Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Lost Symbol: Signifying Very Little

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?


  1. I totally agree with you that trusting the author is a major part of enjoying a book.
    If you can't trust the author, it's hard to fully invest yourself. And if you can't fully invest yourself, it's hard to really get into it and love the novel.
    I enjoyed the DaVinci Code and have no thoughts either way on Dan Brown (maybe he is an egotistical tool and an untalented hack; never really thought about it),. . .but I think I'm going to try to trust him to get me through this book when I finally do read it. Maybe then I'll like it more than you did.

  2. @brizmus - Good luck! I hope you enjoy it. I've talked with several people who really have. To each his/her own! ;)

  3. Ugh, I could barely get through the Da Vinci Code. Brown is such a hack, in my opinion.

  4. Hi Greg. I had the library copy in my possetion, but I had to send it back because I did not have time to read it. Now, I am not sure if I want to. I loved DaVinci and Angels and Demons. hmmm. I appreciate an honest review.

    Elie (Ellz Readz)

  5. @elnice - Hey, don't let me dissuade you! ;) If you like Dan Brown, give it a shot!

  6. ROFL! I wasn't too impressed with The Lost Symbol. I read it a few of weeks ago. Here's my review of it.

  7. That's too bad that you don't like Dan Brown. I can definitely understand your complaints about the man, but I have always enjoyed his books and I'm excited to get to read his story. Like you said, it is the bestseller of the year and I can't get away with not reading it. I'm waiting for the paperback to arrive though. Paperback is so much more portable.


  8. The only Dan Brown novel I've read is The Da Vinci Code and I read it after all the hype and couldn't quite figure out what the big deal was. People absolutely RAVED about it!

    I really enjoyed all the historical aspects but wasn't really interested in the dashing around, getting shot at, thriller parts of the story. What's funny is, when they revealed the theory that it was Mary Magdalene seated next to Jesus in the painting of the Last Supper, I was like "Yeah, isn't it obvious?" LOL, I wasn't raised religious so I didn't know who all the people were supposed to be, but I always thought that it was Mary.

    I might give this book a chance since my husband has a copy of it, but then again there are so many books in my TBR queue I probably won't make time for it.

    Thanks for the review!

  9. I feel about dan brown's books the way I feel about matthew rielly's - I know it ain't great but I just can't put the silly book down! with both these guys I often find myself jarred out of my reading rythym due to some ridiculous sentence, but overall I just love to escape into an adventure sometimes and these guys really do that for me.

  10. @fictionfanatic - really, the book is the same template as Da Vinci. They spend a lot of time running around, evading the authorities, deciphering codes. If you didn't much care for the "thriller" aspects of DaVinci, you'll HATE this book.

    @mummazappa - I haven't read Matthew Reilly at all, but the next time I need some good brain candy, I'll have to check him out. Any specific recommendations?

  11. I picked up my bro-in-law's copy a few weeks back and it didn't grab me at all - although this is probably because I have exactly the same opinions as you about Dan Brown and I expected very little from it.

    Having said that, my bro-in-law who was significantly more invested in it than I was hasn't been able to keep reading it. It's gone on the "Oh I'll finish that one day.... if I ever run out of things to do" list.

  12. Dan Brown shouldn't be in the same blog post as John Irving. ;-) I know, I know--that was the point. I'm looking forward to reading Irving's newest SO much!

  13. @SmallWorld - Ha - you're right, I hadn't even thought about that unintentional besmirching of Irving.

    Thanks for the comment!

  14. It will probably take me a long time to read this book. There are many other 'good' book to be saddled with seemingly mediocre work...but on the other hand, this is Dan Brown, how sucky can it be?

  15. I'll see what my husband thinks about it (but you're right, I probably shouldn't bother). I know he really liked Angels & Demons. How did you like that one?

  16. @fictionfanatic - A&D was just okay. I liked The Da Vinci Code much better. There were so many stupidly improbable parts of A&D it was hard to enjoy. Incidentally, I liked the A&D movie much more than The Da Vinci Code movie, partly because my friend Jeff was one of the Swiss Guards in the movie! ;) Have you seen the movies at all? Did you like them?

  17. Came over from Cym Lowell's Book Review Blog Party (BRBP).

    Read Angels And Demons a long time ago, and I think Dan Brown is a mediocre story-teller. Not bad mind, but not one of the best. So I was so surprised when I started seeing the hype about Dan Brown. Couldn't really see the reason for it. But kept my mouth shut because a lot of people seem to disagree with me.

    My Book Review Blog Party offering: