45 Following


Goodreads refugee (http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/1257768-sarah) exploring BookLikes. 

Inferno - Dan Brown

Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate. Or something.

Statue of Dante by Enrico Pazzi, Piazza Santa Croce, Florence

When I took this picture a couple of months ago, I thought Dante’s dour expression must be because he was pondering the horrors of hell. Now I think it’s because he was dwelling on the ignominy of having his masterpiece turned into this Dan Brown novel.

By the fourth book in the series, the formula has been well-established: Robert Langdon, the intrepid Harvard professor and “symbologist,” must race against the clock to decode a series of obscure clues left by a madman to save humanity from destruction. The only thing surprising is that Langdon continues to be dumbfounded when he finds messages from shadowy cabals hidden in the pockets of his Harris Tweed. You’d think he’d be used to it by now.

Unfortunately, the book reads as part dressed-up travelogue, part Wikipedia entry. On the plus side, much of the discussion is about Florence, one of my favorite cities. Brown does name-check some good places (I’d agree with him that “No trip to the piazza [della Signoria] was complete without sipping an espresso at Caffè [sic] Rivoire.”) The problem is that these observations about Florentine tourist destinations are interspersed with scenes of our valiant heroes racing through the narrow streets, fleeing heavily armed paramilitary operatives who want to kill them. Langdon is never too distracted to pontificate about history and Renaissance art, but it's probably more likely that he would give the Frommer’s a rest during this particular tour.

Brown seems fixated on this statue of Hercules in the Palazzo Vecchio. It is rather. . . gripping. 

The real disappointment, though, is in the lost opportunity. A Dante-inspired thriller has a lot of possibilities, but this novel is strangely bloodless. It’s just a prolonged scavenger hunt that turns out to be pointless designed to show off all the places Brown researched. I’m sure he had fun doing the research, but he never gives us more than any decent guidebook would. Brown has so much potential material, with the city of Dante, Michelangelo, Machiavelli, the Medici, and Savonarola. What he comes up with, though, is bland and forgettable. His bad guy doesn’t come close to stacking up against either history’s bad guys or Dante’s imagination. I don't think anyone reads Dan Brown's books expecting literary masterpieces, but a little excitement and unpredictability wouldn't hurt anyone.

I did read, though, that they locked the translators for this book in a secret bunker in Milan while they toiled at their work. It’s perhaps a bit too easy to draw an analogy between that and The Divine Comedy, so I’ll refrain, but maybe it could be the seed for Brown’s next book?

Death mask of Dante Alighieri, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence. (Pivotal to the story. Or it would have been if Langdon's clue decryption actually made any difference to the outcome.)