Top critical review
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on March 29, 2004
When I first started reading this book I was eager to become immersed in what I had been assured by many was a brilliant novel.
If there is brilliance within these pages, I see no evidence.
The plot itself starts with an intriguing idea, but there is so little in the way of particulars to flesh it out, so it barely gets beyond that initial stage. Much of this impression of scant detail is given by the author's tight fisted grip on information he prefers to keep from the reader in order to set up big revelations later in the book. Yes, mystery is an excellent device, but in this case it was overdone. It just made it apparent that there were so few actual details to be shared that they had to be rationed-doled out one at a time.
Even assuming that the reader has read Angels and Demons and knows the hero, character development is poor. Even given the rather unsurprising surprises the author does eventually reveal, it wouldn't be out of the question for the pages of introspection to be slightly more indicative of the characters' thought processes and emotional state. Granted, I can see the author was attempting to keep us from guessing too much and thereby spoiling his surprises, but part of the joy of reading a novel, even a fast-paced thriller, is getting to know the characters. Without that, we're given no reason to care what happens to them.
Instead of such character development, we get page after page of exposition that seems to have no place within the plot. Disney? The Little Mermaid? These meandering notions have no purpose here. They do not further the plot. They do not shed light on some piece of the narrative. If we're supposed to be overawed by the hero's surpassing intelligence in noticing things in Disney films that imply knowledge of the Grail, perhaps the hero should be more to us than a one-dimensional character sucked into a murder investigation.
The story itself was remarkably poorly written in many ways, but the most glaring was that, in the midst of what should be a moment of unbearable suspense, the action stopped as the narrative went off on a tangent. An interesting tangent perhaps, but still inserted awkwardly in a moment perhaps best left whole. By the time we resume where the action was suspended, it's hard to recapture the original emotion.
The hero, Robert Langdon is a professor and unfortunately resorts to lecture mode often. I often half-expected him to pull a chalkboard out of his pocket, start scribbling on it and say, "You see, Sophie..." When he did resort to doodles on a piece of paper at Teabing's house I laughed out loud.
Many of the facts he regurgitates-either in lectures to others or in the privacy of his own thoughts-seem to be included either for the purpose of proving that the author did, in fact, do research, or for the purpose of padding the novel and adding length. Both of which tactics one would expect from a student writing his/her first paper but not from a published author.
I won't go into the art history here as other reviewers with better credentials in that field have discussed it except to say that Mary Magdalene is not in DaVinci's The Last Supper. It might have made the other rather far-fetched clues a bit more believable if the author had limited himself to things that are actually in the painting. Building clues around familiar pieces of the painting-like he does with the space between Jesus and John (not Mary!) being a V shape- might have given a bit of verisimilitude to the overall story.
I don't truly understand the fervor this book has generated. Most of the ideas it presented have been mentioned elsewhere. There wasn't much new here. I enjoy reading controversial theories, so it isn't the apparent debunking of accepted ideas that bothers me, though a ridiculous percentage of this debunking is just that...ridiculous.
If this had been a well-written book I would likely have forgiven such silliness. I believe wholeheartedly in the willing suspension of disbelief asked of us by authors, but in this case, I didn't see much worth believing. Truthfully, I had to force myself to finish it because there was little there to hold my interest. Before you ask, I finished it because I had truly expected to find something within the book that would prove it was as brilliant as I had heard. I also promised to read it all for the sake of discussion. If you really want to read this, nothing I say will stop you, but do what I did and borrow someone's copy. Save your money for something worth the $24.95.