The Lost Reader

The Lost Symbol

The Lost Symbol

So on my way home last night I picked up a clutch of books, among them Dan Brown’s latest — which, when the literary police weren’t looking, managed to slip out from behind the chain link fence, evade 24/7 surveillance by closed circuit cameras, and hop onto the bookshelf at the Odyssey outlet in Chembur’s K Star Mall, which earlier in the day had endured a fake police drill and real panic.

Read a few pages late last night, and a few more during the commute to work this morning, and got bored — to the point where I actually put it aside for later and started on something else.

Apparently I’m not the only one: in Mint, Samanth Subramaniam is unimpressed; ditto Robert Wiersma in National Post. From the latter:

The Da Vinci Code has sold an estimated 80 million copies in more than forty languages; critically, however, it is generally — though not universally — reviled (and if the critical response isn’t negative enough, you should spend some time on-line in book and writers’ forums, where mention of Brown is usually accompanied, one assumes, by the sound of spitting.)

The critical response is understandable, but misguided. By most accepted critical yardsticks, Brown’s work is lacking: his prose is workmanlike, at best; his characterizations are crepe-paper thin; his dialogue (if one can refer to earnestly delivered lectures as such) is stilted and unnatural; and his plot developments stretch credibility to the breaking point.

What the standard critical approach fails to take into account, however, is that none of these things actually matter.

It is wrongheaded to analyze Dan Brown’s fiction using the same indices one would use on a new book by Alice Munro; each work requires examination on its own terms. The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons earned their legions of readers because Brown does what he sets out to do very well: the novels are story machines, whose main purpose is to wrap readers within the narrative and push them through it.

The phrase “page-turner” has never applied to a novel so well as it does to the works of Dan Brown. Few readers would find themselves sacrificing sleep to find out what happens next in a Michael Ondaatje novel, say, in the same way that few Dan Brown readers are concerned about the quality of his prose.

WashPost's Monica Hesse and David Montgomery

WashPost's Monica Hesse and David Montgomery

The New York Times reckons it’s a good page-turner, even while it gets a bit snarky about Brown’s craft, or lack thereof.

Also, the author uses so many italics that even brilliant experts wind up sounding like teenage girls. And Mr. Brown would face an interesting creative challenge if the phrases “What the hell

…?,” “Who the hell … ?” and “Why the hell … ?” were made unavailable to him. The surprises here are so fast and furious that those phrases get quite the workout.

Then again, Mr. Brown’s excitable, hyperbolic tone is one the guilty pleasures of his books.

The Washington Times suggests the book is like a roller-coaster ride: thrilling, entertaining, over. And its rival, the Washington Post, chooses Brownian motion over Brownian logic.

The Washington Post deputed two reporters to a symbol hunt; elsewhere — be warned, this is one big spoiler — the Guardian gets someone to actually ‘live read’ the thing.

One of these days I’ll get down to reading the rest of this thing, if only to be able to nod intelligently the next time bar talk turns to the book. And, “what the hell”, maybe I’ll live-Tweet the process.

John Crace 'live-reads' Dan Brown's latest

John Crace 'live-reads' Dan Brown's latest


One thought on “The Lost Reader

  1. Got the book Prem – and am upto 90 pages or so!
    This is no where close to ‘Da Vinci Code’ which I read through in like 6-7 hrs waiting for a change-of-planes at Dubai airport!
    The Lost Symbol narrative shows up so many holes – which are almost staring at you – and I havent even read half the book! (like when the Director of Smithsonian inst is missing, why would CIA director be bothered about esoteric science, instead of actually searching for him ?)
    Only consolation is that its all about DC and I can go on a local trip checking out the physical places that takes the reader through the narrative!

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