First and foremost, here's the answer to the question everyone seems to want to know: No, The Lost Symbol is not as good as The Da Vinci Code.
Now, down to business: In the interest of full disclosure, I was predisposed not to like this book, because I think Dan Brown is an egotistical tool and an untalented hack who got lucky once...but the more in-depth reasons behind that opinion is a subject for another post. Still, I tried to give the book as much of a chance as possible. I know The Lost Symbol isn't War and Peace, so I tried it enjoy it for what it is: A best-selling thriller.
I did my best. I really did. I suspended disbelief. I ignored the obvious plot holes...the Architect of the Capitol doesn't have a key to the front door? I looked past the annoying italics peppered throughout EVERY page, which are supposed to reveal characters' dramatic inner thoughts, but really just jar you out of the narrative. I even ignored the false-drama cliffhangers at the end of each chapter. (But when a dumb cliffhanger and an italicized thought were combined, I couldn't help but laugh out loud — eg. Katherine's destiny is to light this torch. Mine is to destroy it.) I really tried to enjoy it. I promise.
If you can get past all those faults, I suppose the story itself isn't terrible. Now-famous symbologist Robert Langdon speeds around Washington, D.C., deciphering encoded message after encoded message, hoping to save his friend Peter and stop a madman from revealing the Ancient Mysteries kept secret by the Masons for centuries. All the while, Langdon (and Brown) are constantly inserting little-known facts about various D.C. landmarks, as well as history, philosophy and religion. For instance, do you know the meaning of The Apotheosis of Washington (pictured above — click on the image for a larger view), which is painted on the ceiling of the US Capitol dome? That explanation is at the heart of Brown's point for the novel, so I won't spoil it here. But even with all of Brown's historical hmmmms, it still didn't feel like The Lost Symbol delivered the same level of drama and intrigue as The Da Vinci Code. Maybe that's because I was more prepared to be skeptical this time, and I kept asking myself, "Is that really true?"
And that was the biggest problem for me — I never trusted Brown to lead me through the story to a satisfying payoff. Trust is such an enormous part of the unwritten reader-writer contract — trust that you are in safe hands and the set-up and rising action will ultimately lead to a denouement that makes the time spent getting there worthwhile. Because of the clunky plotting and cliched writing, I expected to be let down at the end, so I never fully invested myself in the story. And so there was never a moment when I put down the book and thought, "Wow, I'm really enjoying this novel."
That said, I have to admit, there IS a payoff at the end. A cool twist, as well as a fairly interesting lesson in philosophy make the last 100 pages or so pretty enjoyable. But I didn't even realize I was enjoying them until the book was over and I was once again rolling my eyes at the cheesy last line.
Anyway, I'm glad I read it — just to be a part of the hype. Now, it's on to something I've been looking forward to all year — Last Night in Twisted River, by John Irving!
Have you read The Lost Symbol? What's your take?