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Chuck Wendig
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Samuel R. Delany
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Inferno

Inferno - Dan Brown Earlier in this blog, I mentioned that the works of Preston & Child are a guilty pleasure of mine. In my mind, I envision them like potato chips: tasty and crunchy, yes, but not something that I could live on exclusively. Dan Brown is another guilty pleasure, but in this case, I envision his books like a convenience store microwave burrito: borderline tasty, something I thought I would like more than I actually did, and something I regretted a soon as I started eating it.

Don't get me wrong, and don't think that I'm jumping too quickly on the "Dan Brown is a hack" bandwagon. His books are quick, compelling reads, but they're nothing that hold up under much scrutiny. Aside from his odd turn of phrase, and his need to put a bunch of unnecessary description throughout the narrative, he seems to be in love with the interrobang (?!). I mean, that sucker was everywhere in the first 50 pages, since Robert Langdon was suffering from amnesia and finding it hard to believe that people were shooting at him (?!), he was in Venice (?!), and he seemed to be carrying something that he didn't even know about (?!). It's been a long time since I've taken a creative writing class, but I remember hearing that you wanted to limit the number of exclamation points you used in your dialogue. Not only that, but every time I saw one of those things (and I really should have kept track of them, because they were everywhere), I was reminded of a teenager communicating on Facebook. It doesn't help Brown's reputation as a hack that he overuses the exclamation point and the interrobang in such a short amount of time.

Like The Lost Symbol, there was a lot of character inconsistencies as the main characters would often flip-flop between knowing everything and knowing nothing as the plot required it. Characters remember critical details in the weirdest, most convoluted ways possible, to the point where I was reading this story, thinking Why is anyone buying this? And am I the only one who would probably slap the shit out of someone like Robert Langdon in real life if I ever had to put up with more then ten minutes of his pompous, condescending, ingratiating tone of being the smartest man in the room? How in the world is this guy supposed to be a sympathetic character?

Oh, I forgot: he isn't. There is absolutely no character development in the way of Robert Langdon in this novel. The novel just starts with him coming to in a hospital, with no recollection of the last two days of his life. Brown apparently expects us to know exactly who this guy is, for having read the other books in the series. I get it -- folks who read this book most likely read the other books and already know who he is, so why waste the effort in giving us any additional background on him? The problem is that it's a lazy way to write a story, and one that's, frankly, insulting to the reader. Plus, in other series with continual characters, there's at least some development in the way of the characters that changes their outlook on things; Robert Langdon is just a shell of a character who's defining traits lie in his condescension.

Brown's style of writing is tedious, too. A key element to the story is the existence of a video, which we see played about seven different times. I mean, it could have been something like, "So-and-so watched the video, and felt disturbed," and then later "So-and-so showed thus-and-such the video, and both had concerns," and then yet later, "Thus-and-such passed the video on to whatshisname to watch and ponder," and so on, until it gets to the final reveal of the video when it's finally necessary to know all the details. Instead, we get to see this video play out a number of times, always with the same bit of detail, and always with the same reaction of the persons viewing it.

The story is one of a lot of unbelievable sequences of events, culminating in possibly the dumbest reveal I've read since Son of Rosemary (and no, if I'm being honest, it's not as bad as that train wreck -- nothing could be as dumb and ridiculous as that piece of shit novel). At that point, it veers away from "Okay, this is a little ridiculous, but I'm still along for the ride" territory, and straight into "OH MY GOD is he seriously expecting me to buy this crap? (?!)" land. If were Robert Langdon, I might take this moment to expound on what the willful suspension of disbelief is and how far you can take it (in my most condescending, know-it-all voice, of course), but I'll refrain. Suffice it to say, the novel gives us a great example near the end of the book.

I'll give Brown credit for two things: first, he does manage to give the additional characters (protagonists and antagonists alike) enough background to make them more than just a shell; and second, thrillers and action novels sacrifice characterization for plot. I get that, but Brown doesn't give us any reason to care about what happens to Langdon. And when you can't care about your main character, there's no emotional connection to him, and there's no reason to worry over the conflict that becomes the story. I mean, I've defended this guy for being a good storyteller, if not a good writer, but now I'm not even sure if he's that.

So. Is Inferno an intriguing read? Yes. Is it a compelling read? Yes. Is it an interesting read? Eh. Without the connection through the main character, it's just too hard to give a crap one way or another what happens in the story. Brown has proven that despite his odd writing style, folks will flock to any new release and buy them up and keep him rich and happy. Hell, up until this book, I was one of those people. But not again. Angels & Demons was good, and The da Vinci Code was good, but everything after that has just been more of an example of how piss-poor of a writer he is. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.