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Literature Review

The Lost Symbol – Novel Review

The Lost Symbol – Novel Review
  • By Dan Brown
  • Published by Doubleday

When The Da Vinci Code went triple platinum, I decided I’d have a shot at reading it. I mean, even if the author was silly enough to display his ignorance in big, block letters with that title (“da Vinci” means “of Vinci” — Vinci being the place near Florence where Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, or ‘Leonardo, son of Piero, of Vinci; was born. Artists and historians call the famous Renaissance painter and polymath “Leonardo”. A “Da Vinci Code” refers some sort of code of Vinci, a small and largely insignificant village in Tuscany. Go figure.) surely if so many people all over the world were hot for this book, there had to be something in it, right?

Heh. Funny thing: people all over the world are, apparently, hot for McDonald’s McFood, too.

The analogy is sharper than it sounds. Micky Dee makes me gag these days, now that I know how to cook. And I managed no more than twenty or thirty pages of “The Da Vinci Code” before I gagged like a first-time porn starlet with a throatful of John Holmes, and hurled the stupid thing across the room.

Y’see, I read “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” years before, and even if they didn’t win their plagiarism suit against Brown, the authors made a much more interesting, much better researched book. Brown’s writing in TDVC was amateurish at worst, pedestrian at best, and never once managed to swing around towards the outer suburbs of Entertainmentsville. It was, in short, a dog of a book best used as budgie cage liner — if the budgie doesn’t mind shitting all over something that’s already covered in crap.

Now, Cool Shite Bruce knows my opinions on this matter. And therefore, he was utterly gleeful when Doubleday sent a copy of Brown’s latest for review, because he was figuring on another epic gagging-on-John-Holmes moment, only in print. Being the good sport I am, though, I gritted my teeth, girded my loins, and prepared to be violated…

..and I can say this: either Brown has improved, or I’ve grown signally more jaded and stupid in the interim.

It’s not what you’d call a fantastic improvement, mind you. Yes, I finished the book this time, but it’s possible that’s purely because I felt obligated. It was noticeably less interesting than, say, counting the number of jaw movements I get from a wedge of chewing gum before it gets too tasteless to enjoy. But at least this time, my gag reflex didn’t cut in.

What’s goes down in Brown Town this time? Perpetual Tom Hanksalike character Robert Langdon, “Professor of Symbology” (according to the press release, anyway) is back. This time he’s hanging around the Freemasons in Washington DC. You see, an old buddy of his with the unlikely name of Peter Solomon is a hooptidoo Master Mason, and he’s given Langdon a super-important package a century or more old to guard for all of Masonry. The package has some kind of sooperdooper magical secret that can destroy all mankind if it gets out, so clearly Langdon is just the bloke to hang onto it… for some reason. I guess.

In short order, Peter Solomon is in deep doo-doo, and Langdon is dragged into five-hundred-odd pages of painfully contrived puzzles interspersed with tedious lectures on architecture, Masonic symbolism, and snippets of esoteric history. Somewhere in all this a Really Bad Guy has kidnapped Peter, and if Tom — err… Langdon doesn’t solve a whole bunch of puzzles laid down by the crowd of Masons who founded Washington (and the USA) thus uncovering this all-important Magick Secret of Immense Destructive Power, the Bad Guy is gonna off Solomon in an ugly way.

Fortunately, Brown realises that this isn’t enough to motivate old Hankdon. After all, Solomon’s told him to guard this dingus on pain of death. So for reasons which become more or less clear at the end, the CIA wants the super-secret too, and Langdon has to run away from them. Also, Solomon’s sister Katherine, who is researching “Noetic Science” and has “proved” that human thought can do all kinds of wonderfunky science fiction shit, wants to recover her brother, and at the same time she’s running away from the Bad Guy, so she’s right in there beside Rob Hanks, for extra shits and giggles.

Do they solve the puzzles, outsmart the CIA, free Solomon and save the world? Pfeh. Does the Pope wear a funny hat?

For me, there are two big problems with this book. The first is simply that Dan Brown’s either not as clever as he thinks, or he believes his audience is dumber than mud. Take that name, Peter Solomon: naming a Master Mason for ‘Peter’, the “rock” (petrus, in Latin) upon which Christ punningly founded his church, and ‘Solomon’, the biblical king whose temple gave the Masons their mythical basis in the first place, is just trite. And then again, this guy Solomon is supposed to be smart — so how come he willingly goes to a therapist named “Abaddon”? I mean, for fuck’s sake! Half the book is full of this guy Solomon pontificating on mystical knowledge! Why can’t he do a fucking Wikipedia search?

Wikipedia: Abaddon (Hebrew: Abaddon, Greek: Apollyon, Latin: Exterminans, Coptic: Abbaton, meaning “A place of destruction”, “The Destroyer”, “Depths of Hell”) in the Revelation of St. John, is the king of tormenting locusts and the angel of the bottomless pit.[1] The exact nature of Abaddon is debated, but the Hebrew word is related to the triliteral root ABD, which in verb form means “to perish.”[2]

Not your typical therapist, no. And naturally, Abaddon the Therapist is really the Big Bad Guy in disguise. Whoa there, Brown: I didn’t see that one coming!

As for the Shocking Surprise of the Bad Guy’s True Identity… well, if you’re determined to read this book I won’t spoil it for you. But I will say that I’d worked it out before the book was half done. And it was painfully bloody obvious, thanks.

The second problem is more technical. It’s about pacing, but it ties into the first problem, wherein Brown is wayyy too much in love with his own cleverness. You see, this book is fucking horrible to read. It seems that at some point, some prick has told Brown that ending a chapter or a major scene on a cliffhanger is a good way to keep people excitedly turning pages.

Well, yeah. Maybe. In a real book. But if you’ve got a book of five hundred pages and more than A HUNDRED AND THIRTY CHAPTERS, that’s a gigantic, painful, haemorrhoid-riddled ASSSSSLOAD of goddam cliffhangers. It’s dire! Not a single plot point can simply be revealed. Nope, they have to be hinted at, and then shown to Hankdon so he can gasp, gawk, and deny the very possibility of whatever it is he’s just seen. And then, of course, we get a three page chapter about somebody else before we cut back to see that…. OHMYFUCKINGGOD! Langdon has just discovered that Isaac Newton wore special underpants!!! (Dramatic chord! Sounds of thunder offstage!)

It’s like being hit in the face by a giant fluffy ‘Hello Kitty’ every three minutes or so. It starts out merely irritating, but round the fiftieth time, you just wanna grab the fucker behind it and shove his fucking ‘Hello Kitty’ right…up…his…ass.

And in between these dramatic cliffhangers?


Brown did a lot of research for this book. A whole fucking lot. And almost all of it, I swear, is in there. You get whole pages of dialogue in which characters lecture each other on eighteenth century architecture and Masonic symbols. Mind you, they’re supposed to be desperately, tensely hiding from CIA agents while simultaneously trying to solve The Big Riddle to save Solomon… but they’ve got time to blather endlessly about the most crapulous details — and of course, Brown writes his characters full of wide-eyed admiration for each other’s knowledge, so it just keeps spewing out, like the epic result of a taco-and-tequila-slammer binge.

I could give examples of this shit. I mean, I started dog-earing pages of the book so I could pick some good ones. But now the book is so fucking fat and folded at the corners that I can’t close it. So… bugger it. I’m at nearly 1500 words here, and that’s about 1450 more than this book deserves. Fuck you, Cool Shite Bruce. Give me back the last two days of my life, you bastard.

The rest of you… if you’re a big Dan Brown fan, fine. Read the book. No doubt you’ll love it even more than his last efforts. And you deserve it.

And if by some chance you’re a fan of badly paced, poorly characterised, over-researched, pedantic thrillers whose twists and turns are visible roughly half the book in advance, you need to jump at this thing before it disappears up its own morass of verbiage.

But if you like pace, suspense, half-decent writing, interesting characters, believable storylines, or in fact ANYTHING except endless snippets of early Masonic trivia, you should consider yourself duly warned. This is another one for the budgie cage.

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About The Author


Dirk Flinthart is a mildly notorious writer, raconteur and sometime rakehell bunkered in the forbidding hills of north-east Tasmania. He's probably best known as an occasionally fictitious character in John Birmingham's books, but the reality is both stranger, and far more coherent. Flinthart's recent works include Angel Rising (with Twelfth Planet Press), Canterbury 2100 (as editor, courtesy of Agog! fiction) and he has a story shortlisted to the 2008 Aurealis Awards. Having just completed his black belt in ju-jitsu and begun his studies of Iaido, Flinthart is confident of surviving the coming Zombie Apocalypse in fine fashion, and expects to continue writing speculative fiction long after the undead have eaten your rich, gooey brains...

Article Information

  • Posted: Monday, November 2nd, 2009
  • Author: Dirk Flinthart
  • Filed Under: Literature,Review


7 Responses to “The Lost Symbol – Novel Review”
  1. avatar Rikkert says:

    Thank you Dirk! For reading shite so we don’t have to.
    I expect that your review was way more entertaining then the book will ever be!


    • avatar Flinthart says:

      Regrettably, Rikkert, I fear that's a cold, hard truth. And this is the Burden of the Reviewer. Go forth and tip a glass for me, mourning all those vital brain cells that died so that you could be free of the fear that Dan Brown might have written an interesting book…

  2. avatar Barnesm says:

    I would say the review was particularly novel. but I am sorry there in no way on this good earth I would ever read the actual novel and see how your review compares.

  3. avatar MickH says:

    hey Dirk! yeah I'm not dead.
    Anyway, I agree with you but having read all his books this is by far his best. So under no circumstances read the others alright? :) I was always confused as to why this author got so popular, he is as you say, crapulous and obvious.
    And you didn't mention the big plot hole. He didn't say how the CIA got involved in the first place!
    Well, i don't think he did but i'm i'm not going back in to find out.

  4. avatar Don White says:

    I liked the Lost Symbol but I liked The God Machine by J. Sandom a lot more

  5. avatar @RachsMedia says:

    I was laughing the entire way through that review because every complaint I had whilst reading the book was in there :D
    The Shocking Surprise of the Bad Guy’s True Identity… Man, not only was it obvious, but then you had to continue reading through the "subtle" (as a brick to the head) hints. I kept picturing Brown writing them, chuckling to himself and patting himself on the back. My eyes kept doing this strange rolling thing…

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