Sunday, October 18, 2009

Lost in The Lost Symbol

I just finished listening to the audio book of Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, a book that readers seem to either love or hate. I found my own reaction to be somewhere in the middle. However, I want to write a more in-depth review than I usually post on Shelfari—so here goes.

First of all, because of much of the criticism I have read, I think I need to begin with a disclaimer. I read books like the Dan Brown books for entertainment purposes. I teach literature. I read good literature, both classic and modern. I also read for escape. Brown’s novels fall into the escape category. Other escape writers that do something along the same lines are Tom Clancy and Clive Cussler, both of whom I consider to be better writers than Brown. However, even those men are not literary giants. The fact that for me Brown is escape reading means that I am not really interested in his style or sentence structure or perhaps even the minute details of plot. In fact, part of the fun is looking up some of the places just to check him out. I had a wonderful romp through Rome with Angels and Demons. And the question that continues to bug me after The Da Vinci Code is that after investigating some of the places on line, I came upon information about that church with the sculptures of the knights in the floor—the ones that look like dead bodies. It turns out that according to the web site, it is a big honor to be married in that church—the bride or groom has to be “connected” with a member of the Temple. I suppose that limits the weddings to families of solicitors, barristers, and perhaps judges. I just can’t help wondering how one decorates THAT building for a wedding?

Let me give some of my negative reaction to The Lost Symbol first. I did not find this book as suspenseful as the first two. The part set in the Library of Congress was anticlimactic. Frankly, everyone knows about fictional or perhaps nonfictional ways in or out of that building. It’s been done recently on screen in National Treasure and in any number of mystery and suspense novels before that. I did notice tht the people chasing Langdon, however, obviously don’t read or go to the movies. And they were supposed to be the CIA. If Langdon needed to hide and escape from a building in that vicinity, why not the Supreme Court or even the Folger Shakespeare Library? There’s even a stairway in the Supreme Court building that is modeled on one in the Vatican. Surely that could have been room for some kind of interesting plot twist. People also generally know about the basement private offices in the Capitol. I have read, however, in some books about the Capitol about some archaeological discoveries—a Civil War era bakery?—that could have made for some interesting settings. And, goodness knows, we could have romped through places like Mount Vernon or those rooms under the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington, or something under whatever that building is in the middle of the courtyard at the Pentagon. Instead, we have all that dreary business about that Smithsonian warehouse. The Syfy show Warehouse 13 does that so much better. Surely, the Smithsonian would have a better security and cataloguing system for artifact storage. Furthermore, Brown falls far short of the suspense that Preston and Child achieve with Relic and Reliquary and the other Pendergast novels set in the New York museum of Natural History. In short, I felt this story would have been much more entertaining if it had moved, literally, through more settings that were not so overused.

Another criticism I had was the insertion of long passages of technical data about search engines and computer equipment. I do not necessarily object to long and technical, even if I’m not entirely sure the author knows his stuff. I still feel fairly confident of my abilities to construct a silencer and navigate a submarine thanks to Mr. Clancy’s detailed writing, but that information is worked into his narratives in a way that is utterly convincing. The reader needs the information, and Clancy gives it in great detail. The technical information in Brown’s book is just sort of tossed in there, complete with brand names. Did you notice that when the recession hit the auto makers so hard, television programs sponsored by car makers cut commercial time but always made sure to mention the model of the car or show a logo closeup whenever a car was being used in the show? Some of the technical information in this book had that sort of feel to it. I also feel that at least one character dies unnecessarily because that technical thread is no longer needed and writing the character out of the situation would therefore be just too much trouble.

What did I like about the book? I found that even though it began with the Masonic Conspiracy idea that has been so overused lately in fiction, the unraveling of this plot line is refreshing. This plot line also provides the only setting in the novel which has not been recently overused. I would write more about that, but I don’t want to be a spoiler.

I found this novel to be acceptable escape reading, but I did not find that I had the same “I can’t wait to turn the page” feeling that I had with the other novels. In fact, there was entirely too much of a feeling of “Aren’t we ever going to get out of this room?” Or in one case, "Aren't we ever going to get to this room?"

1 comment:

Knittinreed said...

Thank you for your thoughts on the new Dan Brown book. I also like his stories for the entertainment factor and almost bought it at the Detroit Airport yesterday. But couldn't bring myself to spend that much. I think I'll look at Amazon or Walmart since they are having price wars on their hardcovers.