Book Review: The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Why is she reading this? you may ask. Trust me, I wouldn't have gone out of my way to read a Dan Brown book. Several years ago I read "The DaVinci Code" and enjoyed it tremendously. Then I went back and used it for a writing exercise. You were supposed to copy several paragraphs from a book you'd enjoyed reading and then try to emulate that style in a paragraph of your own.

Oh. My. Word.

The pace of "The DaVinci Code" is so hectic that I'd never noticed the poor quality of the writing. The subject was fascinating (to me) and certainly controversial. It was a pretty good yarn.

I tried a couple of his other books, but the only thing that stood out was the same poor writing. And they didn't have the hook of "The DaVinci Code." I stopped reading anything he'd written. So why did I read this book? Well, the Friends of the Pima County Library had a book sale two weeks ago and, for two bucks I figured I couldn't go too far wrong. Besides, "The Lost Symbol" has been on the bestseller list for a long time, so it must have something to recommend it, right?

Uh, no. I kept thinking that if I had submitted writing like this to my critique group, it would have come back with deletions and highlights all over the place. For example, from page 377:
Outside the tank, her voice muffled but audible, Katherine could be heard tearfully begging for Langdon's release. . . . He scanned the grid intensely, searching for some clue . . .
With each passing second, Langdon had begun to feel an eerie numbness overtaking his body. It was as if his very flesh were preparing to shield his mind from the pain of death. The water was now threatening to pour into his ears, and he lifted his head as far as he could, pushing it against the top of the crate. Frightening images began flashing before his eyes.
Well, you get the idea. Adverbs. Passive voice. Beginning and as if. It makes me wonder. Agents, editors, and critique partners would ding a newbie writer for not using stronger verbs and for so many weasel words. But obviously the reading public doesn't have the same opinion. So how did Dan Brown get this stuff past the gatekeepers and onto the bestseller lists?

The technical stuff isn't the only thing I had a problem with. For one thing, there were just too many puzzles. One would be solved, only to reveal that there was yet another puzzle. It got tedious. I skimmed the end of the book, wanting to finish it but not really interested.

I wasn't really interested because a lot of the end was an infodump. Now, he didn't put all this background information at the beginning, so I guess Dan Brown gets points for that. But all the explanations at the end also got tedious. Did I really need to know all these details? Not really. But, in one last gasp to use his research material, Dan Brown seemed to want to cram as much in as he possibly could.

And, finally, one of the big reveals at the end was something I'd figured out almost from the beginning. I couldn't believe that it would be that transparent, but it was.

I don't like to write scathing reviews, but I suppose Dan Brown won't be too upset by this one. His fame and his bank account will certainly cushion the blow. And the Friends of the Library will be getting another book to sell (again).

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