I read The Da Vinci Code years ago, before the film but after it was a huge hit, and thought it was a decent story based on a subjects I had already read a lot about (the Christ bloodline and other conspiracy theories). Angels and Demons was slightly better, I thought, not exactly “classic literature” but a fun and ridiculous story nonetheless. I didn’t think at the time that the writing was particularly awful — I was more interested in devouring the story which may have made me more forgiving. Later, I began reading about what a bad writer Dan Brown is, and the examples many people cited were indeed awfully-written. I figured the next time I read one of his books, I’d pay closer attention!
So after recently finishing The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, which is a cracking good detective thriller, I decided to give Dan Brown’s latest book a go. Not surprisingly, the difference between the two authors is staggering.
Now that I’ve finished The Lost Symbol, I’m starting to notice a pattern to Dan Brown’s last three books (now known as the Robert Langdon series, which indicates more are on the way). Here’s how they tend to go:
- It starts with a gruesome death.
- A giant conspiracy is teased: a cold fusion bomb, the Templars, the Masons.
- A self-tormented, evil freak is introduced. He’s hairless, albino, covered in tattoos, obsessed with the occult, whatever.
- Robert Langdon teams up with some detective or sciency chick. They’re chased from place to place, usually churches, museums, or historical landmarks.
- Langdon cracks some codes, makes some wildly improbable connections, uncovers new mysteries…and solves those, too.
- The evil freak character fucks with them along the way, eventually revealing that he’s working for some shadowy master.
- The shadowy master ends up being someone Langdon trusts completely. Langdon feels betrayed and pissed off. (Brown actually doesn’t repeat this one in Symbol, but he goes down that path nearly to the end.)
- The master is revealed to all, the lingering mysteries are solved, the crisis is averted, the end.
So that’s Brown’s usual formula. While reading his latest book, however, some things about his writing (and the story itself) jumped right out at me, so maybe he’s made some changes in his “style.”
First off, he started using italics…a lot! He began with italicizing a characters’ thoughts, which is fine, but then he started getting fancy. The book is positively littered with entire sentences in italics (usually in their own paragraphs) which really didn’t need to be. He was trying to add a lot of gravity to these phrases, but when nearly every page contains one it loses its punch.
It’s incredibly irritating to read.
The next thing I noticed is that whenever one of his characters has some sort of shock or discovery, they think, My God! Over and over again. There is easily a dozen instances of My God! in this book. Oh, and it’s in italics, did you notice?
I sure did. Every goddamn time.
The third thing I discovered while reading this book is that the hero, Robert Langdon, is completely clueless. He’s a world-renowned expert on symbology, cracking ancient codes, and unraveling history’s mysteries. So why is it that he does absolutely nothing for 95% of this book except be pulled from one place to another by other characters and gasp in unbelieving shock (My God!) at the secrets they reveal to him? This is the guy who discovered the bloodline of Jesus and unraveled the secrets of the Templars/Illuminati/etc. — and he’s refusing to believe all the Masonic mysteries being revealed to him in this book? ”That’s a myth, that’s not possible! No way, I can’t believe that!”
Christ, what an asshole.
There are other silly things about Brown’s writing, like the overuse of nonessential facts and tidbits (he so earnestly wants to impress us), all of which has already been written about on better blogs than this, but I don’t let those bother me quite as much as this other stuff. The Lost Symbol is an OK story, utterly ridiculous but still kind of fun. I only kept reading to see how he wrapped it up, and it was slightly disappointing. (Without giving too much away, let’s just say he pulled a “Battlestar Galactica.” If you’ve seen how that series ends, you know exactly what I mean.) Six years of writing and this is all he came up with?
In the end I was just glad I didn’t actually buy it — I checked it out from my local library as an ebook for my Nook. Now I have to wonder what he has in mind for his next masterpiece. He’s already done the big conspiracies, so what’s left? The JFK assassination, maybe? That might be interesting.