January 27, 2010


by Dan Brown
528 pages, Doubleday Books

Review by S.F. Winser

“Thrillers are characterized by fast pacing [and] frequent action...”

In a thriller, the protagonist should not arrive in a building in Chapter 6 and only make it to the sub-basement of the same building in Chapter 36 unless every second room is full of aliens.

In 'The Lost Symbol', the protagonist arrives in the Statuary Hall of the US Capitol Building in chapter six and doesn't actually see inside the Capitol's sub-basement until chapter thirty-six. I could have hobbled there on my knees more quickly than I read those thirty chapters. (Thirty chapters!) I could have been dragged quicker. I could have attempted to crawl there using only my lips and it would have still been a close race.

This is not a thriller. It's a plodder. A limper.

There is more.

I could go into the dialogue cribbed from the driest encylopaedia in the world. I could also go deeper into Dan Brown's seeming belief that every college-student in the world is a naive moron who exists only to ask the right stupid question of his brilliant protagonist at the right time in a vain attempt to hide yet more bloody boring exposition.

I could savage the continual over-use of flashbacks (You can't claim that the story 'takes place over the space of twelve-hours', as the book's blurb does, and then have about a third of the action occur in many, many flashbacks spaced throughout the entire book. You get a couple of flashbacks – not enough to fill out a novella in their own right).

We could explore the mixed-up subtextual comments on religion and politics that will miss their intended audience by the height of the Washington Monument – when they're kept straight, that is.

I could wax lyrical about the mounting evidence of Dan Brown's complete inability to tell science from pseudoscience (Oh my goodness, I hate to think what Dan Brown must be doing for the scientific literacy of the population of the world!). This would make a few paragraphs all on their own. Trust me.

I don't think I could say much about the really boring and underwhelming 'reveal' at the end. It's boring. It's underwhelming. The shock at how much the twist sucks should not be the greatest shock in the book. That's all there is to say.

But, as Kurt Vonnegut Jr. said: “Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae." So, to prevent total ruination of my shiny breastplate with softserve-induced rust, I must admit: I still had some fun reading this. There were some moments of excitement and the odd twist I didn't spot ahead of time. And.... Ummm... That's the best I can do. Sorry, Kurt. Sorry, Dan. I even kind of enjoyed 'The Da Vinci Code' but 'The Lost Symbol' isn't even that level of fun trash. This is a sad book. It left me sad that it'll be the only book many people read in a year. All I can hope is that they got more enjoyment out of it than I did.

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