Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: THE LOST SYMBOL by Dan Brown

I’ve damned Dan Brown fairly liberally in these pages in the past, not least by lumping him in with John Grisham and James Patterson as some kind of unholy trinity that gives crime writing a bad name. So I wasn’t expecting much when I was commissioned to review THE LOST SYMBOL, although I did crack the pages with as open a mind as I was able to muster. And whaddya know, it was fun. Hokey, schlocky fun, for sure, but fun. Is there room in the world for fun books? God, I hope so … Anyway, herewith be the review:
“If you’re out to describe the truth,” Albert Einstein declared, “leave elegance to the tailor.”
  Elegance may be at a premium in Dan Brown’s ‘The Lost Symbol’ but there is – theoretically – no end to the truth to be uncovered by symbologist Robert Langdon when he gets sucked into an anti-Masonic conspiracy set in Washington, D.C.. Called to America’s capital by his good friend and mentor, the high-ranking Mason Peter Solomon, Langdon quickly finds himself in possession of a coded pyramid and pursued by the CIA. Decoded, the pyramid promises knowledge of the Ancient Mysteries the Masons have for centuries hoarded on behalf of all mankind; but Mal’akh, a sinister, tattooed eunuch, is determined that mankind will never experience true enlightenment.
  Unsurprisingly, ‘The Lost Symbol’ offers many of the features that made ‘The Da Vinci Code’ a phenomenal best-seller. The story takes place over a few hours; short chapters and teasing cliff-hangers create a propulsive momentum; the twists and turns are drip-fed in the form of information dumps by the polymath Langdon. Word games, secret societies and global conspiracies all figure, with Langdon, by turns hapless and brilliant, something of a flesh-and-blood philosopher’s stone who transforms the apparently blind alleys of Washington D.C. into the shimmering glories of Classical Rome.
  The prose is clunky, certainly, and Brown has an irritating penchant for italics, while the excessive use of exposition makes a mockery of the dictum, ‘Show, don’t tell’. The storytelling is preposterously melodramatic, and all but very few of the characters appear to have been borrowed from wherever it is they store the Bond villains who weren’t quite villainous, insane or megalomaniac enough to make a worthy adversary for 007. That said, there’s no denying that the story is as addictive the next cigarette. You know it’s not good for you, and you’ll probably feel bad afterwards, but hey, one more hit won’t kill you …
  If the backdrop to ‘The Da Vinci Code’ was largely based on ‘The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail’, the backbone of ‘The Lost Symbol’ is Fritjof Capra’s ‘The Tao of Physics’. Here Brown seeks to blend the mysticism of Far Eastern, Egyptian, Classical and early European societies with the latest advances in quantum physics and the ‘metaphysical philosophy’ of noetics. He invokes a number of eminent scientists – Newton, Spinoza, Bohr – in the process, although none are more name-checked (or misrepresented) than Einstein, who spent the latter part of his career in a fruitless attempt to justify his claim that God does not play dice.
  It’s an entertaining romp, if you’re prepared to ignore some of the more outrageous assertions about the links between, say, the Upanishads and string theory, but there is a crucial difference between ‘The Lost Symbol’ and ‘The Da Vinci Code’. In the latter, Brown was taking aim at one of the western world’s most sacred cows. Here he is bent on rehabilitating the reputation of one of its most tarnished icons, that of America itself. Whether that perverse spirit of anti-iconoclasm is sufficient to drive ‘The Lost Symbol’ to sales of eighty million copies remains to be seen. – Declan Burke
  This review first appeared in the Irish Times


seana said...

That's a nice, surprisingly evenhanded review, given the subject. We've been doing brisk sales here in the four days since it came out, and I seem to have a different feeling toward it than I had toward it's predecessors. I now have Twilight to compare it to, and I think the mass appeal is very similar. People don't judge these books by the stylistic abilities of their authors. They may even know that the writing is poor, and still be excited to read the book.

I suppose I feel more sympathy for that than I have in the past. I guess we all need things to look forward to right now, and I see people are very happy to run across this one.

Sad thing is that we don't really make any money to speak of on this kind of phenomenon, as they are heavily discounted. But I suppose it works as a kind of a loss leader.

bookwitch said...

I don't know what Dan Brown is like, since I've not felt like reading him. I'm all for reading light 'rubbish', but there has to be a limit to how bad it is. Maybe DB is good rubbish.

Certainly with my in-depth knowledge of Mills & Boon, some are very good, and some are appalling.