I finished reading Dan Brown's latest novel Inferno the last day. Opinions about his novels and writing style has totally divided the readers, much like our own Chetan Bhagat. Many readers like his novels for the escapism it provides, for the relentless pace and for the unique conspiracy theory ridden potpourri of themes connecting history, myth, art, literature and ancient architecture to modern world. His detractors cannot stand the lazy writing, narrow plot structure and cheesy conversations. I had read the first two Robert Langdon novels, Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons and had found them entertaining reads, if not ground breaking literary masterpieces. As the one that came after, The Lost Symbol, drew overwhelming negative criticism from all quarters, I decided to skip it. Before reading I was a bit apprehensive about Inferno due to these factors.
The story starts with Robert Langdon finding himself in a hospital in Florence, Italy, with a severe wound on his head and a lost memory. More attempts are made on his life and he escapes with the help of a mysterious woman, Sienna. With much surprise he finds out that he was on the verge of solving a mystery involving diverse pawns like Dante's classic about the experiences in hell, a secret organisation who are ready to go to any length for fulfilling their client's wish, World Health Organisation trying to prevent a lethal plague and a maniac genius hell bent on killing most of world's population. For saving the world Langdon has 24 hours time and a worldwide trail of clues to solve, all based on Dante's Inferno.
Major saving grace of the novel is its pace. The narrative has enough twists and turns in it for keeping the casual reader intrigued. There are lot of chases and suspense thrown out at regular intervals that gives much needed momentum to the plot. The novel happens in Florence, Venice and Istanbul. There are many passages dedicated to discuss the exotic locales in these places which gives the novel a feel of travel guide sometimes. But I found most of it interesting and adding value to the plot.
Biggest letdown of Inferno is its assembly line structure. All Robert Langdon mysteries has a uniform structure. This novel also never even tries to move out of it for good. Shoddy plot and weak characterization plagues Inferno. Another problem is repetition of certain plot elements throughout the story. For example a video made by the villain is seen by every other characters at least once. Each time someone view it we are made to read the whole passage again which tries the patience. Certain mannerisms of key characters are repeated many times to the point of irritation, like Langdon's dressing style and his affinity for a limited edition Mickey Mouse watch. The climax also was a big letdown for me as nothing spectacular happens! It feels like all struggle Langdon has endured to reach the conclusion has gone waste.
I was also a bit perplexed by the author's views on population explosion. It seems for him, every problem in this world is due to an evergrowing population- poor and illiterate, consuming all the limited resources available to them. Though population growth is a major hindrance for mankind's survival, many studies have concluded that uneven distribution of wealth and over consumption of resources by the lucky few has caused a major damage for our survival. I would recommend buying this novel only for die hard Dan Brown/ Langdon fans. For others, I recommend borrowing it from the fans who have a copy.
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