Monday, June 3, 2013

Book review - Inferno

Inferno - Dan Brown

Dan Brown receives a lot of criticism from so called high brow readers. It is the vogue to deride his novels and his apparent inability to write. The fact that his books regularly sell into the millions is dismissed as ‘the public not knowing any better.’ Shortly before “Inferno” was released, I read an article that mocked Brown’s writing style by imitating it in an unflattering light.

Are these people jealous? You bet they are. I freely admit I do not always find Brown’s writing the most engaging I’ve ever read, it is also simplistic at times. But, BUT, I have always found his books highly enjoyable. Surely that is what counts?

The blurb:

In the heart of Italy, Harvard professor of symbology, Robert Langdon, is drawn into a harrowing world centered on one of history's most enduring and mysterious literary masterpieces . . . Dante's Inferno.

Against this backdrop, Langdon battles a chilling adversary and grapples with an ingenious riddle that pulls him into a landscape of classic art, secret passageways, and futuristic science. Drawing from Dante's dark epic poem, Langdon races to find answers and decide whom to trust . . . before the world is irrevocably altered.

The thing I like most about the Robert Langdon novels is that they explore familiar conspiracy theories and make them fun. Each mystery is cleverly unravelled, to the point where it makes you want to do some research on the matter.

“Inferno” is no different. The problem of the earth’s population versus the finite resources is a common one. Yet Dan Brown brings the issue to the fore in an exciting way.

The opening of “Inferno” is good. It would have been easy to proceed down the tried and tested path of Robert Langdon being drafted in to solve a mystery and become embroiled in a race to save the world. This is of course exactly what happens, yet the set up is unique as Langdon awakes in a hospital bed with no memory of the last two days.

It is a great way to start as from the outset Robert does not know who he can trust. Everyone he meets he suspects (although not as much as he should). The result is that we get to see the mystery from the beginning with the added bonus of the feeling that Robert has been here before.

The supporting cast is good but nothing special. Sienna has a reasonable back story but we never really explore her past to any degree. Everyone else are rather generic characters that have been seen before and no doubt will be seen again.

As I mentioned above, the strength of the novel was never going to be the characters but more the mystery and the fun action sequences. Unfortunately here, I was disappointed. The story revolves around Dante’s Divine Comedy. Whilst this is interesting as are the clues that lead on from this, the set up feels too contrived. The links do not sound plausible and half the time, Robert solves clues that Brown tries to make more complicated than they actually are.

In fact, take away the whole Dante link and you feel the story could still progress fine without it. This is a shame as it has always been what makes Brown’s novels tick.

“Inferno” is also the first time I genuinely got irritated by Dan Brown’s writing. The incessant need to describe any building of note to the nth degree is infuriating. Langdon could be fleeing for his life in a tense car chase, but he will still remark on the cathedral he passes, when it was built, by whom and mention a fact about said person’s life. Sometimes this fact is interesting, sometimes not. Always it is inappropriately placed and affects the flow of the scene.

Brown also has the annoying habit, of stating the text when someone is speaking in a foreign language and then providing the translation straight after. Inutile, pointless.

Finally, his dialogue in places is bad. He uses the “as you know,” line way too often to provide a massive info dump to progress the story.

Whilst the problems I highlight exist in his other novels, they did not feel so prominent as in this one. Maybe it is because the mystery is not so engaging, maybe I am clutching at straws.

The action scenes are good. Langdon is no action hero but uses his knowledge of the famous buildings to good effect. This works well and feels natural.

The ending is more of a whimper than a bang. I feel rather ambivalent towards it. Whilst Robert has a significant role, I was left scratching my head by it all and not because I was confused.

“Inferno” is not a bad novel, I enjoyed it for the most part, despite the irritations. I thought it was below the standards of the others though.

My rating: 8.0

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