**spoiler alert** Oh dear. Where to even begin with this book?
I'm the sort of person who likes their books well-written. In the past, however, I've m**spoiler alert** Oh dear. Where to even begin with this book?
I'm the sort of person who likes their books well-written. In the past, however, I've made an exception for Dan Brown because, though he writes like the love child of a hackneyed romance novelist and an encyclopedia author because he has a talent for writing engrossing page-turners and for clever puzzles and plot twists. What happened to the Dan Brown I loved to hate? This book just gives me a Dan Brown I hate.
Now, I know that Dan Brown is a publishing phenomenon and that, even if he had written a novel about the secret, dark history of Sesame Street, people would be running out in droves to buy it, but even the most gifted of writers have editors for a reason. Dan Brown needs one desperately, and not just to smooth over the more awkward dialogue. The plot in The Lost Symbol is an absolute travesty. Long digressions, shaky character motivations, and a denouement that dragged on... and on... and on... all hurt this book a lot. Did Brown's editor just not have the nerve to tell him what doesn't work?
Speaking of what doesn't work, I'll expound on what I thought the biggest problems were.
1) The Katherine Solomon character. Whatever happened to Sophie Neveu? Granted, Sophie had some moments of utter stupidity in DVC, mostly so that Langdon/Teabing could explain things to the reader, but at least she was an integral part of the plot. Katherine seems like a tag-on, added in because Brown needed his token smart AND sexy how-could-god-be-this-good female character. She's not needed, the book would work perfectly fine without her. 1b) Katherine's field of Noetic science. Why was this included? It did nothing to further the plot. Langdon doesn't even really find out about it -- it's all given to us in narrative while we're following Katherine Solomon around. Secondly, having read up on antimatter after Angels and Demons and finding out that it's not exactly what Brown portrays it as, I was highly skeptical of the whole thing, and wasn't sure if I could trust it or not. Sure enough, looking it up just on Wikipedia, I find that they refer to Noetics as metaphysical philosophy, and that the page on the Institute of Noetic Science is under the pseudoscience category. Further research showed me that this science isn't really "science" at all, and if you think about what we're shown in the book, that makes sense. A few anecdotes (such as those about people with cancer being able to turn their cancer cells into healthy ones through good thoughts) do not make proof, especially when, if these cancer patients are receiving standard treatment, how is one to determine that their recovery is from a healer or prayer rather than medical treatment? One body losing weight at the moment of death is not, scientifically, proof of anything. A sample size that small shows a real scientist absolutely nothing. My point? Brown is misleading people for his own gain, and that, unlike in Angels and Demons, the misinformation doesn't even further the plot.
2) Robert Langdon. I've always been a fan of Langdon. The professor character is one I find appealing, and even though Brown has always gone well out of his way to tell us how smart and sexy Langdon is to the point of annoyance, he was, in the last two books, at least a likeable character. What happened to him here? Am I really supposed to believe that the man who, in the Da Vinci Code, unabashedly proclaimed that there were secret messages hidden in Leonardo's art, that the Priory of Sion was real, and that Jesus was married and had a baby, all ideas which are difficult to swallow, won't believe that what's going on in this book is literal and not metaphorical? When did Langdon become such a skeptic? And when did he become such an idiot? Who in their right mind would flee from the CIA in Washington DC? I've lived in DC for two years, and it's well-known that there's an absurd amount of law enforcement in this city. Something like 13 different organizations just in the District alone. When I cam here to college, they warned us against so much as using a fake ID because there's so much surveillance, let alone running from the CIA.
Then there's the fact that Langdon seems to have lost his superhuman ability to solve supposedly-unsolvable puzzles. In A&D and DVC, Langdon comes across a puzzle, hypothesises something, finds out it's wrong, then starts over and figures it out. Here, Langdon is either utterly clueless and requires someone else to tell him what's going on, or figures things out immediately, which is indescribably frustrating. Furthermore, if Langdon has an eidetic memory, why can't he recall the symbols on the bottom of the pyramid when he had been staring at it? The obvious answer is that he was drowning (or thought he was) at the time, but Brown never so much as acknowledges that Langdon isn't up to snuff here.
3) Stakes. In a thriller, stakes are everything. You have to raise them so that things will be interesting. In the vast majority of the book, the main concern is whether or not Malakh (or Mal'akh, as Brown chooses to spell it, unnecessarily, as, as far as I'm aware, this is the transliteration of the Hebrew, and not how one would spell an actual name) is going to kill Peter Solomon. Now, call me cold, but killing Langdon's friend, who hasn't made an actual appearance in the book save a few flashbacks, is not stakes equal to bombing Vatican City or radically changing Christian doctrine. Sucks for Langdon, not so much for the reader, who has no emotional attachment to Solomon. There's also talk of a national security threat, but since no one in the text, save a chainsmoking CIA officer, seems to take this seriously, it's hard to get invested in that. Then we find out at the end, no, Malakh hasn't planted a bomb in the White House, he hasn't sold yellow cake uranium to the Iranians, no, he has a bunch of Washington officials on video tape performing a Masonic ritual. Not even a Satanic ritual. A Masonic ritual! Even if all these men were forced to resign, there would be initial attention for a few days, blistering CNN and MSNBC coverage for about a month, and then they would be replaced and that would be that.
Secondly, I think focusing on the Freemasons was a mistake. Does anyone really believe old "Masons rule the world" conspiracy theories? I mean, they're so old and so bogus that I was half-expecting there to be mentions of the Masons colluding with the Jews to establish an evil, anti-Christian New World Order or something. (Puh-lease.) I'm not anti-Mason, I think they're a fine group, and they focus on philanthropy and good character, so who can argue with that? They have some esoteric secrets and initiation rituals, but so does about every college fraternity in America. No big deal. We're really supposed to believe that they hold the key to understanding the universe because George Washington was a member? It's like saying that George Washington was Episcopalian, so obviously Epsicopalians are special. Or that George Washington was born in Virginia, so obviously Virginia is the cradle of the universe.
4) Lack of detail. One of the things I loved about DVC and A&D was all of the art and architecture featured. Even though sometimes, the information Brown gave us was a load of crock, I still became aware of things like the Church of the Saint-Sulpice and Rosslyn chapel and could go, look it up, and find out what was correct. Here, we have what, all of one engraving and one fresco. Little attention is given to the buildings that Langdon goes into, including the Capitol and the Library of Congress (speaking of, the complete lack of reverence with which the CIA tramps through the Library of Congress is disgusting). We actually see very few buildings, and often, explanations of these important things are left out in favor of explaining things like Noetic Science. (Little is said about what it means to be in the Adams Building vs the Jefferson Building, or that the Cathedral College at the National Cathedral is not actually a college in the sense most people understand it, for instance.) As a DC resident, I was looking forward to the city getting the same attention as Rome and Paris do in his other books, but despite his insistence that DC has everything European cities do, Brown seems bored with his location.
5) Misinformation. I'm sure there's plenty of things I don't know that he got wrong, but Brown spews plenty of historical inaccuracies and just glosses over certain facts. It's rather dubious that the Masons would hinge so much on the Washington Monument when the thing very well might have never been finished (it took almost 40 years). From Freedom Plaza, Langdon and Katherine run to Metro Center, which is convenient for the plot, but makes almost no sense whatsoever from a logistical standpoint when Federal Triangle is half the distance from there. Then, it only takes them ten minutes to get from Metro Center to Alexandria. That must have been one damned fast train. Why is the CIA's Office of Security which, the book claims is the CIA's inside watchdog office, working this case? This would fall under the jurisdiction of Metro Police or the FBI -- though I guess "Metro Police Police Chief" doesn't have the same sinister, omnipotent aura as a CIA agent.
6) Theme. Okay, so I don't really expect the deepest, most literary themes from Dan Brown. But he always has a message, and this one was particularly troubling to me. Brown seems to be convinced that people can and will believe that science can explain what it means, most fundamentally, to be human. I am not a religious person, but I feel that science cannot, and will not ever be able to encapsulate the feeling of betrayal, of a first kiss, of what it feels like to hold your newborn in your arms. These things aren't just brain waves and chemicals and processes, they're built on from a whole lifetime of experience, and to pretend that "a body lost weight after death" or "you can see energy coming from this religious teacher's fingers" explain the mysteries of the human experience in any meaningful way. Science does a lot of things for us. It enables me to send this message via my computer, to contact people anywhere in the world, to move from place to place with superhuman speed, makes our food and water safe, cures and prevents diseases, and countless other things. But what's the point of trying to take the mystery out of life?
Dan Brown seems to in the same breath, say that you have to find the answers for yourself and give them to you. Just when he's onto something -- like the fact that the Bible is still around today because it touches people -- Brown turns around and says that the Bible's filled with codes and you have to try and decrypt them. Whatever happened to people reading the Bible and just interpreting what is there? It's like Brown wants to respect religion, but what's there isn't good enough for him, so he has to make it something it's not. That's what's most troubling to me.
As for other issues -- like how obvious Malakh's identity was, I don't see how Brown could have avoided it, because the stakes simply were not high enough for him to be doing these things without some sort of reason beyond "I want to find knowledge! And perform this awesome satanic ritual!" The secret was predictable and a big let down. (I had guessed that 'the Word' would be 'god,' but a Bible is really close enough.) The characterization was weak. Brown is often condescending to the reader, assuming he knows nothing and then treats us to encyclopedia-esque descriptions of useless concepts.
Not to mention that end that never ends. Was that really necessary? ...more
First things first, April Lindner is very obviously a woman with a lot of talent. Her style is effortless, never hackneyed. Perhaps because it's a conFirst things first, April Lindner is very obviously a woman with a lot of talent. Her style is effortless, never hackneyed. Perhaps because it's a condensation of a rather long novel, it clips along at an even pace. And, more importantly, Jane is a novel that was written with a lot of love, both for the source material and for the new subjects that she approaches. I enjoyed reading Jane very much. Full disclosure: this is more than can be said of Jane Eyre, a book that I did not particularly enjoy, even if I can understand why it is beloved by so many people.
But, alas, projects such as these are always going to be measured against the original, and even for a self-proclaimed not-fan of Jane Eyre, Jane didn't quite measure up. I think that a lot of that is because so much is lost in translation. In the afterward, Lindner describes struggling to recreate the huge class difference between Jane and Rochester. Her solution is to make Rochester a rock star. It doesn't quite work, and quite a lot of the seemingly-insurmountable obstacles in Jane Eyre are lost. Celebrities marry non-famous people with some regularity. Nico Rathburn being old WASPy money might have been a more appropriate (if less interesting) choice.
Secondly, a lot of the updates just don't really work. When Jane no longer was abused by her extended family and her school masters, but her immediate family, her story ceases to be sympathetic and becomes overwraught. The 'madwoman in the attic' trope seems weird, out of place, and inhumane in the present when Bertha ("Bibi" here) can be treated properly in a mental health facility. Nico's failure to divorce her is confusing, as is his belief that he can get away with bigamy in the present day. Whaaaat? So is 19 year old Jane's decision to marry him, as other reviewers have mentioned.
Also I think I am the only Jane Eyre reader to ever just want Jane to stay with the Rivers, and I had the same feeling here with the St Johns.
In all, Jane is enjoyable, but as stated, the story doesn't really modernize well, leading to plenty of lost intricacies and some serious moments of disbelief. ...more
I expected to find a lot to love about this book. Depression and suicidal ideation are both things I have struggled with a lot in my life, and I was lI expected to find a lot to love about this book. Depression and suicidal ideation are both things I have struggled with a lot in my life, and I was looking forward to a sympathetic portrayal of someone who commits suicide. Where Thirteen Reasons Why misses the mark is that I don't think Jay Asher has ever been depressed or seriously contemplated suicide.
A lot of people who didn't like the book complain that Hannah's reasons for committing suicide were not 'good' ones. As if there's a certain level of stuff you have to go through before it's 'okay' to be depressed and suicidal. I disagree. Hannah was endlessly slut-shamed and was sexually assaulted more than once, which are both horrible things to go through. What's more, many people who suffer from depression and commit suicide haven't experienced any kind of horrible trauma. That's okay.
But the truth is that having gone through some horrible things is not reason enough to commit suicide. At the beginning of the book, you can see why Hannah is set up to be isolated and cut off from many avenues of assistance to her, and what she goes through is not nice, but the stuff that the vast majority of people survive, even if they come off worse for it. The problem is that Hannah never makes a transition from being someone who's had bad experiences to being someone who suffers from depression. There's no sense of hopelessness or insurmountable sadness. No sense that Hannah believes that, even if she can escape this bad situation, life would not be worth living anyway. That is why people commit suicide. Not because bad things happen to them, but because they can see no light at the end of the tunnel. They can't imagine an relief from their pain.
The result is that rather than being sympathetic, Hannah comes off as angry, hurtful, and vindictive. She's not depressed, she's one of those kids who says, "If I were dead, everyone would listen to me and feel bad about what they did! WAH!" Those are pretty normal thoughts for self-centered teens having a hard time, but those kids don't kill themselves. Hannah comes off as inauthentic.
The structure also didn't always work in the book's favor. There were times that Clay's thoughts interrupted the flow of the narrative rather than adding to it, and some of his reactions are a bit hackneyed. There were some moving moments, and I appreciate the issues that Thirteen Reasons Why brought to the forefront, like suicide and slut-shaming. But overall, I didn't enjoy this book and it felt somewhat shallow....more