OK, I know I shouldn’t be writing about Dan Brown’s latest book, The Lost Symbol, before I finish reading it, but…
Brown’s latest adventure with Harvard Symbologist (and just what the heck is that?) Robert Langdon hit the bookstores today. Laura had pre-ordered it, so at precisely 12:01 am Pacific (3:01 am our time) the book was dumped onto our Kindle Readers without having to make a trip to the book store. I’ve just finished the first several chapters, and I think I’ve read enough to make at least a few observations.
1. Dan Brown can’t write
Let me clarify – Dan Brown can create a good fast-paced story, but his writing style leaves much to be desired. The language, especially in this novel, seems very stilted. The conversation, contrived. I’ve read too many really good books since finishing The Da Vinci Code, and the comparison is stark.
The Telegraph in the UK has an article listing Brown’s top 20 worst sentences from all of his books. “Edinburgh professor of linguistics Geoffrey Pullum says ‘Brown’s writing is not just bad; it is staggeringly, clumsily, thoughtlessly, almost ingeniously bad.'” Here are a couple of my favorites, along with Professor Pullum’s comments…
The Da Vinci Code, opening sentence: Renowned curator Jacques SauniÃ¨re staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum’s Grand Gallery.
Angels and Demons, opening sentence: Physicist Leonardo Vetra smelled burning flesh, and he knew it was his own.
Deception Point, opening sentences: Death, in this forsaken place, could come in countless forms. Geologist Charles Brophy had endured the savage splendor of this terrain for years, and yet nothing could prepare him for a fate as barbarous and unnatural as the one about to befall him.
Professor Pullum: “Renowned author Dan Brown staggered through his formulaic opening sentence”.
…and I really liked this one with mixed metaphors…
Angels and Demons, chapter 4: learning the ropes in the trenches
Learning the ropes (of a naval ship) while in the trenches (with the army in the First World War). It’s a military education, certainly.
The Da Vinci Code struck a nerve with it’s implications for Christianity. When someone’s core beliefs are threatened (even by a mediocre novel) then folks respond, even to the point of keeping said novel on the best sellers list for months. Dan Brown’s previous books had none of that success until Da Vinci Code came out.
2. Dan Brown writes cliches
Especially in this latest novel, Robert Langdon comes off more like James Bond or Dirk Pitt. Of course, there is a beautiful, intelligent woman involved. As Brown said in an NPR interview yesterday, Langdon is a “lucky guy.” I’ll say. Here’s someone in an incredibly obscure field that somehow is always called upon the save the “World As We Know It.”
You know it’s a problem when Cracked.com writes what’s supposed to be a satirical article about The Lost Symbol, but contains some spot-on observations:
Unfortunately, setting the novel in the nation€™s capital makes it feel like the book is covering the same ground as those National Treasure films. It really feels like the lengthy delay between the publication of The Lost Symbol and The Da Vinci Code may have cost Brown so’me of his momentum’s been overtaken by his imitators.
3. Just who is this Robert Langdon guy, anyway?
I mean, he’s always referred to as either “Professor Langdon” from Harvard, or “Mr. Langdon.” Why no “Dr. Langdon?” You would think that someone who has written several books on a very obscure academic subject would have at least bothered to turn out a dissertation. And how did he get a full professorship at Harvard without this credential? How many strings did his family pull? This has got to be one huge NCATE violation.
And finally, Slate.com has created an interactive Dan Brown Plot Generator. Just plug in a city and a sect and their computer will do the rest. For example:
The Hidden Sign
When celebrated Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned to the Apollo Theater to analyze a mysterious ancient script€”etched into the floor next to the disfigured form of the head docent€”he discovers evidence of the unthinkable: the resurgence of the ancient cult of the Lucifori, a secret branch of the Teamsters that has surfaced from the shadows to carry out its legendary vendetta against its mortal enemy, the Vatican.
Langdon’s worst fears are confirmed when a messenger from the Lucifori appears at the Statue of Liberty to deliver a fateful ultimatum: Turn over the archbishop, or one cherub will disappear from the Sistine Chapel every day. With only three days to foil their plot, Langdon joins forces with the dewy and charming daughter of the murdered docent in a desperate bid to crack the code that will reveal the cult’s secret plan.
Embarking on a frantic hunt, Langdon and his companion follow a 600-year-old trail through New York City’s most venerable buildings and historic monuments, pursued by a peg-legged assassin the cult has sent to thwart them. What they discover threatens to expose a conspiracy that goes all the way back to Jimmy Hoffa and the very founding of the Teamsters.
Even though I’m giving both Brown and the new novel grief, I’ll still read it and enjoy, much the same as I would enjoy a Clive Cussler novel. I just may have to re-read Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum as a palliative.
One thought on “Judging a Book by its Cover – The Lost Symbol”
Funny thing is, I enjoyed The Da Vinci Code IN SPITE of its limitations. An unrealistic time slot, the constant “bewilderment” of Robert Langdon (that was maybe the most annoying phrase he used), and the cliches. Same (but not quite as strong) in Angels and Demons. You’re right, though; he really isn’t a particularly skilled writer. But he did have something.