I just finished reading Inferno, the most recent novel by Dan Brown. Even though I liked it the least of the four Brown novels I’ve read, I freely admit that it is a ‘page turner’. In my case, cover-to-cover, 460 pages. in about 48 hours
Brown has never been the darling of critics or intellectuals. Part of that is attributable to ‘sour grapes’ over his staggering level of success. According to Brown’s website, there are more than 200 million copies of his novels in print in 52 languages. Whatever the field, nothing invites critical condemnation faster than commercial success. Dan Brown is the Andrew Lloyd Webber of popular fiction.
Brown’s novels, at least the 4 I’ve read, have a formula:
- A person in some form of distress is the only one that has information necessary to prevent some really bad thing from happening.
- That information can only be found by solving clues, usually communicated by means of some nifty gadget, leading our intrepid hero on a treasure hunt through some famous, beautiful, and historic city.
- Art Historian and Symbologist Robert Landon is uniquely qualified to follow those clues because solving the riddles requires knowing a lot of arcane and esoteric things about art and symbols associated with some great master of something; art science, literature, whatever.
- Bad people try to stop him
- He’s assisted by a beautiful, but somehow troubled, young women who has some unique characteristics of her own that qualify her to help.
- The two of them, thrown together by danger, circumstances beyond their control, the ill will of others and the tides of history, fall in love, in a chaste, PG-13 sort of way, before they save the world.
In Inferno, the historic city is Florence and the ‘great master’ is the Italian poet, Dante.
Religious folks will be glad to know that this book does not include any criticism of the management of any of the world’s great religions.
The reason Inferno is my least favorite of Brown’s novels is because there weren’t enough bells and whistles. I would have liked more gadgets and clues. In the end, most of the clues are solved when Langdon has an epiphany and says something like; ‘Oops, now I remember…..’. This one reads like the movie script after they’ve dumbed-down the plot enough to get to the climax in less than 2 hours.
Does the fact that there is an obvious and predictable formula mean the works are not great art? Arguably, yes. Does the fact that there is an obvious and predictable formula mean they are not enjoyable entertainment? Absolutely not!. Anyone who has ever seen more than one Jerry Herman musical or Marx Brothers’ movie knows that. Dan Brown novels are like taking a familiar road trip with a good friend. You know the route. You know the destination. It’s the ride that makes it fun.