Sunday, December 15, 2013

Book Review: Inferno by Dan Brown

Inferno by Dan Brown
Inferno by Dan Brown.
It's ablaze, all right, but with what?
That's up for debate.
Note: This post is being sponsored by Grammarly. I used Grammarly's plagiarism detector because I wanted to watch it have a conniption fit over Inferno's purple prose.

I'm not normally at a loss for words when it comes to talking about books. But Dan Brown's Inferno might have gotten the best of me.

I just can't think of anything to say.

It's a book.

It's not good.

Can we just call it a night?


Damn it. I should have known you'd expect more of me, dear readers. Inferno is not a good book. It's also not hate-worthy in the manner of some of the other books I've blogged about here. It doesn't inspire vitriol. It doesn't inspire anything at all. Perhaps that's the whole problem.

Confession Bear: I Liked the DaVinci Code
Confession Bear says, "Don't be a book snob."
Great Expectations
Let me start by saying I loved The DaVinci Code. Yes, the insults hurled at the book by book snobs are probably mostly true. But applying literary fiction's criteria to Dan Brown is like cursing at an apple because it isn't round and orange and you can't remove the peel in one of those nifty spirals. If you didn't know that going in, you're either blind or humorless or both.

Being a page-turner is an accomplishment. Books that make you stay up late at night to find out what happens next are, by definition, good books. You have another option--going to sleep at a normal hour, like a sane person--but you choose the book. If you have another option but you choose the book, the book is doing something right. For me, The DaVinci Code was crack...or whichever potato chips have the slogan, "Bet you can't eat just one."  I couldn't read just one page. I couldn't turn out the light.

TL;DR: It's a good fucking book.

Dante's Pique
Inferno is not a good fucking book. It's even worse than a bad book. It's a boring book.

It's like when you're in college and your professor is talking, and you try to listen, but he's off on a tangent about some facet of his grad school research that matters only to him. It's 2:15 in the afternoon and his voice drones on like that guy who says, "Bueller?" You listen for an hour, but your watch says it's only 2:18. You start fidgeting to try and not fall asleep. But that gets boring, too. And then you get a little angry. You're paying for this class, after all. By the time 3:00 actually rolls around, you're not glad to be alive. You're pissed at the professor (for wasting everyone's time) and the university (for throwing away the student evaluations that say how boring he is). You would rather have been in the library doing research for your Victorian Lit paper. At least you'd have checked something off your to-do list that way.

That's Inferno in a nutshell. This Twitter account would have been a better use of your time:

Dan Vinci's Nunferno Twitter account

10 Things I Hate about You +1, for a Grand Total of 11...Because I'm Feeling Bitchy that Way
When I started reading, I took notes on things I thought I'd blog about...but I stopped caring about 150 pages in. Then I started counting the number of times I fell asleep while reading it and got close to double digits. In order not to waste the time I spent making the list, here's a few of the things that ticked me off before page 150:
  • Adverbs
    • "Langdon battled the sedatives and awkwardly hoisted himself upright in his bed."
    • Because when I've been shot in the head and wake up groggy with amnesia, it really needs to be specified that my first movement is an awkward one. 
  • Exclamation point
    • "A ray of hope cut through Langdon's grogginess.  'That's good news! Maybe this person knows what happened to me!'" 
    • Because when I've been shot in the head and wake up groggy with amnesia, the first thing I do is make nothing but excited declarative statements. 
  • Statements of things that make no sense
    • "Who are you!? he called out in silence." 
    • If only someone had invented a word that meant having words go through your head without speaking them. Someone get the call-out-in-silence tank on the phone and ask them about it. 
  • Repetition for no point whatsoever
    • "...every operative on board sensed there was some kind of high-stakes operation going on. The stakes are inconceivably high, and Vayentha had better get it right this time.
    • I don't know about you, but I never believe the stakes are high unless I'm told twice in rapid succession using a variety of typefaces. 
  • Way too many uses of "?!"     
    • "I beg your pardon!?" 
    • Using this redundant form of punctuation makes it look like Brown doesn't know the difference between a statement and a question. I'm at a loss here, folks. I have never seen so many uses of "?!" in my life. I'm convinced Dan Brown has a "thou shalt not edit me" clause in his contract. This had me tearing out my hair, and with a 500 page book, that's a lot of hair. I'm bald now, actually. Thanks, Dan Brown. Thanks a lot.
  • Moments where the characters say really dumb things
    • "Langdon teetered on the brink of consciousness. Someone is trying to kill me?"
    • No shit, Sherlock. That's probably a reasonable conclusion when someone comes into your hospital wing, shoots your doctor right in front of you, and then takes aim. This is a character with a PhD who has been through this drill in three prior books. Is it really such a big surprise when it happens again? 
  • Moments where the characters do really dumb things
    • In the book, while on the run from people trying to kill him, Langdon checks his Harvard email. I literally screamed at the book: "You stupid fuck! You've been on three adventures where people are hunting you the way fat kids hunt cake, where your survival hinges on hiding your location. You STILL haven't learned what an IP address is?"
  • A disturbing lack of useful history and symbology
    • They play so much less of a role in this book than in The DaVinci Code. There's one moderately intriguing art world mystery raised (cerca trova), but it's not solved or referred to again after it points the characters toward the villain's plot. Never mind the rest of us who find the historical mystery more intriguing.   
  • Dante seems integral to the story, but he's not
    • He's a set piece. At its heart, nothing about the main conflict has a damn thing to do with Dante. The main conflict could have happened in any country, with any author who ever wrote a poem about death. It could have easily been T.S. Eliot, with The Waste Land standing in for the Inferno. Dante's just a red herring, a fancy set piece. Malthus is doing the heavy lifting here, but no one gives a crap about Malthus, so they needed Dante to bring sexy back.  
  • The main conflict isn't even resolved, despite nearly 500 pages
    • The book ends with a huge problem looming. We, the reader, knew what the problem was from the very beginning. We just had to wait for the characters to catch up. And then they do. And then nothing else happens. Seeing that the crisis looming is a big one, this seems either like a sequel setup (please, no) or a writer who's too bored with his own story to wrap it up. SPOILER ALERT: the looming problem is that humanity will be destroyed within a couple generations by a secret virus. What are the good people of the world doing about it? We don't know. The book's over. Have a nice day.
  • Everything is boring
    • The chase scenes are so long-winded you forget who and what the characters are running from. There's no historical mystery that you'd bite your own fingers off to solve. It's all about some stupid modern-day plague. The suspense is supposed to be in whether Langdon can stop it. But didn't they already do this in Mission Impossible 2? With better actors? I'll take Tom Cruise over Tom Hanks any day.
If I tried, I could probably come up with a few more things to say. But what's the point?

Go read a good book instead.