No worries, no spoilers of any kind.
My first Dan Brown experience was The Da Vinci Code. I fell into the hype, and the book was highly suggested by a buddy. I gave it a whirl, as much for the controversy that I was starting to hear, as well as the subject matter itself. Religious debates aside, I really enjoyed the book.
Brown obviously had done a lot of research and combined volumes of fact, legend, speculation, ancient mysteries, Christian doctrine, symbology and secret societies and wrapped it into a story. At times I felt like I should have been taking notes for future reference (cue the school days shudders) because, as the characters in the book worked through their predicaments, the interpretations mixed with facts of ancient mysteries were coming at me in rapid fire. The characters and story were definitely good enough to keep me riveted, and I would spend hours on the computer Googling many items from the book.
Six long years later for Dan Brown fans and his next book is published, The Lost Symbol. I just finished it.
If you take my paragraph above (starting with “Brown obviously had done…”), add in “science” to the first sentence, then substitute “was there” for “were definitely good enough to keep me riveted” in the last, then you have The Lost Symbol.
The story that everything else was wrapped around was very weak. I have read all five of Dan Brown’s novels, and my one major critical point in his writing style is that he misleads the reader. He writes them in the narrative style, injecting the character’s thoughts so the reader can “see” more of the character and what is going on as they decipher the mysteries. Countless times in his novels, as a conversation is happening, a revelation is discovered, or a mystery is unlocked, Brown cuts off the conversation and switches scenes. The character has that “AHA!!” moment that reveals a major plot piece. Brown then makes the reader wait pages, sometimes chapters, before unveiling what that revelation was… yet we follow the character through on their harrowing adventure not understanding WHY they are trying to frantically get to point B on the map, but the character knows. That makes no sense to me, and I found it irritating to me at times in this book. It would be like dining with my wife at a restaurant and having a phone call about something we were talking about. Then I would stand suddenly, grab her hand, rush out to the car and drive for 35 minutes to get home, all the while not telling her why. Believe me, if life happened as Brown writes, there might be a lot more unexpected revelations, but there also would be a lot more divorces and throats being punched. Brown has to have faith in his readers that we would be just as anxious as the characters, and that a fake cliff hanger is not needed. The story and the craft of good storytelling should be strong enough so as not to throw in an unseen twist just for the sake of an unseen twist. It is cheap. If that twist is revealed to the reader early on, but the characters are kept in the dark, a good narrative should accomplish the same goal. The twist revealed here actually left me feeling cheated, and I was distracted for many pages as I kept thinking back to earlier in the book… and how Brown misled.
A number of elements of this story are similar to those in Da Vinci. The protagonist, Robert Langdon, returns for his third novel (he was in Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code), there is a strong, intelligent female character that is involved in the adventure side-by-side with Langdon, there is an uber-creepy villain (this one, also bald, is tattooed over his whole body, instead of an albino monk), and the supporting characters all have their own agenda where you try to figure out who to trust.
The meat of this novel is again in the mysteries, symbology and the interpretations of both. Brown does a better job in instructing the reader on opening the mind and changing our perception of the world we live in, than delivering characters that you care what fate awaits. Robert Langdon’s skepticism through the whole book becomes so annoying that you wonder if Brown even remembers that this is the third novel he wrote him into. Personally, if I were in Langdon’s shoes and encountered the events of Rome (Angels & Demons) then Paris (The Da Vinci Code) and experienced the puzzles that were “solved” in both, my skepticism would be long gone. Hell, I’d be looking at my water bottle and wondering what Poland Spring is really trying to tell the world.
Overall, I really enjoyed the book. It doesn’t sound like it, but I did. I enjoyed it for the science (noetic science plays a part), and the huge amount of factual trivia regarding Washington D.C., our Founding Fathers, the Freemasons, and some of the “secrets in plain view” in buildings in Washington. I had many “that’s cool!” moments as I read some of these facts as the characters unraveled the puzzles before them. I want to go back to Washington and see some of them for myself now. You’ll never guess what fictional character has a sculpture on a cathedral in Washington! I can’t imagine what else Brown had uncovered that didn’t even make it into the book. Centuries of mysticism, beliefs, and persecution shaped how humankind has evolved thinking and has left the true meanings of original works shrouded in symbology and puzzles.
The main focus of this novel is perspective. Brown impressively created the puzzles and interpretations about how objects, thoughts, words, spirituality, the human mind, and legends all can change monumentally if the perspective is changed. Allegory is more of a character here than the actual characters, and that is welcome. He avoids the heavy-handed religious overtones, and focuses on spirituality instead of the denominational aspects. No true secrets were revealed in the pages, but Brown leaves the reader wondering “What if it were true?” again. To me, this makes The Lost Symbol a worthwhile read. It allows us to explore what we are now, and what our forefathers had in mind when they built America, what the ancient scientists and philosophers studied before modern technology, and what today’s technology will really allow us to uncover.