John's Reviews > The Lost Symbol

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
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Oct 17, 09

Read in October, 2009

Dan Brown is an American writer with an interest in puzzles and code-breaking. His dad was a Mathematics teacher. Brown uses gravity boots to beat his writer's block. His best-known work, The Da Vinci Code, was commercially successful but was widely derided for the dishonesty of the promise in the front of the book: "all descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents and secret rituals in (the) novel are accurate". On checking, more than half of the items described in the book are false. He has also been accused of plagiarism and of having a very bland and formulaic writing style.

His new book, The Lost Symbol, uses the same main character as The Da Vinci Code, and has a similar claim on the inside front cover. "All rituals, science, artwork and monuments in this novel are real". How my heart sank when a friend asked me to read it; surely, it was bound to be another ponderous, badly-written piece of airport fiction larded with misconceptions and sloppy research worthy of a child?

Well, yes and no. Brown has visibly put a lot of work into developing his writing style, and it shows. Characterization, while basic, has moved beyond non-existent here. The plot is well-thought-out and makes this a page-turner, far more than any of his other works. There are some genuinely clever twists.

I loved the tiny Japanese CIA internal security operative, and the trick with drowning someone in oxygenated fluorocarbons was effective and sounded plausible, though I admit I haven't researched it.

This book shows real growth from his really low points like Deception Point, hence my three stars.

Unfortunately, we still have the same problems which have dogged Brown's artistic development from the beginning, and for which there is little hope of a cure. The prose is clunky; although better than before, there are long stretches that read like Wikipedia articles - dry and ponderous. (Wikipedia is mentioned several times in the book and I kept wondering if Brown has ever read the article there called Inaccuracies in The Da Vinci Code?)

While the plot is genuinely clever, it relies too heavily on tricks and code-breaking. The motivation of several key characters is tricky to fathom, and the ending seems highly implausible, although strangely satisfying. This is the closest we get to art in this book.

Worst of all, Brown fails to even try to live up to the commitment he voluntarily makes at the start of the book. Far from being "real", key plot devices like the one-dimensional lady scientist's "holographic disk drives", "enriched plutonium", and her field of research ("noetic science") are fictional. Bunsen burner fuel is normally a gas like natural gas, not a liquid. Pulling back on the stick (actually called the "cyclic") of a helicopter won't arrest a descent but instead make it fly backwards. And so on, and so on.

There's nothing wrong with speculative fiction, of course - but I question why he would make such a statement and then not live up to it. And these inaccuracies in areas I know about, call into question my suspension of disbelief in the other areas of the novel.

Brown said in one of his plagiarism cases (which, to be fair, he won) that his wife does all his research for him. Maybe he should consider doing some himself or hiring someone to do a better job. Of course, other than personal integrity (clearly not a priority for Brown), why should he, when his books are such a commercial success under the current formula?
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message 1: by Phoenix (last edited Apr 10, 2014 05:34PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Phoenix I'm certain Dan Brown is waiting with bated breath for your expert review of his latest title. He will be so thrilled with your increased approval rating. Oh, what was your last title by the way?

John Phoenix wrote: "I'm certain Dan Brown is waiting with bated breath for your expert review of his latest title. He will be so thrilled with your increased approval rating. Oh, hat was your last title by the way?"

I am not a writer, I just read other people's books. I don't think I will read any more Dan Brown books though.

Phoenix That is certainly your right. I still think you'd be doing yourself a disservice. But then again everyone has different tastes in literature.

John For sure. Rereading my review from a few years ago it does come over as harsh. But I felt genuinely cheated by the mismatch between the introductory note and the content of the book(s). Tom Clancy managed some great techno thrillers without getting his facts wrong all the time, and maybe I will stick to him when I feel like reading this sort of fiction.

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