My rating of The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown: 5.5 / 10
Publisher: Transworld (India / UK), Doubleday (US)
Price: Rs 699
Love him, hate him, you just can’t ignore him. Dan Brown is back…with his new novel The Lost Symbol. Initially titled The Solomon Key, the book was finally released on 15th September 2009. You intuitively know this book was going to smash a few records when you find a PDF ebook torrent of the book within hours of release (probably made easier by the fact that is was released as an ebook for the Amazon Kindle). The first few comments on such highly anticipated book releases are always from retards who shout “Fake!” without even bothering to check. I prowled around torrent sites for “You are a retard, <username of first commenter>” comments to pour in, and then got on to downloading the book once the I knew for sure this was the real thing. The hysteria has already started – The Lost Symbol has already broken the one-day adult fiction sales record and Washington tourism board has launched a special microsite dedicated to the novel. Heavens have mercy on us all.
In a way, Dan Brown is like the George Lucas of the publishing industry – he can make mega-hit books by the minute, but years down the line everyone will acknowledge his works as a piece of shit. Just like dear ol’ Chetan Bhagat. Here’s the ‘official’ description for The Lost Symbol:
As the story opens, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned unexpectedly to deliver an evening lecture in the U.S. Capitol Building. Within minutes of his arrival, however, the night takes a bizarre turn. A disturbing object–artfully encoded with five symbols–is discovered in the Capitol Building. Langdon recognizes the object as an ancient invitation . . . one meant to usher its recipient into a long-lost world of esoteric wisdom.
When Langdon’s beloved mentor, Peter Solomon–a prominent Mason and philanthropist–is brutally kidnapped, Langdon realizes his only hope of saving Peter is to accept this mystical invitation and follow wherever it leads him. Langdon is instantly plunged into a clandestine world of Masonic secrets, hidden history, and never-before-seen locations–all of which seem to be dragging him toward a single, inconceivable truth.
You know what this reminded me of? The interactive Dan Brown plot generator. I’m not kidding. While I was reading the book, I was truly irritated by how Dan Brown kept following the template of Mickey Mouse watch wearing professor + chick-and-professor-rolled-into-one love interest for Langdon + an assassin + secret society. He repeats Langdon’s backstory as to why he wears the watch, has claustrophobia, does laps of the Harvard swimming pool, etc etc every 30 pages – just to ensure that if you start flipping through the book somewhere in the middle, you have a ‘deep understanding’ of Robert Langdon’s character. I’ll keep the review spoiler-free.
Thing is, Dan Brown’s formula has worn down by now. After The Da Vinci Code this simply seems to be a half-hearted attempt to fulfill a publisher’s contract. Despite being riddled with plot holes, Dan Brown’s previous novels worked because they were fast-paced and exciting on their own accord. In The Lost Symbol, he tries to overdo this by making lame attempts to insert cliffhangers at the end of every five paragraphs. It’s not a compulsive page-turner. Another irritating bit is the overuse of italics. Every second line is in italics. This is done to ‘speak out’ the internal thoughts of a character. We readers love that, man, but for Christ’s sake don’t overdo it man. There is no need to emphasise everything.
Certain phrases are repeated way too often in the book. The number of times something ‘dawns’ on Langdon will make you think he’s orbiting the Earth in a space shuttle rather than moseying around in Washington DC. (Astronauts on a space shuttle see a new ‘sunrise’ / ‘sunset’ every 45 minutes, approximately the same time-frame in which some ‘startling revelation’ ‘dawns upon’ Robert Langdon.) Every time one of these ‘dawning’ epiphanies happens, Langdon becomes a walking-talking Wikipedia entry on said topic which caused of ‘revelation’. Poor Isaac Newton is once again dragged into yet another secret society (this time it’s the Invisible College) and becomes party to fiendish conspiracies. Between being the Grand Poobah of the Royal Order of Water Buffaloes, Freemasons, Invisible College, Priory of Sion, and whichever ‘secret society’ Dan Brown cooks up in his next novel I wonder when did Newton get the time to work out the laws of gravity.
Dan Brown does a volte-face to his attitude towards religion compared to his previous novels. Angels & Demons (the book, not the movie) had reasonably balanced Science vs Religion philosophical discourses. The Da Vinci Code came across as anti-Vatican despite not intending to. The Lost Symbol marks the complete surrender of Dan Brown to religion. The Bible, which was described in The Da Vinci Code as “The greatest story ever sold, rathe than the greatest story ever told“, metamorphoses into Dan Brown’s version of The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything. He does mention Koran, the Bhagvad Gita, Zohar et al too, but more in the tone of extras – bouncers at a nightclub while Jesus & Pals are having a party upstairs. For Freemasons who apparently believe in a non-religious deity, that’s a bit of favouritism, isn’t is Dan-san? Seems that Dan-san can’t take being heckled by bishops any more. Or maybe, like sleazeball Sony Pictures executives, he decided to start atoning for his ‘blasphemies’ in The Da Vinci Code. There is no way this book is starting any controversy. It sucks up to both Freemason and Church ideologies.
On the bright side, the novel does have parts where it shines – most of these involve the assassin Mal’akh and his sheer ruthlessness. As soon as your interest perks up, you’ll find it snuffed out by the standard Dan Brown template story. Even when there are twists in the story, you know there will be a twist – which means it doesn’t really catch you off guard. Like…’killing’ Robert Langdon somewhere after halfway into the novel. You know he’ll be brought back to life somehow, so you aren’t really surprised. If you did a double take in the last sentence at the ‘brought back to life’ bit, well, you’ll need to read the book to understand; the explanation, BTW, involves mice.
My criteria for whether I like a book is “Do I want to read it again?”. Dan Brown’s earlier novels met that criteria, because they were roller-coaster rides that kept you on the edge of your seat till the last page. You Lost Me At The Point Where Dan Brown Sucks Up To The Vatican is a more appropriate title for The Lost Symbol. Dull, irritating – but occasionally brilliant – you should read this book once just so that you don’t remain the only one not to read the book; beyond that, this is a book that must be given a quick burial.