It's the middle of the night in Florence, Italy. Robert Langdon, Symbologist!, awakes in a hospital room with no idea of where he is or how he got there. The doctors fill him in: he stumbled into the hospital with a gunshot wound to the head and passed out, muttering incoherently. Robert's suffering from amnesia and the last thing he remembers is sitting at home in Cambridge, Mass., chilling with a bottle of Tanqueray and a novel by Nikolai Gogol. Or was it Bombay Sapphire and something by Dostoyevsky? Either way, the only thing any of us know is that Robert Langdon really needs to work on improving his social life, and possibly cutting back on the gin. Then someone walks into the hospital and starts shooting at him! What-the-what? Fortunately, Robert escapes with the help of an attractive female doctor. Now all he has to do is figure out how he got to Florence, why he's even there, and why someone is trying to kill him. Mysterious!
When I started Inferno, Anachronist from Portable Pieces of Thought asked me if I wanted to discuss it with her. Something you should know about Anachronist is that she hates Dan Brown novels (you can read her review of Inferno on her blog today, incidentally), whereas I tend to enjoy them even though I think they're ridiculous. So what did each of us think of Inferno? Read on to find out!
So, what did you think?
Heidenkind: Uhg. Well, I will say this: it was better than The Lost Symbol (my review), and the beginning was pretty strong. But by the end I was just SMH.
Anachronist: In my opinion it was the worst Dan Brown I’ve ever read. Either the editor was completely drunk/high while doing their job or...I dunno. It is almost fascinating to observe Mr. Brown going from bad to worse - like watching an accident and not being able to turn your head and walk on. I hated The Lost Symbol but this one I simply loathed.
Heidenkind: I had the same thought. Where WAS the editor? I have to say I was in a pretty foul mood by the time I finished this.
Anachronist: Small wonder.
What was your favorite part?
Heidenkind: The scenes where Langdon and Sienna (nice shout-out to Florence’s rival city there) were in the Palazzo Vecchio were really fun. I’m a total sucker for secret passages. I need to get on some of these VIP tours Langdon’s got going.
I also thought Florence was very well-utilized as a setting. The other two locales, not so much.
Anachronist: Florence scenes were nice, plus every mention of Vayentha, one of the secondary characters I felt in love with made me grin. She was of course killed. Murdered in fact. And she was INNOCENT, got it people? Completely innocent! Be warned: Brown murders innocent women in his books!
Heidenkind: At least she wasn’t bald. ;)
Anachronist: no, she was blond with short, spiky hair. I loved her motorcycle! I loved her! And then my least fav author simply finished her off. How not to hate him?
Heidenkind: Well quite frankly, there were a lot. There were metaphors that simply made no sense, and the book needed to be edited down a lot. I don’t need to be told the same thing three or four times before I get it, you feel me? At some point I started wondering if Brown thinks his readers are idiots.
Also, the art history tie-in didn’t fit very well with the rest of the plot this time around. The Dante mask, which isn’t really a work of art, was fine, but I’m still confused as to why Zobrist would use a painting by Botticelli to send a coded message. Why not just send a code in a gene sequence or something? Also, that code was pretty lame.
And the descriptions. Holy Mother of God. It sounded like Langdon was leading a tour group. “Welcome to Istanbul. Today we’ll be following Kennedy Avenue, said to be one of the prettiest drives in the city. On the right, you’ll see the Blue Mosque, said to be the inspiration for Disney’s Cinderella castle!”
I’m sure I’ll come up with more as I think about it.
Anachronist: Problems? *Snort* There was one major problem: this book shouldn’t have happened. It should have been written with a better plot and the narration which actually made sense. I didn’t even feel like looking for blunders anymore - it would be like kicking a defeated opponent. Honestly, Mr. Brown, your style doesn’t even deserve that name. I’ve read many fanfics which were 200% better - like 99% of them. I might start to think English is actually your second, nay, third language. In fact some parts of your book read as if they were copied and pasted straight from the more horrible Wikipedia entries. I can’t believe it was edited at any point.
Heidenkind: It wasn’t THAT bad. lol Maybe Brown’s contract states that his manuscripts don’t need to be edited, because he’s a literary genius. ;)
Anachronist: oh it was that bad. Honestly, I rarely read such pathetic books and if I do it’s only because from time to time my inner masochist rears its ugly head and roar for food, hungry little monster.
Okay, let’s break down the problems into things that are more specific. What did you think of the twist?
Heidenkind: I’m still trying to process it. Because on one level, I was like, “Okay...?” But when I really think about it I’m just like, “Wait... what?” It’s not that the twist didn’t make sense in the context of the book, because I can see that Brown set us up for it; it’s more that it was too incredible and complex to be believed. Also, even though I didn’t see it coming, I still wasn’t surprised by it, I think because Sienna is a sketchy character from the word go so I never trusted her like I did the yummy Camerlengo in Angels & Demons.
Anachronist: Sienna was bald. It was emphasized from the very beginning how bald she was - like completely bald and then some. It was done for a reason, folks. As far as I remember no bald Brown character has ever been up to any good so there was no twist in my opinion, not really. Think about the whole symbolism. A bald woman. Unnatural. A Freak. A Shocking beast. *nodding vigorously*
What about the conclusion with Zobrist’s “final solution?”
Heidenkind: Okay, I’m not a geneticist or virologist or anything, but this part really MAKES NO SENSE WHATSOEVER. Because people have more than one or two kids; that’s where overpopulation comes from! And infertile people still have surrogates carry their kids, or in vitro fertilization, et cetera. It’s not as if having a kid is like having a penis and you either get one or don’t depending on which chromosomes you inherit, so this plan to reduce the earth’s population has no chance of working. Unless Zobrist’s virus removed the biological imperative to procreate, in which case that would be cray.
I also liked how the director of the WHO was all, “Hey, that was actually a good idea! Why didn’t I listen to this mad scientist when I had the chance?” FAIL
Anachronist: FAIL, complete and total fail. You get it even if you know nothing about genetics and viruses. It was like Inferno which never managed to happen because wait, there is a sequel coming and our virile main lead, Saint Langdon the Sweetest, CANNOT BE sterile. Not before he gets a wife and a dozen kids. And he hasn’t married or engaged yet. And Sienna has to save the world somehow or die trying.
END OF SPOILERY TERRITORY
Heidenkind: I honestly wanted to like this book, but I just can’t. Like I said, it’s better than The Lost Symbol, but Brown was still really pulling his punches on this one, and that’s not going to work.
I think Dan Brown is a nice guy, and I think the controversy stirred up over The Da Vinci Code kind of traumatized him. And I don’t blame him for that. But that doesn’t mean one should write inoffensive literary pablum in response to it.
I just really wish he’d get pissed off about something and write about that so we’d have a book with some ideas and conviction.
Anachronist: I honestly wanted to hate this book and I wasn’t disappointed. My inner glee carried me through even the worst paragraphs and made me practically whistling with joy. Yes I enjoyed myself immensely thinking: “That’s it. Perhaps Dan Brown will get the message this time and leave the poor, tormented suspense and action literature be. It deserves better than that. It deserves a new Indiana Jones not Robert Langdon and his old tricks.”
I am not a delusional hater. I would shake hands with Dan Brown on the street. Maybe he is a good guy. Maybe he, like his favourite protagonist, professor Langdon, has a good heart (very deep down of course - look what he’s done to Vayentha!). He’s earned more than enough; I am sure any writer would be satisfied having such a bank account. Let him play golf and fly fish now. Let him crochet. His novels will be remembered - and loathed - forever. Imagine how many trees you can save by not publishing his next book.
Have any of you read Inferno? What did you think?
Discus this post with me on Twitter, FaceBook, Google+ or in the comments below.