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BOOK REVIEW: 'LOST SYMBOL' CAPTIVATES, BUT LACKS SUBSTANCE

January 30, 2010

The Lost Symbol
Author: Dan Brown
Published: 2009, Doubleday
Pages: 528, Hardcover

Rolling Stone’s movie reviewer Peter Travers said in his review of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen: “I know it's popular. So is junk food, and they both poison your insides and rot your brain.”

To me, this quote perfectly sums up “The Lost Symbol” by Dan Brown. Brown’s much anticipated sequel to his two Robert Langdon stories, “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels and Demons,” is his most popular yet, and according to The New York Times is the fastest selling adult novel ever.

This book is, however, the literary equivalent of Transformers: a plot that is juicy yet overused and predictable accompanied by elementary prose. Brown has dumbed down his novel so much that the results are sometimes ludicrous. At one point, Brown actually ends a chapter with, “Something was very, very wrong.” This seems like a segue more suited to a Magic Schoolbus episode than a New York Times bestselling novel.

“The Lost Symbol” is the third installment in the series following Langdon as he travels to Washington, D.C., to give a speech for his long-time friend and father figure Peter Solomon. Once he arrives, though, he finds that there is no speech and that Solomon’s severed hand is on the floor of the Capitol Rotunda pointing towards the sky. He then receives a phone call from Solomon’s captor saying that Langdon must help him open an “ancient portal” if he wishes to save Solomon’s life.

At the same time, Solomon’s sister, Katherine, is traveling to her lab in the Smithsonian’s storage center. Katherine is a pioneer in the field of noetic science, the study of human potential, and has made astounding discoveries about human thought and its effects on the physical world. While there, Katherine is attacked by a man who is after her research.

I will admit the plot is captivating—Brown keeps the reader constantly wondering what will happen next— but while the book does have a few unpredictable twists, in general it seems like just another version of the same formula. Let’s see… Langdon is called to a city not expecting an adventure? Check. Sexy, smart woman companion to help Langdon solve the mystery? Check. Emotionless and extremely strong man with a troubled past? Check. Government official who comes to help but actually hampers Langdon’s progress? You get the idea.

Brown’s trick for keeping the reader interested is a lone writing technique in which he juggles multiple plot lines simultaneously before he switches lines, and every time he switches to another plot, he ends on a cliffhanger.

Brown’s bigger problem, though, is his inability to create a connection between the reader and Langdon. Through three novels, Langdon shows only a narrow range of basic emotions, which makes him hard to sympathize with. Small attempts are made by Brown such as hints that Langdon’s father was constantly disappointed with him, but this does not make up for how little we know of him.

So is the novel worth reading? If you’re simply looking for a quick read that will keep you wondering what happens next, go for it. If you’re a true mystery lover or are would get frustrated by mediocre writing, I’d recommend you find another novel.

 

Copyright 2010 Y-Press

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