May 31, 2013

Dan Brown's Inferno ... putting us all through Hell

I'm not going to write much about this because I don't want to give him the publicity he doesn't need (as if MY critique is going to have any impact!)

Put simply, this is a terrible book. The Da Vinci Code was badly-written but at least the plot was propulsive. The Lost Symbol was in the same vein and made you want to know what happened in the end. Inferno is just ... boring. I've been reading it for a week now and I'm only half-way through. There's no compulsion to finish it at all. I will, just to find out how it ends. But the 'big reveal' that Brown specialises in is already becoming clear, so there's no expectancy there. The main assassin is dead (like the albino monk in TDVC, but not as hardy). And to be honest I JUST DON'T CARE.
His structure is the same as always - Robert Langdon is in a city that he knows well, has a glamorous assistant, and must decode a series of puzzles in order to find out who's hunting him down, and why. The time-span is condensed, as before, as a way of giving immediacy to the pace. There are cutaways to the bad guys - who mostly remain nameless, for some unknown reason - who become more and more frustrated as Langdon and his partner use his recondite knowledge to solve the clues and manoeuver them around the city.

And of course there is the usual info-dump, this time about Florence, its history, buildings and art work. I was actually quite interested in this, as Florence is a city I'd like to visit ... but Brown kills it stone dead. Everything Langdon exposes us to is 'world-famous' or 'historic' or 'the most secret'. There's no subtlety, no real appreciation of the artworks and buildings that Langdon and his partner butt up against. It's like a city guide written by someone who's just read about it in a book and never been there. No mystery. No romance. No taste.

The English comedian Stewart Lee famously ridiculed Brown's prose style by repeating one sentence from The Da Vinci Code over and over again so that its absurdity became clear: 'The famous man looked at the red cup.' It hasn't got any better. The roundabout locution of saying 'The famous man' instead of using his name; the bluntness of 'red cup'; the actual choice to write this sentence as though it added any depth of meaning to what the narrative was saying ... all of these faux pas are in attendance in Inferno.

Are there any pluses?


I'll finish it out of duty, but it'll be rather like reading the London telephone directory in order to gain an appreciation of the city. It ain't gonna work.

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