“Dan Brown, you’ve done it again”. That was my thought not once but multiple times as I read his latest twisted tale, Inferno.
In the heart of Italy, Harvard professor of symbology Robert Langdon is drawn into a harrowing world centered on one of history’s most enduring and mysterious literary masterpieces . . . Dante’s Inferno.
Against this backdrop, Langdon battles a chilling adversary and grapples with an ingenious riddle that pulls him into a landscape of classic art, secret passageways, and futuristic science. Drawing from Dante’s dark epic poem, Langdon races to find answers and decide whom to trust . . . before the world is irrevocably altered.
Before I start discussing Inferno, I should be upfront and say that while I thoroughly enjoyed it I preferred The Da Vinci Code. This brings up an interesting discussion point because Inferno is significantly better written than The Da Vinci Code. It’s no secret that half the world belittles Dan Brown’s books because he’s not the best ‘writer’. His language lacks flourish and his sentences can be grammatically jarring. As a storyteller, however, he is the Grand Master.
I won’t lie, it deeply bothers me when people say things like “Dan Brown? You couldn’t pay me to read that trash”. I associate literary “trash” with a book that has no substantial plot, no prayer of well-constructed sentences, flat characterization, and no insight. So, something like 50 Shades of Grey (or 50 Shades of Stupid, as I fondly call it) is what I would call trash. Here’s the deal though. I’ve actually picked up 50 Shades and read it. Granted, I only read the sex scenes because I was intrigued. I figured, hey, she must be doing something awesome. Not so much. I think I would have felt more aroused had I rubbed sandpaper on my body. Despite the fact that I knew erotica isn’t my thing and that I had a feeling E.L. James’ writing would be less than professional, I still gave it a chance. THEN I condemned it. I’ll never understand the appeal and it was a dark day indeed when I found out that the trilogy had outsold Harry Potter in the UK. A very dark day. The point is, however, that writing doesn’t always have to be picturesque and utterly moving. If every book in the world shattered your soul and brought you to tears from the sheer beauty and pain depicted, reading would be the worst hobby ever. There is absolutely a need for books that are more direct and to the point in their wording. Those are the ones that leave room for the plot to take over. The plots in Dan Brown’s books are astoundingly well-formed and so far I have nothing but high praise for the ones I’ve read.
That being said, Inferno is immensely interesting because Brown is addressing an issue that most readers may not realize is an actual problem. The book involves a scientist who is out to cull the world’s population because at the current rate of growth, the world will soon outstrip all its resources. He sets out to create a virus that will significantly decrease the population and it’s up to Robert Langdon and a slew of different people, friend or foe, to figure out where this virus is currently being stored. Seems like a hell of a plot, right? But is that all it is? Looking at any graphs that WHO provides, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that what Brown is writing about is very much a real world problem. Between 1750-1950, the world rose to about 3 billion people. By 2000, the world’s population was at 6 billion.
It doubled in 50 years.
2013’s statistics tell us that the world now has 7 billion people. This is only counting the people that have been registered. The staggering truth is that each year, approximately 50 million people are born and never registered with their governments. Their invisibility on paper does not negate their partaking in the world’s resources. In the meantime, we’re living through a global warming crisis, a devastating level of world poverty (approx. 4.5 billion out of the 7 billion are below the poverty line), and resources are slowly but surely slimming down. Technology is astounding, but can the world depend on it to save itself in another 100 years? Who knows. One of the main characters in Inferno asks the question, “Would you kill half the population today in order to save our species from extinction?” It’s a chilling and seemingly inhumane question. But what if there was a way to significantly contain the population. Would you opt for it to give the future a fighting chance? Talk about a discussion topic…
Another reason why I really enjoyed Inferno is because it seemed much more rooted in reality than some of Dan Brown’s other novels. Perhaps this is because I saw a direct connection with things discussed in my life. For the first time, I saw Brown throw in a few direct references at the world of publishing. From dropping little quips about self publishing and the pros and cons of e-books to using the phrase “fifty shades of iconography”, he definitely had me chuckling at the realities of my own industry. Clearly the author in him is keeping his eyes open to his environment. Brown also alluded to more relevant current topics throughout the book. One example that struck me was the line, “Ah, yes…Who better than a bunch of celibate male octogenarians to tell the world how to have sex?” These references, both funny and truthful, made the book seem broader in scope than one realizes while also grounding it in ‘present day’.
When I read Dan Brown, I always know that I am just not going to figure out who the ‘bad guy’ is. Usually in detective stories or thrillers, I’m constantly trying to spot the character behind the chaos but, with Brown’s books, I know I’m always going to be thoroughly surprised. This one served my biggest surprise yet. I simply had no idea and when the twist was finally revealed, my jaw dropped. It wasn’t even an outrageous twist and, yet, it was! Oooh, how I love a good mystery.
As always, his familiarity with literature, symbology, iconography, and history blows me away. Mock him if you have nothing better to do, but please recognize the man’s sheer mental strength and stores of knowledge. It’s nothing to be scoffed at. I personally found his weaving of Dante, art, and history in the text much more compelling than in Andrew Pyper’s The Demonologist. I know there are those who will look down upon me scoffing that Brown ruined the sanctity of Dante. My apologies. May I refer you to the erotica section? There’s no Dante to massacre there. Or is there…