What the Inferno is Dan Brown Writing About?
Posted on May 16, 2013
Warning: This review may contain spoilers
Dan Brown manages to make a big splash every time one of his novels comes out. Since The Da Vinci Code, he’s been able to ride the wave of the mass book market. Even if a book isn’t a hit, Brown still does well. And this time with Inferno, he should be coming under a lot of criticism for what he’s provided. Is it fantasy? Sci-fi? Thriller? Historical? Mystery? No wait – he’s decided to give a little of everything, and the outcome of his recipe is a mediocre mess.
Normally, I try to be more forgiving and find both the good and bad while reviewing. But this time, the only good I could find is that the pacing of the story was well done. Brown does bring the reader on a roller coaster ride, and that kind of pacing does well for a thriller. But there’s where my compliment ends.
With the setting in Florence, Italy and dealing with Dante‘s text L’Inferno, Brown should have had no problems recapturing some of the magic he had with The Da Vinci Code. Dante’s work is full of symbolism and metaphors that could have been used to indicate a large political debacle or could have touched on a sinister Dante’s Club trying to take over the world. Instead, Brown couldn’t decide if he wanted a political or a sci-fi thriller.
Usually, a reader can suspend their disbelief one to two times in a novel. Brown asks the reader to do this over and over again. And he tries to wrap up his world-is-ending plot with his setting and the text. If he had taken out both of those, I might have been willing to forgive some of the medical marvels he tried to use. But mixing them all together, he never came close to the mystery that was in his first big blockbuster.
And I’m upset that he wasted Florence, Italy and Dante. These are two of my favorite things, which more than encouraged me to buy the book and read it immediately. But Brown got bogged down in his descriptions of history and the city as well as stretched too much to connect Dante’s L’Inferno to the mystery. And he overlooked the easiest way to use the text in connecting to the different levels of Hell. If a reader wasn’t familiar with the text in the first place, they weren’t going to learn a lot from Brown or his protagonist Robert Langdon except how to take quotes out of context in order to fit specific clues.
Speaking of Langdon, he’s wasted in this book. All of what makes him an effective character and one that the reader likes to follow gets lost as he battles amnesia and fights to remember. So instead of discovering with Langdon as he works things out, the reader becomes a little less invested as Langdon realizes he’s repeating himself. While Brown may have been trying to mix things up a bit, I’m not sure why he would have changed the tone of Langdon who is not as charming this time around.
As always, he’s accompanied by a younger female companion. Instead of giving Langdon a smart and capable female companion, he had to alter her so that she’s more than a match intellectually for Langdon – because normal women aren’t enough. Frankly, it was the companion that Brown wrote that broke my back. She was a bridge too far for me to suspend my disbelief.
As far as the mystery Langdon has to solve in order to save something, it was also too farfetched and too large. While the mysteries that his other works including Angels and Demons solve have been large and improbable, they never included this kind of world-ending threat. And I’m not sure why he felt he needed a threat that big that includes medical, environmental, and political implications. If he had chosen one of those and streamlined the threat, it may have helped the plot.
Brown seems to be suffering from the desire to create another blockbuster rather than creating a good story. His novels do show a lot of involved research and a strong knowledge of what he uses. But he never gets to what makes his chosen texts, symbols, or mysteries a good choice in the first place. Instead, because he goes for such large conspiracies, the key to his mysteries ends up being either under or overused. In both Inferno and The Lost Symbol, that’s been his problem.
The lesson to take away from Dan Brown and his newest novel is that a writer should learn how to write in order to serve the story rather than try to create a bestseller. Simpler is better. If it’s part of a series, keep what’s familiar and successful rather than making major changes. And if you’re going to write about Florence, Italy and/or Dante’s Divine Comedy, then you better do it right and do it justice. Or you will never get another cent of mine.