Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Five Thoughts About Dan Brown's Inferno

1. Is This The Same Guy? Right off the bat, I have to ask: Why doesn't Robert Langdon ever reference his previous adventures?! Wouldn't you think it'd be a huge credibility booster (and probably score some points with the cute lady he's running with here) to drop into conversation something like "Well, I did save the world once before from an anti-matter toting lunatic, so this time it should be no sweat" or "Remember that time I discovered that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene? That was pretty cool." But, no. Nothing. All we get is that he's still a symbologist, and he's still claustrophobic.

(I totally understand there's something beyond Langdon's control going on here. Dan Brown and Dan Brown's publisher wants each of the four Langdon novels to be self-contained so readers won't feel like they have to read the others to know what's going on. I assume that's the case. Right? Still...)

2. Bad Writing Is Badly Written: On the plus side, a reference to Langdon's claustrophobia (and according to this fantastic Book Riot post — Inferno By The Numbers— there are 13 such references) provided fodder for, by far, my favorite unintentionally comic passage in the novel. You ready? 

Landon shrugged, “Your plane needs windows.”
She gave him a compassionate smile. “On the topic of light, I hope the provost was able to shed some for you on recent events?”  

Now, I know you don't read Dan Brown to be achieve literary enlightenment. Still... Oh, and here's another one — because you can't not gently chide Dan Brown's writing without pointing out one of his oh-so-dramatic italicized thoughts. So, here is my favorite:

Only one form of contagion travels faster than a virus, Sinskey thought. And that’s fear.

(You can practically hear the dramatic music behind the text, can't you?!

3. A Mini-Review: So, how is the actual novel?  If you like Dan Brown, you'll probably like this — it's a novel generated directly from the Dan Brown Plot Formula. Only the names and places have been changed. This time, we're in Florence and the puzzle and clues are Dante Alighieri- and Divine Comedy-themed.

Our good buddy Robert Langdon wakes up in a Florence hospital, having no memory of how he got there. And so he has to re-solve all the mysteries he solved the previous evening before he was shot in the head, which apparently caused his memory lapse. It's The Hangover, Part 4, Starring Robert Langdon! (And as much fun as that might, it's not — it's a little silly and seems a tad contrived.) And so we lucky readers get to follow him around, as he's chased by an assassin and evil government forces, trying to remember what the hell happened last night.

But soon, a larger issue emerges. As The Lost Symbol was "about" Noetic Science, Inferno's about world overpopulation. And the question is: Will Langdon solve the puzzle in time to stop a madman hell-bent on creating a 21st century plague that will effectively thin the herd, as the Black Plague did in the 14th century (which, incidentally, lead to the Renaissance)?

Langdon's sidekick is the beautiful, brilliant but troubled Sienna Brooks. Since Dan Brown needs to have Langdon tell us things in conversations with other people, Dr. Brooks is the unwilling victim of this edition of Langdon's Mansplaining. Anyway — away we go from Florence, to Venice, to Istanbul, and this time, Brown's even got a few tricks up his sleeve. Not everything is as Langdon assumes. (Dramatic music, again.)

4. Dan Brown's Italy: Along the way, Brown takes an inordinate amount of time (usually at the beginning of each chapter) describing each and every landmark he thinks we should know about. So a lot of this novel reads like a travelogue — which prompted this tweet, which is so accurate I'm mad at Jeff for thinking of it first:
(If you're not familiar, here's who Rick Steves is.)

This tour-guiding put a rather fierce dent in my enjoyment of this novel. I even skimmed a bit. And I never skim. 

5. The Divine (Unintentional?) Comedy: When this novel is funny, both unintentionally and intentionally, it's VERY funny. In one scene, Langdon is trying to talk his publisher into letting him use the company's private jet. And the publisher tells him his books don't sell well enough to give him jet privileges: "If you want to write Fifty Shades of Iconography, we can talk." That is legitimately funny.

One recurring theme I also found hilarious is how condescending Mr. Langdon seems to be in this one. For example, there a few times in the early parts of the novel when the supposedly genius Sienna doesn't know something Langdon does. And so Langdon thinks (in a signature italicized aside): "Nice to know a 208 IQ can be wrong sometimes." Whoa, there, fella?! What's with the 'tude?!

So, to sum up: This is my least-favorite Dan Brown novel since Digital Fortress — which wasn't a Langdon novel, but which is my no-hesitation answer to the "worst book I've ever read" question. If you're curious, here would be my order of Dan Brown Langdon novels: The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons, The Lost Symbol, and then Inferno. I really struggled to get through Inferno — I was just bored a lot of the time.

What did you think?


  1. "Only one form of contagion travels faster than a virus, Sinskey thought. And that’s fear." Ah yes, you can hear the DUN DUN DUN music.

    I'm pretty sure I'll be skipping this one. I'm definitely sure that your review was more entertaining than the book ;)

  2. On the plus side, reading this novel led one of my students to read The Inferno by Dante Alighieri. So there's that....

    1. That's a MAJOR plus - wonder if that happened frequently.

    2. i read this novel after reading angels and demons. if it were so bad as the review says , it obviously would have created a contrast effect comparing with angels and demons, but it did not. I mean both are fantastic when the main ideology of the respective novels is taken into account. And , of course dramatic dialogues are an essential part of any thriller, pointing to that Sinskey dialogue ridiculed by Jennifer. What I like about Dan brown is that , he persuades me to think something beyond myself and leaves me with some kinda impression which lasts for atleast few days of reading the novel.

  3. Truth -- especially #2. And thanks for the link to 'Inferno By The Numbers' -- more fun than the book itself.

    Another of my favorite quotes: '"I'm American," Langdon assured her, too exhausted to explain his preference for well-tailored clothing.' BOOM!

  4. I really really wanted to like this. I did not think it would turn out to be literary gold, but I thought I would enjoy it. As student of medieval history, Dante geek,an d with an odd fascination with the Black Death, I was sure I would enjoy myself. But, for all of the reasons you point out, it was just another Langdon caper. What killed it for was the plot twist. This was so unnecessary and farfetched, I gave up. I learned my lesson

    1. please do not trust this review, i have read it........and if you are a Dante geek, you will truly like it

  5. Very nice blog, I have also my one in spanish and I want to invite you to join it: http://infernofirenze.blogspot.com.es/

  6. I, too, am a Dante geek, and I loved this book. The publishers also obiously love Dan Brown's books, or he would not be making 76 million a year.
    Darlene, Georgia