Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Lost Symbol - Dan Brown

Poor Dan Brown. The reviews for his latest novel starring Robert Langdon have not been so favorable. People call his writing formulaic and predictable, and his plot twists too unbelievable to enjoy. Yet in its first week out, The Lost Symbol sold over a million copies in the US, and half a million in the UK. Once it's turned into a summer blockbuster, Mr. Brown will be laughing all the way to the bank. I guess I don't understand the criticism. Surely we've all read The DaVinci Code and Angels & Demons. Aren't over the top explosions and never-ending cliches what we know and love from Brown? Of course, he's no literary genius, but I contend that he is a master of the cliff-hanger at the end of each chapter - which is impressive seeing as this book has over 130 chapters. This time around Langdon, professor of symbology at Harvard (yes, we know, this is a made up department and Langdon should perhaps be part of the semiotics department), is summoned to Washington, D.C. under false pretenses. Once there, he finds himself caught up in the legends of the Freemasons, and he must unlock the secret of the Lost Word to save the life of his old friend Peter. Silas the albino self-flagellating villain from The DaVinci Code has been replaced by a hairless Illustrated Man in this installment. While Langdon's female companions in the prior books helped him flee across Europe, this time, his partner in crime is the sister of the victim, and a noetic scientist (a branch of philosophy concerned with the study of the mind, intuition, and collective consciousness). Langdon gets himself in the predictable mess, confiding in those he shouldn't and trusting others who intend to cause harm - how he manages to keep himself alive in this one is far beyond even my ability to suspend disbelief. That being said, I was immediately engaged in the story, and stayed up late into the night because I (in my own cliche) just couldn't put it down. The layers upon layers of symbols for Langdon to interpret become tedious after awhile, but just as The DaVinci Code caused people to take a closer look at the Vatican and to reexamine The Last Supper, I think this one is going to bring a lot more tourists to D.C. and introduce them to the German painter, Albrecht Durer and the beauty of magical squares. Sure Brown's stories are fanciful, and whether there is any truth to his legends, I have no idea. But, to the extent he gets people reading, interested in art and history, and questioning otherwise commonly-held beliefs, Dan Brown gets a thumbs up in my book.

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