Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Lost Symbol, AKA The Da Vinci Code II (Minus all that Jesus and Mary Magdalene Were a Thing Stuff)

Regular readers of Murphblog know that I don't often review books. The pretend reasons for this are as follows:

1. I consider them beneath me. (Reviews, not books.)
2. I'm a writer, Jim, not a reviewer!
3. I don't have the time.
4. Why should you care what I think about a book anyway?*

The real reason is I'm just not very good at writing them. And with that ringing self-endorsement, I present to you my review of Dan Brown's latest, The Lost Symbol.


Robert Langdon is back, although he mostly serves as a doubting Thomas who is constantly being told, "No, really, it's true. I'm telling you, it's totally true. Seriously, man, it is so true. It's like, never been more truer than it is right now." This happens about thirty times.

Why's he back? Because this bad guy needs him to solve a bunch of pretty cool codes and stuff. See, the Freemasons, which is basically a fraternity of old white dudes with lots of secrets, have this thing called the Masonic Pyramid that is thought to hold the Ancient Mysteries, which is basically some secret wisdom from back when people where lots smarter than they are today. And the bad guy wants that wisdom because wisdom is powerful, yo.


If you liked The Da Vinci Code, you'll probably like this. And the reason for that is simple: Brown basically Used the same structure and elements to tell a very similar story. I thought this was smart, since pre-Da Vinci, Brown's sales weren't all that fantastic, and there would have been a whole lot of angry people if his new book was, say, a romantic comedy. Give the people what they want, or at least what think they want, that's what I say.** The Wife, who hasn't read the book yet, thought it was a stupid decision and believes Brown, having been granted the gift of clout, should have been a little more bold. As usual, I'm right, which makes her not.

Here's what I liked about the book:

1. Pacing--yeah, it's long. Yes, there are some unnecessary scenes and even chapters (but they're short), but the book moves pretty swiftly and you almost always have reason to turn the page (until the end, which drags a bit).

2. The codes are cool.

3. Like Da Vinci, you learn a bunch of cool stuff. There's some history and some art and some tidbits about famous people and lots of stuff about Washington, D.C. Oh, and there's the Masons. Anyone with any curiosity can't help but google stuff from the book.

Here's what might drive you nuts:

The writing---Look, the writing isn't bad in the way most people's writing is bad. It's not like Brown misuses words and drops run-on sentences all over the place. It's just not very good. The most annoying thing is the confusing POV. It's in third person and each chapter is supposed to be told from the perspective of one of the characters. But Brown intrudes all over the place. If he needs to give you some background or explain the meaning of apotheosis he just goes ahead and does it, even though the character would have no reason to think these things. And his use of italics is like Nails on a chalk board. Brown uses italics to tell what his characters are thinking and most of the time it's totally obnoxious. An example:

The "sactum sanctorum," as Mal'akh liked to call it, was a perfect twelve-foot square. Twelve are the signs of the zodiac. Twelve are the hours of the day. Twelve are the gates of heaven. In the center of the chamber was a stone table, a seven-by-seven square. Seven are the seals of Revelation. Seven are the steps of the Temple.
First, there's this weird back and forth between exposition and the character's thoughts, almost like Brown and his characters are taking turns. Second, Brown's characters are often thinking things they wouldn't be thinking. The "sactum sanctorum" referred to above was in the character's basement and he went there all the time. Are we really supposed to believe that every time he looked at the room and the table he thought of the symbolic significance of their sizes? It was grating.

2. Formulaic--A lot of the scenes follow the same pattern. Langdon is given information that he doesn't believe and somebody tries to convince him that he's wrong and eventually, he's forced to Admit that he was, in fact, wrong. After all he's seen, you'd expect him to be a little less skeptical.

Still, in spite of those and some other things (mostly to do with how the story was told, not the story itself), I enjoyed the book and I'll go back for more. It's been written that Brown has 12 more ideas for Robert Langdon books. Let's hope he loses the italics.


* You will note that this is a pretend reason. You should care. You should care passionately.
**I don't really say this, but I do think it. Sometimes.

If you're wondering about the capital letters--not a typo. You missed something. Check the old stuff.


Tracy Edward Wymer said...

The capital letter thing is already driving me nuts, but at least it throws me out of my comfort zone.

Sounds pretty much the same as The Da Vinci Code. I'll probably skip it.

Myra said...

At least there are no mentions of Anal Leakage. Are there?

Wendy Sparrow said...

Wow. That capital letter thing is annoying and random.

I like it!

I liked your review too--it was the kind of review I actually get something from even if I never read the book.

BTW, Masons are awesome. I almost want to read the book just for them. I wonder what the current number of searches are like on Masons.

Oh, and I find it odd that you put a link in your blog to your blog. I followed it--just so you know. I like to follow links back to their source even if I am, in fact, staring at their source.

Once again, it may be late, but that's a "win" in my book.

Paul Michael Murphy said...

I have the probably mistaken belief that linking to my own blog will increase my Google ranking.

Plus, it's kind of a pretentious thing to do and I like that sort of thing.

Jason said...

I have a cousin on Facebook that capitalizes random letters whenever she types. Not just the first letter of random words, but random letters within random words.

I reCenTly BlOCkeD heR.

Heather Kelly said...

I'm halfway through The Lost Symbol right now, and I chronically link to my own blog. Think it's a sign of narcissism?

About the Lost Symbol--I think there is a lot that could be cut, and I could not agree more about the doubting Thomas. It's a bit repetitive.

But, what can I say--I like the books. They're entertaining.

Anita said...

I think brown Sucks.

The Wife said...

I think Jason is threatening you. Your goal of 120 followers may be in danger.

Tracy Edward Wymer said...

Myra - Ewww!

Tina Lee said...

I'm with TEW about skipping the Dan Brown, I don't much mind Myra's A.L. comment(although I chose not to spell it out). As far as the review, I was mostly interested in your criticisms of the italics. You do make it sound annoying. In my own writing, I have an especially difficult time with POV. It's always helpful to hear another take on it and tics with it

The capitals I don't even notice. (Although Jason and Anita are very clever.) What does that say about me?

DebraLSchubert said...

I hated The Da Vinci Code, so you'd have to hold a real gun to my head and start to pull the trigger before I'd read anything else he wrote. I've no doubt your review was a million times better than the book. Anita said it best (no surprise!): "I think brown Sucks."

Jacqui said...

Must read: Maureen Johnson's Reader's Guide to The Lost Symbol. Hilarity.

Kelly said...

That was a very thorough review. I really don't review books because I truly do suck at it.

Tracy Edward Wymer said...

A selfish contest link per contest requirements.


Anita said...

If anyone wants to put a link to the kidlit contest On my blog, please feel free. Good luck, Tracy.

Paul Michael Murphy said...

Anita and I have talked and I'm boycotting the kidlit contest for the sole reason that the "rules" are ridiculous.

Anita said...

The rules for the kidlit contest are a bit more than we're used to seeing in the blogging arena. On the one hand, I do appreciate the contest exists at all...very nice of kidlit to make it available. On the other hand, I understand when people get tired of jumping through hoops. It's humiliating to me sometimes. It's like I'm already practically begging (it sometimes feels like begging, anyway) people to be my agent, to like my writing. And then it's like, "So now I've gotta do this and this and this for a little better chance." Of course, it's not like we HAVE to enter contests and it's not like kidlit is asking for a limb. I don't know what the heck I think. But I understand both sides...entering because you respect the opportunity vs. not entering because you don't want to jump through hoops. Anyway, as I've said, if anyone wants to link to the contest from my blog, go for it.

Paul Michael Murphy said...

I don't mind hoops. I mind hoops that seemed designed to increase an agent's blog traffic.

Bransford has no hoops. And he's got like 700 contest entries and an ungodly amount of followers.

Tracy Edward Wymer said...

I was hesitant about entering because of the "rules." I had to keep a separate window up just to keep rereading them. Ridiculous. All for an itty bitty critique. I had too much coffee and happened across it and then felt the need to click around for the next 30 minutes fulfilling rules. Stupid.

Lily Cate said...

I read The DaVinci Code when it was first released out of professional obligation. I worked in a bookstore at the time.
I think I can safely say I will never read another Dan Brown book.
I do like to stop by Bransford's blog, but the traffic there is ridiculous.

Anita said...

I can't believe you have 20 comments on this post.

Paul Michael Murphy said...

Have you counted how many have to do with the actual post?

Tracy Edward Wymer said...