Friday, 23 April 2010
Dan Brown: The Lost Symbol
It’s become very fashionable to knock Dan Brown’s novels - more from envy of his success than anything else I suspect. How can such mediocre trash sell so many copies? authors ask, wishing they’d been lucky enough to tap into this unsuspected lode in the geological strata of reader interest. DB’s blend of historical fact and fiction, flavoured by scientific mumbo jumbo, has caught the mood of the moment.
I read the Da Vinci Code, (which kept me up all night) and I’ve just read The Lost Symbol. Whatever you may think of the prose, or of the sheer commerciality of instinct behind it, you can’t deny that this man knows his craft as a writer and there are a lot of other authors out there who could learn a lot from it. He knows how to make a reader turn the page. There are a lot of ‘literary’ writers out there who can compose a beautiful phrase and make you weep over a paragraph, but you don’t necessarily stay up all night to finish the book. Dan Brown is a master of the Narrative Hook.
He also makes you believe - or at least suspend your disbelief - for the length of the novel, because his background research embeds his fiction in a matrix of fact and scientific detail. In this case, it’s the masonic movement, just sufficiently secretive enough to be intriguing and mysterious to the rest of us, and the new para-psychological sciences. The heroine is engaged in using new technology to measure the weight of (and therefore prove the existence of) the human soul. I’m quite happy to believe that people are doing things like this.
DB’s action and pace are very similar to the James Bond novels, with similarly unbelievable sequences where the hero is drowned, shot, endures 24 hours of sleep deprivation, but still manages to fend off twelve armed and dangerously fit SAS trained security guards single-handed. No one is who they are supposed to be and it all works out in the end. These books are stylish, amazingly well crafted and I can forgive the cliches and the odd heavy handed line for a bit of compulsive light reading.