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Cannonball Read V: Inferno by Dan Brown

By SorryTelevision | Book Reviews | August 15, 2013 | Comments ()


cover-dan-brown-inferno.jpg

Dan Brown really wants you to know that Sienna Brooks has a ponytail. I know this because Brown — famous author and mediocre contributor to the Tom Hanks ouvre — uses the word ponytail at least 20 times in Inferno, the fourth novel in America’s favorite dashing-symbologist series.

Here’s my thing with Dan Brown. I know that his books are considered, let’s say, “accessible” to the average American, like the third of the population who can’t name the vice president. And I understand that for some people, who prefer to exercise their brain waves on books and other materials of a more intellectual caliber, this may be a deal-breaker. I get it. I too dislike Brown’s over-attention to certain descriptors, his propensity for using big words when they aren’t needed (see what I did there?) and his seeming inability to create female characters who aren’t ponytailed intellectuals with a wardrobe of only cream sweaters. He’s got his faults.

But as soon as I settle into a Dan Brown original (with the sole exception of The Lost Symbol, which was tedious) I find myself not caring so much whether the author used a scalpel or a hatchet when culling his sentences, or if his female protagonist of the moment has ever owned a shirt in red. Indeed, Brown appears to consistently forego traditional tropes of novel-writing in the interest of one thing: telling a good story. And not necessarily the story of the present—the bulk of the action in a DB novel consists of visiting museums, escaping museums, staring at symbols, and watching Robert Langdon have intellectual epiphanies—but a story in history, of an object or topic or person.

Inferno’s focal point is Dante, and it should come as no surprise that Langdon’s traditional adventure/decode-athon begins with a map of Dante’s inferno, as described in The Divine Comedy. From there, we are taken into a whirlwind tour of Italy and beyond, all in an attempt to stop a madman’s plan for global destruction. There are museum visits, and escaping, and a fair amount of staring at symbols. There’s also the blonde, ponytailed Sienna Brooks, resident genius and Langdon co-conspirator. Basically, all the elements are in place.

Inferno moves quickly, and while I’m sure that the fourth Langdon novel contains as many factual errors as its predecessors, I was still impressed by the amount of real information included: references to architecture and art and history that you probably wouldn’t find in your typical James Patterson book. Whether or not it propels him to some special caliber of Literary Fiction, Brown has created something compelling, and fun, and as intellectually accurate as you can honestly expect of any mass-market novelist.

In my ongoing stance of “Hey, reading is reading” (note to self: get this knitted on a pillow) I’m a big fan of Dan Brown’s style. Suck them in with a traditional thriller—handsome man, mysterious woman, mystery, intrigue—and then throw out a few things people might actually learn. Florence is in Italy! Dante was a poet! The Divine Comedy was not very funny! It’s a clever strategy that a few more iterations of pop culture could stand to employ.

It’s been too many years since I’ve read anything else by Brown for me to stack Inferno up against The Da Vinci Code or Angels & Demons, let alone Digital Fortress or Deception Point. But it feels like a strong contender for Brown’s best, hinged as it is on the extremely relevant topic of overpopulation. It’s the book to read between The Woman Upstairs and The Silver Star, or after a Dickens, on a really long flight. It’s one you can bring to the beach, and leave behind in your hotel room when you head home. It’s Dan Brown at his finest: highbrow, but not really.

This review is part of the volunteer Cannonball Read V. Read all about it , and find more of SorryTelevision’s reviews on the group blog.

(Note: Any revenue generated from purchases made through the amazon.com affiliate links
in this review will be donated in entirety to the American Cancer Society.)



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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned


  • Jifaner

    Nope, I just can't do it. I tried to read Digital Fortress and it was so incredibly bad. Never had an interest in trying another one. Of course, I didn't really like The DaVinci Code movie, so I suppose even the story wouldn't even do it for me.

  • Zirza

    Same here. I try not to be too much of a literature snob and I read plenty of trashy books, but Dan Brown is where I draw the line. If the prose is that bad I don't care how good the story is.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    I find Dan Brown and the whole conspiracy genre a bit redundant after Eco deconstructed it in Foucault's Pendulum.

  • Bodhi

    Dan Brown is the Thomas Kincaide of the written word.

    I double majored in religious studies & art history & I tend to be super snotty about his work. (The word "symbologist" makes me want to throw up.) They are a fast, mostly entertaining read, as long as you don't actually buy into the "truth" of the story. Good to hear this one is a better than some of the previous works

  • meadowdancer

    Wow I am going to use that the next time I review one of his books, the Thomas Kincaide of the written word is apt and true.

  • linnyloo

    When my brother and I took a trip to Italy, we spent some time in Rome tracking down all the works of art mentioned in Angels and Demons just for fun -- we did most of it in an afternoon, although the Fire church was bitchin hard to find, and we held off seeing Air until we went to the Vatican. We took pictures of us looking mysterious and secret agenty by the Castel Sant'Angelo (Sekrit Home of the Illuminati), and generally had a blast.

  • ,

    You're absolutely right. I read his books and know they're shite, terribly written and I hate myself for it and I like to think I'm smarter than that but then I look up and it's 4 a.m. and I still can't put the goddamn thing down.

    "telling a good story"

    Yep.

  • nicely done review.

    i tend to approach dan brown the way roger ebert often approached low-to-middlebrow movies (as opposed to upper-case, capitalized Films)...did the movie accomplish what it set out to do? did i enjoy the ride?

    sometimes a book is just a book, and not every one of them has to be in the running for the national book award. sometimes it's okay to just fire 'ulysses' across the room (again - i know i'll never make it through) and read something fun, and sharp, and accessible.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    I gotta agree with you on most points here. I don't tend to read thrillers, but I read Da Vinci Code in one day and I think Angels & Demons in three. He's brilliant at some aspects of writing - his plotting is suspenseful - I definitely got into the "I'll just read the first few pages of this next chapter..." And his writing is so easy to read that you just keep going. His prose itself is on the lame side, yes. His characters are walking archetypes, not really people. I knew I was being manipulated, and I still went along for it, which is what I want from a fun read (or movie). And I do like that his stories are infused with art and history just a step beyond what you learned in high school. It's pulp with a little bit of erudition. (see, I don't mind the big words at all.)

    Compare that to Brad Meltzer, who attempts to do those things but writes absolute dreck. (Ok, I only read one of his, but it was SO drecky that he doesn't get another shot.)

  • I LOVE this line: "ponytailed intellectuals with a wardrobe of only cream sweaters." Such a perfect description of Dan Brown's ladies.

    If you haven't discovered her already, and you like juicy-fiction-plus-cool-history, may I recommend Jane Langton? She writes murder mysteries rather than international thrillers, but she does a good job of incorporating compelling stories and artifacts and museum visits (and is more faithful to the facts than Dan Brown, as far as I can tell.)

    She usually writes about the Transcendentalists and other Boston-area history, like the Isabella Stuart Gardner museum, but she also has a Dante/Florence title, The Dante Game. I haven't read that one, though, so I can't say whether it's as good as her Boston stuff.

  • Nora Sawyer

    The Dante Game is great, as are all her Homer & Mary Kelly stories. Sigh. I heart me some Jane Langton.

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