Booktopia’s Andrew Cattanach has thrown himself into Dan Brown’s latest blockbuster. Read what he thought of all the hype .
(Scroll to the bottom to see the three lucky people receiving copies signed by Dan Brown).
How peculiar a world that seems content to throw billions of dollars at Adam Sandler dressing up as a woman to play his twin sister, yet derides an author because they offer more substance than style.
As an author Dan Brown has made no secret of being an excellent maths teacher. Where other writers of similar ilk go on speaking tours and blog about their genius, Dan Brown has chosen a life away from his millions of fans. To the outsider he appears nearly embarrassed at the juggernaut he’s created, one of the few authors without the names “E.L” and “James” to constantly be a hot topic of mainstream media everywhere.
While criticism of some of his peccadillos are warranted, Brown’s prose is one of necessity rather than sheer beauty. He trades in twists and turns, not poetry. But therein lies his greatest strength. He knows his limitations and builds a story with the discipline that few writers possess. Certainly not me, as I so often find what I once thought was a moving, transcendental passage I’ve written one day, to be pretentious gibberish the next. This passage is starting to become a prime example.
With Dan Brown, the story is everything. He prefers to be heard, but not seen.
Which brings me to Dan Brown’s latest book, the much-anticipated Inferno. Released this week to a typically split audience. While pages are still being turned hurriedly in homes around the world, those who have read it appear to either love it or hate it. Ironically Dan Brown has always buttered his bread on the uncertainty of his characters ultimate intentions save for his constant hero Robert Langdon, and Inferno is no exception.
Langdon wakes groggily from a nightmare in a hospital, with no memory of how he got there. Told by doctors at his bedside he was attacked, they are interrupted by another attempt on his life. He escapes with a blonde (but is she?) doctor (but is she?) who is completely puzzled by all the commotion (but is she?). He finds a small cylindrical object in a hidden compartment in his jacket, and they begin to put the pieces of a doomsday plot together.
From there a sort of Indiana-Jones-meets-Antiques-Roadshow Treasure Hunt commences, the likes of which have captivated audiences for over a decade.
This runs parallel to a subplot involving the shadowy organisation “The Consortium”, which Brown says is a real organisation but has changed their name for secret societal anonymity. The Consortium’s sinister leader Zobrist shows his hand as a classically evil mastermind, intent on destroying the world to help it. Unfortunately, he’s a bit of an overreach as a believable villain, forever one stroke of a white cat away from being sued by the estate of Ian Fleming.
The upside of the character is his reason for world annihilation is actually a clever and original concept. It is much more in line with the themes of Dante’s Inferno than most of the book is (the main allusion seems to be that much of it is set in Florence). Langdon’s recurring nightmares also serve as a hint to what he must save the world from. But will he? You’ll need to follow shootouts, poisonings, shifty looks, secret passages and occasionally turn your book sideways and upside down to find out.
If you were wondering what camp of readers I fall into with Dan Brown, I like him. Yes, I’ve sat in lecture halls and studied the classics, and yes, his writing is far from great. But that’s not his job. Not all reading is about existential discovery. Sometimes people just read for pleasure, guilty or otherwise. And Dan Brown is a big bowl of ice cream in bed with the curtains drawn. Nothing wrong with that.
Why read Inferno? Let me put it this way. My favourite film is Citizen Kane. But sometimes I like to watch Caddyshack II, because I can’t watch Citizen Kane every night. I know Citizen Kane is a better film, but sometimes I just like to see Chevy Chase play golf with hilarious consequences. Because it’s fun. Not better, just fun.
The sooner we stop reading for fun, the sooner we stop reading at all. And we can’t have that now can we?
UPDATE: Thanks to all the people who pre-ordered a copy of Inferno and went into the draw to win one of three signed copies by Dan Brown. The winners are:
M. Rodriguez, Artarmon, NSW.
P. Duncan, Clermont, QLD.
N. Nolan, Bundoora, VIC.
Andrew Cattanach is a contributor to The Booktopia Blog and was shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping though finds it difficult to do them all at once.