Boy, Dan Brown sure found the goose that lays golden eggs, huh? And, from the looks of it, he’s raping that poor thing for all its worth. It doesn’t seem to matter that each egg is pretty much identical, either; Brown just plunks it down in a new city, inserts a different secret society, slaps a new name on it, and voila! Another golden bestseller is born.
This time, renowned symbologist Robert Langdon scurries around Washington D.C. in search of Masonic clues. Time, not surprisingly, is of the essence; Langdon must solve the mystery before several really bad things happen. Unfortunately, one of these things is also a spoiler — a shame, since together we could laugh and laugh and laugh about it. It’s just that silly.
If you’re looking for good prose, deep characterization, and a sense of realism, you’re going to have to look elsewhere. Thankfully, people don’t read Dan Brown because of his writing style; if they did, he’d never sell another page. To say the writing is mediocre is an understatement. Words are often italicized to emphasize points that don’t need emphasizing, and the ellipsis is used with staggering frequency … often for no reason … at all. One positive aspect of Dan Brown’s plundering prose is the quickness with which it becomes a drinking game. Drink every time you find random italics, the ellipsis, or a reference to the protagonist’s “toned physique,” and you’ll be out cold before you know it. Bottoms up!
Brown doesn’t limit himself to just randomly italicizing or trailing off … he’s craptacular in other ways, too. Brown loves hackneyed phrases: eyes are constantly locking for one terrifying second, tense smiles are being forced — you get the picture. Brown doesn’t stop there, though: he also loves to throw in lots of detail to illustrate the depths of his research. (Consider this gem: “Robert Langdon jolted upright in his soft leather seat, startling out of the semiconscious daydream. He was sitting all alone in the enormous cabin of a Falcon 2000EX corporate jet as it bounced its way through turbulence. In the background, the dual Pratt & Whitney engines hummed evenly.” Boy, Langdon’s a smart one, isn’t he? I always get my Pratt & Whitneys confused with Garrett TFE731-2-2Bs, but then again, I’m no symbologist.)
The Lost Symbol also suffers from poor characterization, in addition to poor writing. Don’t expect to find any life-like characters here; these characters are flat as cardboard, with only the thinnest of motivations. Robert Langdon is toned and unfailingly skeptical. (Speaking of which, doesn’t he realize this is the third time he’s running around town decoding symbols? Why does he so adamantly refuse to believe these symbols mean anything important? Shut up already and symbologize, or whatever it is you do. I mean, really.) Katherine Solomon, his love interest du jour, is attractive, having been “blessed with the resilient Mediterranean skin of her ancestry,” and intelligent. Katherine’s so striking that when she first meets Trish, her new assistant, Trish “immediately [felt] two feet tall. Great, [Trish] groaned. Smart, rich, and thin—and I’m supposed to believe God is good?” Wait, what?
Nevermind. The Lost Symbol, like Brown’s previous books, hurts if pondered too deeply. That’s not to say reading The Lost Symbol wasn’t a good time - it was. You can bet I’ll read Brown’s next golden egg, because despite his many flaws, the man can tell a compelling story. Like its predecessors, The Lost Symbol is entirely improbable, frequently silly, and utterly perfect for those days when your brain has taken a day off. In fact, if your brain happens to be around when you start to read The Lost Symbol, go ahead and tell it to get lost - you won’t be needing it.
Jennifer McKeown reads way too much and blogs about her experiences over at Bibliolatry.