Reviews of Dan Brown’s latest … ugh

Il Miglior Fabbro in a pensive mood (perhaps thinking about books and book reviewers): portrait by Agnolo Bronzino

Il Miglior Fabbro in a pensive mood (perhaps thinking about books and book reviewers): portrait by Agnolo Bronzino, 16th century

Another Dan Brown novel, another pack of smug reviews.

Here’s my confession:  I’m already sick of the reviews of Brown’s “Inferno,” and the book only pubbed a day ago. Reviewers say that Brown doesn’t do anything new in his latest, but here’s the thing: neither do they.

The criticisms are predictable; the angles are all the same. “How can he write such drivel?” they say, wringing their hands. At this point, after four books, attacking Brown’s prose style or story line is unimaginative and tiresome — like shooting fish in the proverbial barrel.

If they can do better than Brown, then they should give it a try. Please. That’s what’s changed for me, my friends. As I’ve worked with historical material and puzzles in a book of my own,  I’ve come to appreciate Brown even if I wouldn’t make the same narrative choices.

Every reviewer, in fact, should try to write a novel or a story before offering to review one. That doesn’t mean that you’ll become an instant cheerleader. But at least you’ll have a broader perspective … and maybe you’ll avoid carpal tunnel syndrome from all that hand-wringing. Writing  is an extraordinarily humbling, powerful journey.

FOR YOUR READING (DIS)PLEASURE:

Good:
New York Times (keeps perspective on the story, and the thriller genre): http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/13/books/inferno-by-dan-brown.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Decent:
The Globe and Mail (it starts off like all the rest, and then changes) http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/books-and-media/book-reviews/has-dan-brown-become-gasp-a-better-writer/article11940973/

New York Daily News:  http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/music-arts/dante-catholicism-fill-brown-sizzling-inferno-article-1.1343823

Eye-rollers
The Standard: http://www.standard.co.uk/arts/book/review-a-chase-a-blonde-some-dimwit-culture-it-must-be-dan-browns-new-blockbuster-inferno-8615057.html

Clives James in USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/books/2013/05/14/clive-james-dan-brown/2155487/

Praise (with an extreme back of the hand)
The Telegraph:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/bookreviews/10053517/Inferno-by-Dan-Brown-review.html

Completely lame:
The Guardian (imitating Brown’s writing)  http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/may/14/dan-brown-inferno-first-look

Mea culpa:
I’m no innocent bystander. I was once guilty of this sort of holier-than-thou reviewing too  http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/la-et-lost-symbol14-2009sep14,0,5481048.story (blech)

26 responses

  1. Thanks Jilanne — no, don’t worry, I totally understood what you meant. I was just guilty of the same thing once and wanted to show it, even if it wasn’t as bad as some of the others. I read the Duffy review that you referred, and I was sorry to see her dismissed in such a snide way. On the other hand, she has a pile of awards and recognitions sky-high that I hope buffer her from such treatment. The review didn’t surprise me at all. Why can’t we all just get along?

  2. I’m not a huge Dan Brown fan, but I have to admit I’ve liked my share of books that reviewers would make fun of. I think you’re right, though. Trying to write fiction would probably make critics better at their job.

  3. Total agreement with you. I usually enjoy the stuff that get’s attacked for being lowbrow.

    I just think that writing opens your mind to appreciating it more. Once you try to write a scene in which a character opens a door, enters a room, and drinks a glass of water, your perspective changes.

  4. It’s true. Sometimes writing a real simple, common scenes – like entering a room and drinking a glass of water – can be extremely challenging!

  5. Hilarious! Thanks for sharing. Loved the “maybe you’ll avoid carpal tunnel syndrome from all that hand-wringing.”
    Look what you’ve done: you made me want to buy Brown’s Inferno, when in truth I wasn’t going to! One for the Nook, I think.
    I studied Dante over three years at high school – maybe I’ll finally overcome my teen-age revulsion due to over exposure to his work and finally grow up!

  6. I’d caution against buying the Brown, though maybe it’s far more affordable on the Nook. At my local bookstore, there was a copy on display and I picked it up. “$29.95.” Wow. That’s pretty pricey for a thriller. All the attention to Brown’s book has sent me in the direction of Dante again. Stay tuned: I’ll be posting a two-part interview with Dante translator Andrew Frisardi later this week.

    Teen-age revulsion — ha! I understand that! If it’s too much to take, there’s also a fun, unusual version of the Divine Comedy by illustrator Seymour Chwast. All in black-and-white and extremely playful. It’s worth checking out even if it can’t replace the original!

  7. I’ll have to look for it in a decent bookstore, thanks for the tip.
    On a lighter note I’ve bought my nephew The Hobbit (complete and unabridged) illustrated comics (strips for our US friends?) Except for the font size, too small for comfort, it was phenomenal!
    I look forward to your interview with Frisardi. I’ve always been interested in the art of translation. Once with my husband we simultaneously read The Snack Thief, one of my favourites from the Montalbano’s series by Camilleri: me in the original language of Italian and Sicilian, and him in English. I used hubby as a dictionary! The Sicilian dialect takes a little too much effort to understand, and I was lagging behind.
    Or, just to keep up with my knowledge of German, every now and again I read a book in German which has been translated from English (the latest was The Descendants). It’s harder to read a book in German if originally written in German…if you know what I mean.
    All the best,
    ofglassandbooks

  8. I’ll be especially interested in what you think about Frisardi’s remarks because of your Italian fluency. There’s an interesting experiment in your reading experience of Camilleri with your husband — it would be interesting to find the differences, even little ones, when you read it direct and filtered by a translator! I really appreciate your generous comments. All the best….

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  10. Too kind. Will keep my eyes peeled on new posts.
    One of the differences between the English and the Italian version of Camilleri’s Montalbano’s series was that no dialogue is used in the English translation. Of course it wouldn’t have made sense to adopt, say, cockney, just for the sake. What good would it do to randomly choose a dialect? But the complete absence of a dialect makes it for an altogether different read. An easier one, I guess. There were other interesting differences which I will have to go and dig out. I seem to recall they revolve around food, obviously a prominent interest of Montalbano!

  11. You’re lucky to experience the series directly, dialect and all. It seems like there’s a great idea for a post lurking in your comments to share with the rest of us!

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  13. Did you get a chance to read the article I sent you? The one that slammed Brown yet again? And discussed Bang’s “translation”? I think it’s always easier to take pots shots from the peanut gallery than to get out there and become one of the moving targets. How’s your work coming along?

  14. Hi Jil — I have the article but haven’t gotten through it all yet. I want to enjoy it and go slow, but my own schedule’s been too hectic. I keep glancing over at that article with sad eyes.

    My work’s done — though done seems far more tentative when it comes to drafts of novels! I’ll send an excerpt to you soon.

    I’ve been meaning to compliment you on your most recent post about Dan Chaon, which I am going to do now on your page!

  15. Pingback: Want to blog about books? Here’s how you do it … plus new Dante | Call of the Siren

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