One of my new year’s resolutions is to read a lot more. The problem is that I tend to make this resolution every year but life tends to get in the way. So this year I figured my blog could come in handy by providing me the space to review what I read; the good, the bad and the ugly.
What can be said about Dan Brown’s follow up to the worldwide hit, The Da Vinci Code? Unfortunately, fairly little. It’s no secret that Brown is a fairly poor writer in literary terms. At the heart of his novels are a bulk of historical information that is interesting – like a national geographic documentary – and presented in the form of a thrilling story. It is usually the story that tends to fall apart, while the information remains fairly interesting. In the case of The Lost Symbol, Brown takes his key character, symbologist Robert Langdon, on a journey to one of the most secret-filled, conspiracy-laden cities in the world, Washington D.C.
This time, the story focuses on Freemasons, and Langdon’s attempt to rescue an old and influential friend (who is a freemason) from the murderous grips of a calculating man whose agenda is a mystery that unfolds slowly throughout the story. Langdon is tricked in to coming to D.C. to serve a purpose – deciphering a pyramid that has been held by Freemasons for generations and supposedly points the direction to a location in the city that is said to hold, well, whatever. Is it even important in a Brown novel? The story is as formulaic as one can imagine. There is always a strange villain with strange habits (an albino that himself or, in this case, a guy who really like tattoos), and there’s always a female character by Langon’s side who has absolutely no romantic connection to him, and of course, both of them can be found running from one location to another deciphering clues in the architecture of buildings all of which are in plain site. Rinse and repeat.
Brown’s narrative is simply contrived. The Lost Symbol was written during a time when Hollywood was busy adapting his two earlier novels, The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons in to blockbusters, and so his latest work reads undoubtedly like a screenplay. Every character encountered throughout the story is a character that Brown has to describe. Short paragraphs or even chapters that depict unnecessary perspectives and “emotions” of characters as insignificant as a security guard. Who cares what the security guard whose shelf-life in the story is a total of 4 minutes is thinking or feeling? Meanwhile, interesting elements like freemasonry, hidden secrets and historical references of Washington D.C. and even noetic sciences, are shoved in massive volumes in to the story. And while it’s great to “learn” new things, like the history of the word “sincerely”, the characters are often giving this information in bland encyclopedic rants. Traditionally we only had to deal with this sort of thing when the story had one smart character, Langdon, but in this novel he’s joined by three other brilliant characters, all of whom have their specialty and insist on telling the reader about it. That kind of delivery also runs the risk of providing that contrived sort of dialog The Lost Symbol is filled with. Characters can often be found suddenly “realizing” things, which of course leads to the overused “suddenly everything made sense”. Of course, in those moments, nothing makes sense to the reader but as long as the character has figured out what’s going on, then we’re good to go.
This is not to say that The Lost Symbol is not a page-turner, to a large extent it is. But it’s very much like junk food. It tastes great, but you will hate yourself for having consumed it no sooner after having done so.