation, albeit always in the company of a woman (if it was Sophie Neveu in “The Da Vinci Code”, it’s Vittoria Vetra in “Angels and Demons”, and Katherine Solomon in “The Lost Symbol”), was always on the run from some higher and very powerful authority which happens to be on his side in the beginning but plot against him once they start thinking of him as a traitor. Not to mention that if not in the company of Langdon, then the other heroines (Susan Fletcher in “Digital Fortress” and Rachael Sexton in “Deception Point”) are having adventures of their own. And then I wonder why the antagonist always has something about him that makes him weird and creepy. If Silas in “The Da Vinci Code” was an albino who practiced corporal mortification, then Ma’lakh in “The Lost Symbol” has tattoos all over him (he enjoys the pain that tattooing brings, too) and wears make up to hide it. Hang on there’s more. There’s always a tragedy that starts the story. “The Da Vinci Code” starts with the death of Jaques Sauniere Saint-Clair, and “Angels and Demons” starts with Professor Leonardo Vetra’s. Mercifully in “The Lost Symbol” Peter Solomon is not dead, but has had his hand chopped off and is hanging somewhere “in between”. All of the plots deal with a secret organization of some sorts, with eerie rituals and ceremonies, and in all of them, the security officer (call him in by whatever name you want to) is a burly intimidating man who doesn’t appear to have any emotions whatsoever. The introduction of a female head of security in the last book is actually refreshing. And yet, the familiar description of Chief Officer Trent Anderson looms in the background. Don’t know about the last book (sad to say I left it mid way too), but the bad guy always appears to have his way somewhere towards the third quarter of the book. That the good guys have to emerge victorious is not a formula just for Dan Brown. It is one all over the world.  I could list so many more of such co-incidences… it’s just that I seem to have lost patience already.

And I keep repeating that its sad. To have expectations that are not complied with. Now, I know its very tough to keep writing sequels till it’s a whole series. Darn if you stick to the previous theme, and darn if you don’t. But then why didn’t I ever find Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot clichéd? Why is it that PG Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Bertram Wooster has been making me laugh for so many years now without ever making me feel like I’ve read this before? Maybe that’s where classics are different from clichés? Okay, leave classics. Even Meg Cabot’s Amelia of the Princess Diaries series didn’t leave me disappointed. I have in fact loved all of Meg Cabot’s work and still find them refreshingly different from one another. Is it then so difficult to muster enough guts and confidence to write something “different” (note the quotes) and hand it out saying, “This is what I’ve come up with. Like it if you will. Don’t care if you don’t”?

I don’t know if Dan Brown and Chetan Bhagat and the ilk become classics years down the line. Maybe they will, since they are as much a part of our culture as Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters  and Charles Dickens were of our parents’. For now, though, all I really want is to read a good book without feeling let down. And if possible be as fascinated and totally under its spell like my dear friend is right now. But then again, maybe for it I have to become a teen again, just like him, and rewind back four years of my life. And since that is not possible maybe I should just go back to my Wodehouse. Toodle’oo.  Pip pip.


6 thoughts on “On cliches, formulas and being let down…yet again.

  1. Ozone says:

    The comparisons were precise and bang-on-target. Its good to find someone joining I-hate-Chetan Bhagat club with me. Imagine my plight…I read ‘3 Mistakes..’ without reading ‘5-point….’ and that would give u a fair idea how much hatred I have for Bhagat as an author!!! I too was floored by Da Vinci, only to be disgusted by Digital Fortress and I too had the same old feeling “This is so God damn cliched..!!!”
    Good to see the similarities still existing between us..


    • ssamhita says:

      I knew I knew I would find you sympathetic to my cause… I was almost about to attach a disclaimer to this, because I knew there would be a class of die-hard fans who would vehemently oppose to this, but then again, why should I be apologetic for an opinion that is my own,right?


    • ssamhita says:

      P.S. : After writing this note I did finish reading The Lost Symbol. And found more similarities: A) A lost son/daughter rediscovered towards the end of the book (in each of the books, too), B) Yes, even in this book the bad guy looks like he will have his way after all, and C) Langdon being taken for dead before miraculously brought to life again. Ugh.


  2. sanjeev says:

    yup, thats right….a cliche can make us yawn or irritate us…i do have the same problem with them…. i never use nokia phones just because everybody using them !! sydney sheldon got the same fate…in 2006 when i started reading novels almost every girl i know suggested him, later i found that he has more girls as fans than boys.

    i enjoyed dan brown novels …..i enjoyed only 3 of them…i am able to guess the villain in the 4th one…so i stopped reading him !!

    But i sometimes i feel like…am i missing something because everybody is enjoying…so are my likes and dislikes are dependent on popularity. I dont see much diffrence when someone does something becuase everybody liked it so…or not doing a thing which everybody likes…in both the cases my options were being limited because of popularity .


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