Friday, May 17, 2013

Inferno, by Dan Brown

There’s nothing that I love more than a literary-zeitgeist bandwagon and, in my experience, one of the best known band-leaders from the last decade has been Dan Brown.  Brown’s success is almost like a fairy-tale that all author’s aspire too; Brown had written and published several books before he became a household name with The Da Vinci Code, and even when the Code was released, it was a little slow to garner attention.  The plot, however, soon fixed the problem of any lagging sales; the Code proposes a radical redefinition of accepted Catholic dogma, and so became a must-read for the devout, for the lapsed, and for the conspiracy theorists.  For a while, getting your hands on a copy of the Code was impossible (I checked my local books store several times, but they were always sold out), but eventually the publisher caught up with demand, and it seemed as if everyone was reading Dan Brown.

Of course, once you’ve read the Code, you realize that it’s actually the second book of Brown’s the features his main character, Robert Langdon.  Readers then rushed out to read the first book, Angles and Demons, and then snapped up The Last Symbol when it was released a few years ago.  Dan Brown’s latest Robert Langdon novel, Inferno, was released this week, and is what sent me into the book store over lunch on Wednesday.  

Inferno hits all the expected notes of a Robert Langdon/Dan Brown novel; lots of talk about art and architecture, a crazy millionaire who has master-minded a dastardly plot, and Robert Langdon’s self-deprecating and yet highly knowledgeable abilities.  This book, rather than being centered around the Church (like the first two) or the Masons (like the third), uses Dante Alighieri’s epic work The Devine Comedy as inspiration for the plot.  This book’s crazy millionaire master-mind is worried about over-population, and desperately feels someone needs to do something to keep humanity from over-populating the earth.  What follows is the usual race against a clock to stop the plan from coming to fruition, guided by a set of clues, riddles and artifacts.

If I sound less than enthralled with this work, it’s because I am.  I had promised myself after The Last Symbol that I was done with Brown; his works all use the same tropes and follow the same patterns.  In the case of Inferno, those expectations are sound, I think.  I’ll give it to Brown that there were a couple of twists that I found interesting, but he back-peddled on them pretty quickly, which just left me annoyed.

With Angles and Demons and the Code, I was engaged because Brown’s works were novel to me, and they were based on history and in locals that I was interested in; Inferno, uses a book I’ve never read (but that’s been mocking me from one of my bookshelves for years) and a set of locations that I’ve never visited and that aren’t high on my Bucket List.  In reality, with the predictability of the plot and the lack of interest I had in the art and architecture that was key to the story-line, I often found like I was sitting through a series lectures that I never signed up for.  Menh.

Here’s where I’m worried about myself though; the main villain of the story is worried about over-population and is set on finding a way of reducing humanity’s exponential growth.  Earth only has a finite number of resources, and humanity is using them up pretty quickly, and destroying the resources that we don’t have a use for.  With people having hoards of children for ideological reasons or through medical intervention (I’m looking at you, TLC, for showing the world the life of the Duggars and the Gosselins), and the regular exponential growth of the population, we’re quickly running out of room and time.  As someone who decided long ago that motherhood wasn’t for me, Brown’s villain kind of speaks to me; who are we to keep populating this finite space and wasting our resources?  As the end of the book, I was sitting there thinking “Man, this dude was miss-understood.  Someone give him a medal.”  And, you know what, it almost seemed like that was Brown’s cautious assessment too.  I don’t know – it’s always unnerving when you empathize with the bad guy in a book; it makes you question your own moral code…

So, final verdict?  Menh.  If you love Dan Brown… well, if you do, I’m sure you already have bought/read this book.  If you’re new to Brown, welcome to life outside the rock you were living under!  Definitely read one, so you know about this big piece of the Western literary tradition.  If you’ve read a few Brown novels, and you’re on the fence like I was, I don’t think you need to hop down to this side; while I always found that I couldn’t read Brown novels back-to-back because of their repetitive nature, if it’s been a while since you read one, you might enjoy Inferno.  Well, this was neither a glowing, nor a scathing, review; I think that reflects my own impressions of the work – it’s not worth getting fussed about in either direction.

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