Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Book: Inferno by Dan Brown

I made the mistake of reading this article: a parody of Dan Brown's writing style, shortly before reading his newest Robert Langdon adventure, "Inferno". While it couldn't sour my taste for Brown's storytelling, it did point out that he uses some obvious and over-used (almost cliche) writing choices. The point here is, I may have gone into "Inferno" slightly jaded. That may have colored my experience in reading the book. Maybe not, though...

"Inferno" is extremely similar to all the other Langdon stories. I enjoyed "The DaVinci Code" and even moreso "Angels and Demons", but I honestly had forgotten even reading "The Lost Symbol". I had to look it up to even remember there was already a third book about the symbol-decoding Harvard professor. So, I must not have liked it all that much. 

Unfortunately, "Inferno" will likely be forgotten in a few months, as well. The story is (ridiculously) similar to all the others: Langdon is recruited under unusual circumstances to help decode a mysterious cipher using his incredibly detailed and layered knowledge of history, architecture, literature and symbology, and they're off to Italy. Along the way, there are secret passageways, that Langdon always knows about (despite their being secret) and gains unprecedented access to, codes and clues deliberately left by a dastardly bad guy (many of which left me wondering why he planted them-- and for whom? He's crazy isn't really an explanation.) There are also the familiar themes of: a madman wanting to change the world, but... he's got a point... and the juxtaposition of religion and science and how they seem to frequently be at crosshairs.

I'm a sucker for a good thriller, especially if it's well written. European history? Fascinating. Symbology? Amazing. Ancient art and architecture? Yes, please. But I found myself bored with it all this time around, by about the 2/3 point.

"Inferno" felt just like "The DaVinci Code", but instead of focusing on Rome, it's set in Florence, Venice and Turkey, with various statues, paintings, and ancient tourist-filled buildings featured. Once again, I thought that it would be nice if Brown and his publishing company would include color inserts of these places and things. It would help people like me, who want to look them up, to not break the continuity of the story because we had to pull out our laptops and use Google images right during the narrative. 

"Inferno" isn't the worst book I've read this past year, nor is it a terrible story. If it were my first Dan Brown book, I probably would have liked it more, but the overwhelming feeling of "been there; done that" grew as the story built. The intensity of the first two books is missing. The compassion and feeling for Langdon, in particular, is missing. He's not terribly interesting this time around. There is no mention in the book of any of his previous 'adventures', so I couldn't tell if it was set prior to those books, or if we are entering a serial-style story format-- where each story is supposed to stand alone, independent of the others. I really wanted Langdon to allude to what happened to him before in Europe, something along the lines of "this all felt very familiar... I was reminded of my time in Rome two years ago..." or some such. But there is nothing. No reference, no inference-- nothing.

The format of the story is just like the other books, except that at the beginning Langdon wakes up with amnesia in a hospital bed and when he is soon shot at, he takes off with an unknown young, beautiful woman. (They're always young, beautiful and find him both attractive and fascinating. Always.) As they try to decode a series of clues left by a madman intent on destroying the world, they visit many famous and undoubtedly awesome places along the way, until the climactic "can-we-get-there-in-time" ending.

This time around, I found it deeply unbelievable that Langdon, racing to beat the clock and save the world, simultaneously trying to evade capture or being shot, would stop to admire stunning Byzantine (or otherwise OLD) architecture that he's seen many times before!! Equally unlikely are his multiple "fascinating facts" tour-guide style monologues. This is something he does in all the books, but this time around it felt over-done, out of place and just wrong. Maybe it was because it had nothing to do with the clues they were unraveling (most of the time). It was just excess. His traveling companion(s) should have said, "Dude, we need to move-- save your professorial lecturing for another time!"

The "twist" at the end (which you should see coming, though you might not expect everything that happens) is anti-climactic. There's always a traiter, someone who isn't who the reader thought they were, blah blah blah. The who's-on-who's side character swapping is just silly, including some very contrived explanations for Langdon's amnesia, the actions of the people chasing him at the beginning, and the motivations of the people chasing him.

I think Dan Brown has reached that pinnacle of authorial success when editors no longer (are allowed to?) really edit their work. I've noticed this with many successful authors: JK Rowling's "Harry Potter" books all grew exponentially when they became a success, Stephenie Meyer, even, had this problem by her fourth "Twilight" book, as well as many a beloved fantasy series. If the first books in a series are significantly smaller than the later books, it's a good sign that the author is no longer being well edited. Too bad. This book might have been better if it had been much, much shorter.

I did enjoy the literature/history/art lesson about Dante's "Divine Comedy" and the artwork inspired by the classic poem. But by the end, I had lost interest, even in that. Dan Brown does deserve kudos, as always, for his impeccable attention to detail and deep, intricate research. He does know his stuff.

It just wasn't entertaining enough this time.

In essence, "Inferno" is over-written, under-edited and, frankly, a tad boring. A book this size ought to include something that makes me care about the main characters, and it just didn't. I found myself bored with it. This does not bode well for my reader-author relationship with Brown. I will be less likely to read the next Langdon story now. 

Except that I will probably forget all about this book and just go ahead and jump in again. I just want him to surprise me, give me something new next time.

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