Book Review – Dan Brown’s “The Lost Symbol”

Author: Claire Pizzurro ’12

The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown’s most recent installment in the Robert Langdon series (the previous two being blockbuster hits Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code), is a masterpiece of ineptitude, showcasing what little talent the author actually possesses as a writer, as well as how little talent he possesses as a man with original thoughts and plot concepts. The story is essentially a recycled version of his previous novels, albeit one that attempts to touch upon a subject slightly more accessible to his American audience. Although still steeped with theological symbolism and Christian concepts, this time the plot revolves around “controversy” in Washington D.C. – a locale Brown has previously chosen to use in thrillers not featuring his go-to professor/hero. The same basic structure of Brown’s previous novels is still in play: conspiracy theory drivel amplified into a veritable cornucopia of “reality.” In The Lost Symbol, the ridiculous plotline centers on the deepest secrets held by the society of Masons and the bizarrely motivated, insane villain’s quest for this knowledge (spoiler: said knowledge turns out to be religious in nature and wholly uninteresting).

Had I not been attempting to read this atrocity for the benefit of our lovely square. readers, I would have stopped reading after page ten. I kept going, my hostility towards this literary disaster continuing to mount exponentially (coincidentally, also a word used almost ten times in one paragraph towards the end of this book – are there no synonyms for “exponentially?” or did Brown just get very lazy?). Brown’s inability to write a simple, yet engaging paragraph without wavering between treating readers like illiterate idiots and attempting to showcase his extensive vocabulary is a staggering failure. I will admit though, that I was at first intrigue by his interpretation of the Masonic details. If there is one thing Brown can do right, it involves choosing a well-known conspiracy theory and assuming its validity Unfortunately, Brown includes too many plot-points and too many narratives from different points of view.

The characters in The Lost Symbol do not aid Brown’s agenda by any means. His villain is alleged in the book summary to be his “most terrifying to date,” and yet he is rendered meaningless by the final chapters. Brown struggles to create some sort of three-dimensionality to his characters, but they remain void of believable psychological motivations. The villain has no discernable characteristics that lend even the hint of validity to his intentions. Professor Robert Langdon, the hero himself, is an elitist who continues to make reference to his classes at Harvard and his days at Phillips Exeter Academy (this is also the same prestigious prep school Brown attended. He did not attend Harvard, however, but Amherst. Perhaps he’s bitter?). Despite this amazing education, Langdon constantly experiences moments of pure stupidity.

I could go into a rant about the lack of female characters, but I will say only that there are two main women: one who is a dominant bitch, and the other who is a parody of moronic damsel in distress and scientific prowess. She is, of course, the eventual love interest. All other women die except one who has no real purpose in the story and shouldn’t exist at all. I decided that there were some elements of homoeroticism (there was quite a bit of detail glorifying the male anatomy, including a passage about the villain’s body pre-castration) floating around in the men’s interactions, but it is possible that they were unintentionally created by my disgust with the horrendous dialogue and Brown’s embarrassing attempts to further suspense.

Brown writes his “thrillers” for millions of people. He has made money by being accessible to everyone in ways that classics may not be. He is good at this, and there are two movies based on his books to prove so. Unfortunately, Brown’s idea of accessibility hinges on an audience comprised of severely unintelligent people who want to believe they can understand “intellectual” ideas. Of course, most people are probably smarter than Brown gives them credit for. That may be optimistic, but I cannot believe that there is a large population of people who would read this book without laughing the entire time. Perhaps Brown doesn’t remember what accessibility entails, but discussing tweets and the twitterati without any trace of irony is not a method with which to bond with readers. Rather, it is a piece of drivel that has no right making its way into the “flirty banter” between characters.

Although the surface themes of the book include Masonic legends and lore, the deeper intent is religious in nature. Brown uses the book to serve as a forum for his own views about God and theology. There are instances of “revelations” regarding the way humans are supposed to feel about deistic forces, and Brown appears to be very pleased with his interpretation (a vague, “everyone-has-the-ability-to-be-divine,” sort of philosophy). Brown finishes the book with an anticlimactic moment of tranquility, during which, Langdon muses that he feels hopeful. That’s it. That is the end of the book. A moment in which the main character feels hopeful in the most clichéd way possible. Instead of delving into the corruption behind the American government, Brown creates a tale full of twisting “surprises” and loyalty alignments that ends with absolutely no shock value. He could have done so much more to make this book readable, but Brown opted to write a novel full of pointless crap instead. Look for the movie version starring Tom Hanks to hit theaters sometime in 2012, Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. has already bought the rights and is currently adapting the novel for the screen.

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