Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Book Review: The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

                This marks the third Dan Brown book I have read, the previous two being the initial novels in the “Robert Langdon Trilogy”, as it stands now.  These books are: “Angels and Demons” (2000), “The Da Vinci Code” (2003), and now “The Lost Symbol” (2009).
                For those unfamiliar with these bestselling books, or their plot(s), these books focus on the protagonist Robert Langdon, a professor of religious iconology and symbology at Harvard University, who in is called on to interpret ancient symbols to aid in resolving and preventing murders and national crises.  He delves into the secrets of religion and spiritualism discovering the hidden aspects of historic religion.
 Above I put “plot(s)” because after having read the trilogy I find that they all are essentially the same book, with the same elements and modes, the difference is found primarily in the research that Dan Brown focuses, the locations in with the book is places, and the objects in which are interpreted.  I created a list of common elements found in the books.
Characteristic

Angels and Demons
The Da Vinci Code
The Lost Symbol
Murder Investigation
X
X

Catholic Conspiracy
X
X

Science and Religion
X
X
X
Scavenger Hunt
X
X
X
Evil Sadistic Mastermind who wants to play with them giving them hints instead of just being evil
X
X
X
Symbolic Deaths
X
X
X
Misleads into thinking Robert is dead
X

X
Ascetics
X
X
X
Incapacity of Police
X
X
X
Beat the Clock scenario (or more people die)
X
X
X
Brilliant Romantic Interest (which can only be pursued if the system is cracked and the bad guy taken out, but even after this is done they never actually go anywhere)
X
X
X
Crack The Code and Puzzle Scenario
X
X
X
Antagonists to Protagonist Swaps (or vies versa)
X
X
X
Unexpected Twist (relating to family connections)
X
X
X
TELL ME OF MORE SIMULARITIES



                Aside from the fact that I feel like I read the same book three times, how was that book?  I enjoyed it the first time, and a little the second time, less so the third time.  There is a lot of action, fair amounts of suspense and wonder, and a pretty decent twist at the end of each book regarding familial connections. He deals with mystical teachings and generally unknown but accurate facts and tidbits. He then draws exiguous implications and possibilities from these singular and isolated facts drawing tentative possible conclusions.  For me the greatest wonder while I was reading his books was not the accuracy of his research but if in his book Dan Brown would accept the mystical claims of the subjects he was researching and which beliefs he would disregard as fallacious. 

My first objection to the book The Lost Symbol is that the book itself takes place in a space of 12 hours and the book itself is 528 pages.  That is almost 50 pages per hour, I have not tested my theory but I believe that it would be impossible to do what they did in 12 hours, with all the traveling that they had to do.

The plot is decent, but it is common for all the books.  Robert is lured to Washing D.C. where he is manipulated by an unknown man for unknown reasons eventually leading to Robert unveiling Masonic secrets and symbolism.  He explores various Masonic symbols and meaning imbedded in Washington D.C. and in US history,  gets his hands on many rare Masonic devices.  He is called upon to crack a century old code else his long time Masonic friend will die.  This night is a scavenger hunt to the death especially, beat the clock or people start dying. 

 As far as the characters go, I feel no real connection or attachment. Robert Langdon, the main character, is Dan Browns vision of himself, or of who he wishes he was; they share the same birthrate and birthplace.  He is omniscient, he knows just about everything about anything, is never wrong in his theories, and commands respect and honour from everyone as there is none that is his equal intellectually.  He cannot die nor can he be lectured too by other people. 

After three books I find myself tiring of this static character that rarely learns and never grows.   To illustrate my feeling towards him, there was a time in this last book where Robert Langdon appears to die, there seems to be no way he can still be alive.  As I read this I said to myself “Dan, if you actually killed Robert Langdon I would applaud you.”, I said this for two reasons, firstly because it would make me respect him as a writer more showing a little bit realism and meaning, the second because I growing annoyance of Robert Langdon.  The other characters are rather forgettable, with no true character development to be found.  Dan seems to try to attach you to the characters by threatening to kill them, which didn’t work for me, but only offered me false hope.

                The writing style is fairly weak; there are several moments in the book where the characters just stop in the middle of a time pressing chase or when there is great urgency and Robert stops and gives a well rehearsed 10 minute monolog to his audience on what everything means, the history behind it, alternative theories, what that means to him, and what he is going to do because of it. This is all done while a crazy axe murderer is running after them screaming at the top of his lungs (not literally).  But the prevalence of monolog (verbal or mental) and lecturing to Roberts inferiors seems to be Dan’s favourite way, if not the only way that he communicates vital information to his readers.  I often found myself feeling as if I were reading an encyclopaedia, references and all.  I have already talked about the similarity in his books, so I will not discuss it further here though it is a writing weakness of him.

                Despite anything the books may lack they are a good source to learn about conspiracy theories, random facts, and symbols.  They all have value if you want to wade through the speculations and poor drama. 

                Although not knowing much about Dan Brown I feel that I do through his books, I know his religious, political, and ethical values.  I know how he feels about Mason, Catholics, and various other religious belief systems.  Through reading his book you see into the man’s heart and honestly I am not that impressed. 

For those of you who have not read any of his work I would recommend reading Angels and Demons, I like this book the best of the three and it is a worthwhile book to read.  For those who have read one of his books, I would recommend you not read another as it will only disappoint you.  For those of you who have read two books, you probably don’t need my recommendation, only the knowledge that there is no writing difference in his third book.  For those of you who have read all three, my condolences and empathy.
The Da Vinci Code was so successful and well rated because at that point Dan was an unknown author, so those that read it were generally being exposed to Dan Browns books for the first time, but once you have read one of his books, you will find low motivation to preserver through another, and even less for a third.  When you do start one of his books though it is rather like someone who puts a bag of peanuts in front of you, you may not even like to eat peanuts but you do anyhow for some reason.  At the end of this last book I was relieved to start a new book.

P.S. This book will be made into a movie in 2012, right before the world ends(probably the subject of Dan Browns next book), so I would recommend only wasting 2 hours and watch it then instead of 20 hours reading it now.

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