Dear Bookworm Readers, I have undertaken this task so that you don’t have to. My God… what could that be?! Well, I have just completed the Herculean task of finishing Dan Brown’s doorstop of a book, the long-awaited follow-up to his monster smash-hit-and-run against the Catholic Church, The Da Vinci Code. Yes, Robert Langdon is back, with his encyclopedic knowledge of symbols and “eidetic memory.” (For real, Dan Brown? He is handsome, strong, hot-bodied, smart, attractive to brilliant ladies and weirdo madmen alike, and claustrophobic. Must you weigh him down with the ability to remember every phone number he’s ever dialed? Give the man a Moleskine, for goodness’s sake.) The Lost Symbol is entertaining in the same way that The Da Vinci Code is entertaining — mysterious cult hides earth-shattering secret that must be understood and yet shielded from humanity’s peering eyes within a 24-hour period. Only Robert Langdon, the Harvard skeptic with amazing connections, is fit to untie these metaphysical knots, aided by rickety old men and babelicious scientists with classy names like Sophie and Katherine.
You have probably already read about The Lost Symbol, but I’m not giving up too many spoilers here. If you have read The Da Vinci Code, it’s pretty much the same story, except set in Washington, DC, instead of Paris and London. I haven’t read Brown’s other books, so it might be a lot like Angels and Demons, too. In fact, there is a suspicious amount of references to angels and demons in this book, as well as plentiful throwaway lines about Langdon’s Da Vinci Code escapades. It’s as though Brown is trying to drum up more book sales. Maybe that’s the true mystery. 😉
For me, the most interesting parts of these books are the tricky puzzles (I admit to being able to crack only one of them on my own in The Da Vinci Code — the one that was written upside down or backwards, or whatever it was). They show a sharp and unusual approach to story telling, but then they are quickly bogged down with didactic explanations. The book clocks in at just over 500 pages, and it’s because Brown is such an insufferable show-off, and he makes his characters in his own image. There is just too bloody much! Even an educated reader who doesn’t read about secret cults and conspiracy theories in her free time does NOT care about the multiple historical examples tied to each symbol. Here is a taste of the overstuffed nature of the narrative:
“And yet this particular myth relates directly to the Ancient Mysteries?”
“Sure, as do plenty of others. The Ancient Mysteries are the foundation for countless legends that have survived in history — stories about powerful wisdom protected by secret guardians like the Templars, the Rosicrucians, the Illuminati, the Alumbrados — the list goes on and on. They are all based on the Ancient Mysteries…and the Masonic Pyramid is just one example.”
Also, the specificity of Langdon’s daily habits is too much for me:
This morning at four forty-five, Langdon had plunged into dead-calm water, beginning his day as he always did, swimming fifty laps in the deserted Harvard Pool. His physique was not quite what it had been in his college days as a water-polo All-American, but he was still lean and toned, respectable for a man in his forties. The only difference now was the amount of effort it took Langdon to keep it that way.
When Langdon arrived home around six, he began his morning ritual of hand-grinding Sumatra coffee beans and savoring the exotic scent that filled his kitchen.
Passages like this make me scream for editing — can’t we just leave it that Langdon has more self-control than your average forty-plus dude, and he likes coffee? Why is hand-grinding Sumatran coffee so much more important than prying open a vacuum-sealed bag of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee (as I did today)? It’s as though Brown doesn’t want us to side with his protagonist!
Also, enough with the interrobangs (?!). They belong in comic strips.
I admit that the book piqued my curiosity from time to time, but it’s so long and drawn-out. It doesn’t really pick up speed until about 100 pages along, and it is so reminiscent of The Da Vinci Code and not as good, at least as far as my memory recalls. The first time around, the combination of secret cults, religion vs. spirituality, historical references, creepy skin freaks (first an albino, now a tattooed “creature”), architecture and art history, and tussles with the authorities all seemed interesting. The second time around, it feels cliche. There was one genuine surprise for me in the whole book (the true identity of the tattooed eunuch Mal’akh and the explanation of his revenge fantasy), but that’s not enough to keep a girl going back for more.
So what say you? Would you deign to pick up a Dan Brown book? (Full disclosure: I didn’t purchase it; I read my mom’s copy, which she generously loaned me.) Did you think it was better or worse than The Da Vinci Code? And are those interrobangs as overplayed as I think?!