Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol goes well with cheap wine, corn chips and reading into the morning

The-Lost-Symbol-3The most blockbustery blockbuster of the year found its way into my lap and with curiosity piqued (and a break needed from festival preparations) I indulged in one solid reading session – cover to cover – and was mainly intrigued, despite a few small snags.

In The Lost Symbol, Harvard Professor Robert Langdon is called to give a last-minute talk at the Capitol Building in Washington DC. But soon the severed, tattooed hand of his mentor is found, pointing at a painted ceiling; and a short bossy CIA agent becomes involved. Then come vaults and passageways and codes and clues and of course, danger.

Quite a few cornball descriptions snagged me (‘Then, like an oncoming truck, it hit her’) and I couldn’t help but be annoyed by the bland, asexual symbologist Professor Langdon, but this book is a rich puzzle of connections. Langdon’s purpose is to play out the reader’s fears and their scepticisms. From planted clues early on in the novel emerges a mix of Masonic myth and history, humanist thought, new age mind ‘science’, technology, art, and a really fun, despicable phoenix-tattooed eunuch villain.

Brown’s books contain oft-far-fetched but worthy conceptual considerations. In The Da Vinci Code it was the notion of the sacred feminine which kept me reading, despite the clunky writing. His writing here is smoother, though the (albeit interesting) bits and bobs about historical figures and information are still a little intrusive. Better than having them be expositional though. Though even with limited exposition, the dialogue is pretty cringeworthy. So many of the characters call men and boys ‘son’. People just don’t talk like that.

What isn’t amateurish is the phenomenally rich plot. And there is much that is original about this book, and about Brown’s work. I still think he’s nothing on Clive Cussler, if you’re going for far-fetched adventure (with a much more charismatic lead, in Dirk Pitt). But there are a few sequences in this book, which I really did not see coming. Brown’s other skill is connection – not just between plot points, but between concepts. ie. modern science and ancient mysticism, the similarities between different religions and belief systems (and the similar misunderstandings), the connection between this odd ‘science’ of Noetics (literally mind over matter) and computer metasystems, art and mathematics – plus concepts of language, knowledge, enlightenment, truth and power.

This book really is great fun and much more stimulating than a lot of the big-publisher-faff out there. I know it’s lame that some authors clog the shelves with their massive print runs and you get sick of seeing their covers in the hands of commuters everywhere, but I’ve never understood the weird logic of choosing not to read something just because it’s popular. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

16 thoughts on “Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol goes well with cheap wine, corn chips and reading into the morning

  1. Really love your heading-summary. I haven’t touched any Dan Brown myself, partly because it’s not a genre of much interest to me, partly because of feedback by a few friends whose opinions I value.
    But I do like wine. And corn chips. And reading into the morning. So now if I find myself alone with a Dan Brown book nearby, I may just get to know it better. Thankyou!

  2. Well you piqued me. Sounds like Brown may be improving. I was entertained by “Angels & Demons”, but only because it had some of the most ridiculous plotting and dialogue I’ve even witnessed (including the worst pre-credit sequences from Bond movies). “Da Vinci Code” was an improvement but annoyed me because of Brown’s marketing tactic of insisting that all the “revelations” were based in fact. May have to seek out “Lost Symbol” on audio book; sounds like it would be good for a long trip.

  3. Current Facebook stream (names protected):

    KK: do you have nothing better to do?

    KK: ok so I don’t refuse to read things because they are popular. I am reading Revolutionary Road and that is popular. But I tried to read Da Vinci and it made me angry. It was the worst thing I have tried to read since my teens.

    CJM: What happened to you? I am slicing my wrists here …

    AR: also slicing wrists. lol.

    PG: it’s been a very predictable book so far, i have not much left to read.

    KR: I guess I admire your patience. I would have slammed the book shut at “like an oncoming truck, it hit her”, or before. Like Krissy, I don’t avoid a book because it’s popular, but I will avoid a book if it’s poorly written.

    KR: Too many good books to read, not enough hours…

    Angela Meyer: KK – how good is Rev Road? Love that book. AR – shut up, Mr vampire books.
    And GUYS I don’t watch TV – can’t I have ONE guilty pleasure. Geez.

    CF: Never read any Dan Brown, but that’s a good, honest review.

    Angela Meyer: Thanks CF.

    KR: heh… and honesty begets honesty, albeit kind of crotchety for the most part. 🙂
    Angela Meyer: Honesty is always welcome, crotchety or not! 🙂

  4. Thanks Angela, this review is as much as I need to read of the book!

    Yes, I’m a freaking anti-Brown snob – why? probably for the same reason I hate the Nick Cage National Treasure films and the last Indiana Jones film, but loved Raiders of the Lost Ark.

    I hated the associated crud that accompanined The Da Vinc Code – as though it was some sort of non-fictional work.

    I enjoy books with fast plots, but spare me the pretensions of Brown. (I agree with you about Cussler)

  5. See, I got more of a Raiders of the Lost Ark-feeling from this, rather than a National Treasure-feeling. Lots of fun. But fair enough!

    People will do the same thing with the Masonic stuff in this, as they did with the Holy Grail stuff in TDVC. And with the Noetics biz. I can understand your annoyance at the associated hoopla. It’s like ‘it’s fiction people’. He’s good at making all those little connections though! And it’s ironic, when you think about it, because one thing he’s trying to do is make people consider religions and ideologies on a deeper (more sceptical) level, but then they take up this newly constructed fictional ideology with gusto! Amusing.

  6. I read the Da Vinci Code at a mate’s office. My mate is an IT dude and was busy doing some work and asked me to entertain myself. I found a copy of the book on his bookshelf and found myself mesmerised. I just couldn’t put it down. I didn’t find the writing clunky at all. Maybe it’s just me.

  7. I actually thought this book was a lot worse than his earlier stuff. The first 100 pages use the most hackneyed methods to try and induce suspense in the reader, and I only reached past 100 pages after some serious page-flipping.

    My father is an avid Dan Brown reader — I think he likes to believe that everything in the world is one big Catholic conspiracy, and I despair that this one will keep Dad Googling for months on all sorts of loose threads. Which I suppose works for many people too, and that’s why the book is so popular.

    I just think the shoddy writing is not excused by some good plot developments – he’s creating his own stereotypes, for crying out loud. It’s like he’s competing with no one but himself, and losing. A remarkable achievement.

  8. Hi Pallavi – relates to my earlier comment: ‘it’s ironic, when you think about it, because one thing he’s trying to do is make people consider religions and ideologies on a deeper (more sceptical) level, but then they take up this newly constructed fictional ideology’.

    That’s cute about your dad going on google-loop for all the references in the books.

    You found it worse that his earlier stuff though? by ‘stuff’ does that mean you’ve read them all? Can I ask why you keep coming back? It was mainly curiosity that got me.

  9. Ummm going by the last paragraph in your lovely review, I just ask that you don’t look at the Oscar Wilde quote on my website.

    I’m a self-proclaimed try hard snob. That being said, maybe we use snobbery to hide our jealousy of the multi-million book selling author. *shrugs*

  10. If something gets printed and read so much, there’s no need for me to read it — I can just pick up the resonances of other people’s responses and figure it out from that. Prefer to discover something that’s underappreciated, so I might help to fix that, see for instance my latest reviews: http://bit.ly/Q7mu5 and http://bit.ly/rfXEC

    PS always reminds me of an idea of this pseudo-scientist whose name I forgot. I think he suggested a concept called “morphic resonance” (or somehting similar) whereby when many people think (or read) the same thing, it produces a kind of radiowave that others can pick up 😀

  11. Irfan – thanks for your refreshing comment, nothing wrong with you at all.

    Elena – you should stick to your guns! If you don’t like something, tell people. And if you do, be honest about it. I refuse to pooh-pooh something just because all my friends/peers might. If I enjoyed it overall, then I did!

    Michael – happy to have your review links there. I love to discover something unappreciated also, as you know from reading this regularly. The ‘morphic resonance’ relates strangely to this book – not just in the way you mean, but in Brown’s exploration of ‘Noetics’ and metasystems. He encourages the idea of the power of a collective thought.

    Grog – thanks! Already on the ol’ list.

  12. I have actually read all of his stuff so far; I had started off with Digital Fortress, which along with Deception Point I thought was fairly alright and typical of the genre. I’m not a big fan of the genre, and I only picked it up at the time because of a pop fiction phase I was going through.

    What brings me back…? I like conspiracy theories, and certainly the mythological spiritual symbolism themes are one of my favourite, and like you said, Brown is good at connecting a lot of seemingly irrelevant dots. He just needs some good writing lessons!

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