Inferno - Dan Brown
9 reviews from the community
Review of "Inferno - Dan Brown"
I'm Shaun Finnie, a freelance writer from Yorkshire. Please spare a moment to look me up on Amazon. Not that I'm short on book sales but....
Dan Brown is a very popular author. He is very good at research. He is very, very good at creating a fast-action, page turning plot. He has a formula which has worked in the past and he sticks to it like glue here. Start off with a bang. Take the hero (Robert Langdon in this case, the same guy from 'The Da Vinci Code') on a chase looking for clues and eventually meet up with the villain of the piece in a final conflict. It's time-honoured and all thriller writers could learn a lot from the way Brown structures his books. They're fast moving and have the reader wanting to read just one more chapter before putting the book down for the night.He is, however, very bad at actually writing an engaging story within that plot structure, one that has believable events and lovable characters. His 2013 novel 'Inferno' is perhaps the best example of this yet - which is another way of saying that it's perhaps his most formulaic and worst novel to date.
It starts off with the much-used story device of a hero with amnesia. Robert Langdon wakes up in a hospital to find he has been shot in the head and has no memory of recent events whatsoever. From there it quickly goes into chase mode as the Professor finds himself living through a version of Dante's famous poem, 'Inferno'. Langdon has to rush somewhere else before the bad guys get to him. Then he has to solve a puzzle. Then he has to rush somewhere else before the bad guys get to him…. if you've read any of Dan Brown's books then you know precisely what to expect and, when he does it well, they're quite fun reads. But this one isn't anywhere near as compelling as, say, 'The Da Vinci Code'. I found myself speed-reading chunks of it that were just running around until it was time for the next puzzle to arrive.If you know Robert Langdon from Brown's previous books then you'll be sad to find that nothing new at all is revealed about the hero in 'Inferno'. In fact more time is spent on describing Langdon's clothes and Mickey Mouse watch than his history or personality. He could be you or me. Perhaps that's the point? He's never described, his past is never mentioned and his family is never given a look-in. He's just a bloke to paper the story onto. However Langdon's new co-star in this novel, a lady called Sienna Brooks, has much more going for her. Brown gives her a history and a certain kind of brittle vulnerability which I really liked. Facts are revealed about her as the story goes along that make her interesting, much more so than the cardboard lead hero.
One thing that really lets this book down is its location. Whereas Brown's other "chase" novels have featured places that I've at least heard of and possibly even visited - Rome, London, Washington DC - this one is mainly set in Florence. I know that it says more about me than Brown and his novel but I wasn't even certain what country Florence was in, let alone had an in-depth knowledge of its many artistic delights that form such central sections of 'Inferno's storyline. 'The Da Vinci Code' partly worked because some of the clues he used in that book were in really well known works of art. 'The Mona Lisa'. 'The Last Supper'. The Bible, even. This time around Langdon finds what he needs to know by visiting such classical art as 'The Battle of Marciano' by Vasari and 'The Gates of Heaven' at the Florence Baptistry. They meant absolutely nothing to me and so detracted from the fun of the story. Remove that recognition factor and all you have is a fictional man studying a piece of art that might as well be just as fictional.And then we come to Dan Brown's much-criticised writing style. However popular he may be there's no doubt that Brown is a 'clunky' writer. There's nothing pretty about his work, he just lays the events out. "Robert saw a painting. The bad guys arrived. Robert noticed the secret door in the painting. Robert went through it to safety. The bad guys were left behind." It's perfectly adequate but sometimes it's like listening to an untrained school choir - you know that you should enjoy it but some of those notes are just completely out of tune. There's no finesse there at all. Many people can get past this, just the way that many people can get past the fact that Bob Dylan doesn't sing very well. Me, I have trouble with it (Brown's writing style, not Dylan's superb vocalisation), so much so that it detracts from what he's trying to say. It's like when someone's talking to you but they have a piece of spinach stuck between their teeth. What they're saying might be really interesting but you don't even hear it; all you can see is that piece of spinach. There's an excellent (if rather lengthy and cruel) parody of the way that Dan Brown writes here - http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/10049454/Dont-make-fun-of-renowned-Dan-Brown.html It sums up his repetitive simplicity to me.
One of the other things that annoys me about Brown's writing in this book and all his others is that he takes those hundreds of well-researched notes and insists of putting every one of them into his novel, so much so that it ends up reading like a series of Wikipedia entries glued together by his story. Plot and character should drive a good novel along but Brown seems to resort to giving every single detail about a location in an effort to blind the reader to the fact that over half of the book is just one long chase from some kind of church to another kind of church (via several art galleries - often hidden within churches). The reader needs enough information to get a sense of the place, not to know everything that the writer knows about it. That's not storytelling, it's showing off and it comes close to the worst sin any writer can commit - that of boring the reader. Dan Brown always does this but it's much more noticeable when he's not at his best. And I'm sorry to say that with 'Inferno' he is far from his best.Brown is the Status Quo of thriller writers. He has his three chords and he plays them expertly. But I have the sneaking suspicion that he can't quite stretch to a metaphorical B minor. All his books are pretty much the same and this one reads as if he's taken his "How to write a Dan Brown novel" checklist and worked his way through it…
- The list of "facts" which are just as fictional as every other word in his novel? Check
- The woman assistant who won't be around in the next book? Check
- The travelogue of locations that read like a Lonely Planet guide to the hidden recesses of some church or other? The character who turns traitor? The old documents that contain symbols that nobody has ever managed to notice and / or decipher before in thousands of years? Check, check and check.
If all of these things are what you expect and perhaps even love about a Dan Brown novel then you're not going to be disappointed by 'Inferno'. It's more of the same - much more, actually, coming in at almost 500 pages.
Everything that Dan Brown has ever written or will ever write will inevitably be compared to his masterpiece, 'The Da Vinci Code'. That book was such a monstrous world-wide best-seller because Brown took a fairly standard chase / thriller novel and wrapped it around a shocking and challenging central premise - the idea that Jesus of Nazareth may have fathered a line of children that continues to this day. He even had the audacity to claim this as "fact". This was a marvellous marketing move. It was cheeky, threatening to any number of establishments and personal opinions, and guaranteed to make headlines around the world. There is nothing so challenging here in 'Inferno'. Yes, the main idea is of a virus that could threaten life on earth as we know it (no spoilers here) but it's just the standard James Bond-style threat. You've read it many times before.Having said all that I'd like to end on a positive note. The finale of 'Inferno' actually surprised me, quite a lot. It was an unexpected twist, one that I didn't think Brown would ever make nor was even capable of. It's very satisfying but I don't think it makes up for the dullness of the previous 500 pages.
Product Information : Inferno - Dan Brown
Manufacturer's product description
Long Name: Inferno
Author: Dan Brown
Listed on Ciao since: 01/03/2013