It’s not hard to see why publishers have been increasingly worried that book sales have generally gone down over the years. It’s hard to compete with cinema and TV, not to mention gaming devices like Xbox or PlayStation – a population that is steadily losing its concentration is not one that will sit down for hours on end to read a good book. So it’s perversely lucky for those publishers that not all good books sell, and that not all books are necessarily good. If there is money to be made on a book it must generate sufficient buzz to compete with the movies; and contain the word “blockbuster”.
Yes, for a time books had seemed lost to the new and frequently less cerebral medium of film – who needs to read when you can watch? But every now and again a novel comes out to capture the popular, collective imagination. The Harry Potter series was one, of course; the Twilight series another, but an even huger phenomenon came along in the form of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and its successors.
The Da Vinci Code is actually the second in the series of Robert Langdon centric novels, causing controversy and subsequently the pivotal “buzz”, with its subject matter suggesting a thriving bloodline descended from Jesus. As of 2012 200 million copies have been sold. And there has been a movie adaptation for those who still can’t bear to put their eyes to paper but want to see what the fuss is all about.
Hoping to follow in the success of the last three the latest, <I>Inferno<I>, is the fourth to feature Harvard symbolist Robert Langdon on another perilous quest through historical and cultural capitals of the world. Going by the tried and tested format, the novel opens with a mysterious figure who refers to himself as The Shade talking in riddles about whatever dastardly but ultimately noble evil he is to unleash on the human race.
The eponymous Langdon wakes up with a splitting headache in a hospital room he doesn’t recognize and two days’ missing memories. Almost at once he is launched into a race against time, first against unknown and unrelated assailants who appear to be after him, second to track down the truth of what happened to him in the days before and third to figure out what this funny looking canister that has appeared in a hidden pocket in his jacket is.
Through a series of inevitable twists and turns, brief chapters sporting cliffhangers, impossible situations made possible with a little bit of expert symbol knowledge, Langdon makes his way through the highlights of Florence to the water-clogged city of Venice and beyond. Like his previous adventures he is joined on his quest by a beautiful and brilliant young woman, with a few secrets of her own.
Inferno is the same old, same old Robert Langdon escapade. All the generals are the same, with the specifics – the cities in which it’s based, the peril which is faced and the woman who is chased, then embraced, differing. It is truly a blockbuster, and many times I felt I was faced with the transcribed version of a movie rather than a book, such is the style it is written in. There are nice little tit-bits of trivia thrown in here and there, as is usual, filling in the plot holes just sufficiently enough to gloss over them. It’s curious that Brown appears to want to write for an audience that has an interest in art, history and a good conspiracy theory, yet he feels the need to explain every detail, every movement, not letting the reader fill in a few things for him or herself. It’s a fun jaunt through some interesting places, and it does paint a lovely picture of them, but in the end it is what it is, another blockbuster to turn your brain off to, to enjoy the ludicrous but nonetheless exciting adventure.
– Aoife B. Burke
First Published in The Tuam Herald on 03.06.13