I was so looking forward to this book. I loved his three other books, Angels and Demons, The Da Vinci Code and The Lost Symbol. So as soon as it was available for Kindle, I downloaded it and began to read. Oh gentle readers, I was so disappointed. As I lay out the structure and plot, you’ll get a better idea of why I say I was disappointed but then again, you may say, horse hockey. Sounds like a fine read to me. In my humble opinion, this book is 1/2 art history, 1/4 travelogue and 1/4 plot. Let’s start with plot. Robert Langdon, Harvard professor extraordinaire, specialist in iconography or as he calls it, symbology. Langdon wakes up in a hospital in Florence, purportedly having been shot at, and in an amnesiac state. Read more…
A beautiful British doctor, Sienna (of course) is taking care of him…But wait…all of a sudden a muscular, spike haired woman breaks into the hospital with the sole purpose of killing Langdon. The doctor whisks him away to her apartment. While there he finds, or she finds, a bio hazard container in his Harris Tweed jacket. Inside of this container is a small encrypted (of course) vessel which turns out to be a small projector that shows Botticelli’s “Map of Hell”, which depicts Dante’s “Inferno.” Being a huge fan of Dante, he knows the poem backwards, forwards, upside and down and he realizes that the 9 circles of hell have been shuffled. So, we begin the hunt for Langdon’s memory, for what the mysterious shuffling of The Inferno means, what is the meaning of the writing inside of Dante’s death mask, where do all of these clues dropped by a mysterious man lead and who the heck is chasing Langdon? The US government, a mysterious stealth organization located on a huge yacht or the World Health Organization and who the heck is Sienna?
Whew! Car chases ensue, motor cycle chases, chases down long stairways, through churches, across cat walks, across continents, black vans with military like personal and a mysterious woman with long silver hair. And WHY can’t Langdon remember anything? A hint about where the plot is going…without giving it away. It regards Transhumanism and over population. Transhumanism involves genetically changing humans. Over population, well, the mysterious evil man who is trying to change the world believes overpopulation will be the end of the world. So he tries to do something about it. His mantra is: “the darkest places of hell being reserved for those who maintain neutrality in moral crisis.” Which is actually a quote from JFK. Another mantra: “self sacrifice for the human good.”
That’s 1/4 of the book. The rest is travelogue and art history. I’m telling you that if you want to know about Italian art history before going to Florence and Venice and then want to throw in the city of Istanbul and the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia for good measure, then this is the book for you. Not only do you become familiar with Dante’s Inferno, you also hear about almost all of the major and not so major statues, paintings,canvases, squares, and architecture in these three cities. Brown obviously loves history and art. He does know his stuff. But these art history lessons are to the detriment of the pacing of the story. As the reviewer from the Washington Post says, “Unfortunately, at other times the book’s musty passageways seem to be not so much holding history up as sagging under its weight. Narration appears lifted from a Fodor’s guide, as when Langdon pauses in the middle of a life and death escape to remember the history of the bridge:” “Today the vendors are mostly goldsmiths and jewelers, but that has not always been the case. Originally the bridge had been home to Florence’s vast, open air market, but the butchers were banished in 1593.”” It’s like trying to solve a mystery while one of those self guided tour headsets is dangling from your ears. (Step over this prone body and press 32 to learn about the velvet box containing Dante’s death mask in the Palazzo Vecchio.)
A couple of other nit picky things: Langdon, who hasn’t slept or eaten very much in a couple of days as well being chased around a good deal is racing along with a paramilitary type (his name is Bruder, who happens to be in excellent condition) to the under ground cisterns in Istanbul. “Bruder arrived breathless beside Langdon.” Really? A paramilitary type is breathless and a Harvard professor is not? Forgot. Langdon has strong legs from swimming. Also, Langdon and the head of the WHO are frantically looking for a way (I’m not telling)…to save the world and all that…and Langdon, “Chuckled as their guide directed…” Chuckled? Really?
Feast upon the beauty of the arts but do not manifest thyself in the sparse plot…
The 9 circles of hell: limbo, lust, gluttony, greed, anger, heresy, violence, fraud, treachery.