Dan Brown
Doubleday, 2013

InfernoIt would be more fun to wait for the movie. A three hour marathon of chase scene after chase scene will be more concise and gripping than reading the 461 page book. Still, there is much credit to give. My bet is Dan Brown is a good daddy and would make an excellent tour guide.

He holds the reader’s hand, patiently repeats things, and works tirelessly to involve us in Dante’s classic The Divine Comedy and the artwork of the period. Like a good tour director, when he leaves one chase scene he deftly lays the scene for the next scene with just enough history to pique interest with a quick search on Google.

He tells a good story but I’m wondering if his editor is either in awe of his success or doesn’t recognize the pages of unnecessary verbosity. From experience I know writers must immerse themselves in scenes to tell it well and that can result in mind numbing detail students in MFA programs are warned against because readers will easily lose interest if it isn’t edited well. I resented the string of paragraphs describing transition scenes that could have been half the length. Yet, well into the story’s time period of perhaps thirty-six (forty-eight?) hours not one of thirty characters felt hungry, ate so much as a candy bar, had a moment’s sleep, and didn’t lose any patience, lucidity, or reasoning ability. I started feeling empathetic queasiness.

I wanted to finish the book. First, I was interested in the end, and second I was to meet with others to discuss it. I got to page 150 and really wanted to skip to the last 50, but I’m the sort of employee/board member/friend who when given a task feels duty bound to slog through to the end. But it became too much, so on page 230 I stopped at the end of Chapter 52 and picked up on 362 with 100 pages to go. Voila! Nothing missed and it was then I started to enjoy the story. I was told someone did eat a candy bar.

Brown juggles a lot of elements. There are the passages and descriptions of Dante’s life and The Divine Comedy. There are enthusiastic descriptions of museums and artwork in Italy and Turkey. There’s discussion of the artistic differences in Christianity and Islam. He brings up ethical questions on science and genetic engineering. He wonders through his hollow vessels-of- the-story characters about world overpopulation and how plagues and wars have previously managed human proclivity to reproduce and save it from self-destruction.

Inferno is an interesting story that touches on current issues with the same depth as the daily newspaper, but that’s okay when it’s read for the purpose of being conversant at cocktail parties when you announce having read a best seller.

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4 Responses to Inferno

  1. Carrie Rubin says:

    I have it sitting on my shelf. Maybe I’ll make it my next read. Enjoyed reading your take on it.

  2. I read the preview online–the opening or prologue–and didn’t know what to think of it except that everyone seems to be getting on the fantasy bandwagon. Am I warm?

  3. Brown’s popularity surprises me. When the book group talked what they really liked about it was the description of tourist landmarks and some of the story line. It didn’t have fantasy in it. By comparison, the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was also a fast-paced mystery, but it was a real story with characters to care about. I think another author could edit Inferno and make it as good.

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