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Cynical Review: Inferno (Dan Brown)

I’m slightly uncomfortable about admitting publicly to having read a Dan Brown book as recently as over the last couple of days. Needless to say, I did not buy this book for myself or take any initiative whatsoever with the purpose of reading it. As a matter of fact, it was a gift (Well, I don’t care if you don’t believe me – it fucking was). Specifically, it was a Christmas present from my mother, which means that I had the ultimate to-read obligation on my hands. That being said, I’m not blaming my mother at all. Like she said: “I know you liked some of his other books”. And I did. When I was thirteen. I guess the subject of Dan Brown just hasn’t popped up in any of the conversations we’ve had since 2005. As a matter of fact, I liked a lot of things when I was thirteen that I currently (Age 24) have less enthusiasm for, including Family Guy, Eminem, and porn actresses with big fake plastic tits. This was not what I told my mother, as I felt that a “Wow, you remembered that? That’s impressive, thank you so much Mum!” was more appropriate.

me-and-13-venn

I want emphasise that this is not at all a judgement on people who do like reading Dan Brown. But it is hard not to interpret that as a symptom of someone who would much rather watch a movie than read a book. Which is absolutely fine, I just think people should be honest about these things.
This is Inferno in a short summary: A possibly deranged genius biologist (Who dies) has developed something that might or might not be a big deal, but it probably is, and we’ll definitely find out within the near future. For some reason, he has also left a series of esoteric clues and riddles around some of Europe’s most prominent classical art centres, leading to where his possibly dangerous thing can be found and hopefully destroyed. Enter Robert Langdon, Harvard professor with a photographic memory and a pornogaphic obsession with the type of cultural artifacts that he keeps running into during his geographically convenient adventures. This time around, he suffers from amnesia and can’t remember what he’s been up to for the last few days, or why he’s in Florence. Of couse, the reason he is in Florence is that Dan Brown needs antique and artsy scenery to describe in painfully slow and condescending detail. Langdon teams up with Sienna Brooks, the mandatory Dan Brown character with extremely exaggerated traits. She’s a former child prodigy with a vague brain condition that gives her an IQ of 208, and yet she makes most of her decisions based on emotional whim rather than her brilliant mind. Also, she’s involuntarily bald, so she wears a wig. Together, they try to solve the riddles and stop the mysterious biologist, which they probably would have a better shot at if Langdon didn’t constantly get distracted by the renessaince props around him, pointlessly describing their aesthetics and origins to himself.

In an even shorter summary: “This episode of Dora The Explorer for adults has been brought to you by Visit Italy.”

Inferno is Dan Brown at his most danbrownian. The book actually deals with some really interesting themes, mainly the ethical problems around solving the overpopulation problem as well as transhumanism. I think you can bet your testicles and/or ovaries that he’s actually taken an excessive bit of inspiration from George R.R. Martin’s sci-fi masterpiece Tuf Voyaging, one of my favourite books of all time. Note that I, in all my benevolence, am calling it “inspiration” rather than plagiarism, when both could reasonably apply. But whereas Martin can deal with any issue through the medium of an unprecedently good story, Brown desperately hurls a series of fast-moving objects at the reader, hoping to distract them from the complete lack of sense in between.

Dan Brown checklist

  • Start off with a theme that’s actually quite interesting
  • Introduce characters with absurdly hyperbolic features
    • You know, self-flagellating religious fundamentalist albino assassins, that kind of stuff
  • Insert as many obscure riddles with references to European classical art as you can (NB: These do not have to serve any purpose for the story whatsoever)
  • Make sure that the pace of the action camouflages the ridiculousness of the plot
  • IS IT HOLLYWOOD-FRIENDLY?

At this point, you might very reasonably ask why this book is called “Inferno”, a reference to The Divine Comedy. Well, Dan Brown. That’s why. You see, there is absolutely no reason for why the ethically ambiguous antagonist would leave a series of clues around the city of Florence leading to the planned ground zero of his creation. No reason. Except of course, for the fact that Tom Hanks brings in some serious box office moolah. Therefore, Robert Langdon must be in the book. And therefore, the author needs to shoe-horn esoteric riddles in a renaissance city into the story to justify why Robert Langdon is in the book. And therefore, Dante Alighieri. And therefore, Inferno.

tom-hanks-pie-chart

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