I’ve really enjoyed some of Dan Brown’s previous books – The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons – they’re a little bit silly, but they’re entertaining. This one is silly, but it’s not entertaining. This novel really dragged for me, and I took around two weeks to read it – much longer than I’d normally take over any book.
We are reunited with Brown’s tweed-wearing Harvard lecturer, Robert Langdon, when he wakes up in a hospital with a gunshot wound and no idea how he got there. The last thing he remembers is walking to take a lecture at his college and now he’s half way across the world in Florence. It’s promising enough.
Things move pretty quickly when a gunwoman enters the hospital and starts shooting at the doctors. Clearly Langdon has upset someone, but he manages to escape the hospital with the help of an attractive female doctor called Sienna Brooks.
It soon transpires that there’s a lot of people who want to kill Langdon, and his only clue about what happened to him comes in the form of a doctored version of Botticelli’s Inferno painting which is sealed inside a biotube. The coded message within the painting sends Langdon and his new best friend Brooks on a pacey race against time through some of Florence and Venice’s most iconic buildings, culminating in Istanbul.
Each clue just leads them to another clue and yet another building of historic and cultural interest. This would be fine, except that with each clue and location, we are subjected with a barrage of information which feel to me like it’s been lifted directly from a tour guide. Now, I have no problem with learning something new with my fiction, but this felt all a little too much. It seems that for each new building Langdon and Brooks enter there are pages and pages covering the history of the location, it’s symbolic interest and Langdon’s own relationship with it. I ended up skipping entire chunks of text as they simply added nothing to the story.
This story covers just 24 hours in Langdon’s life and, history lessons aside, it is relatively fast-paced. Although the race against time with a pretty sidekick does feel a little like a regurgitation of Brown’s other novels, there are some good points. A genius villain – Bertrand Zobrist, an advanced geneticist and avid member of the transhumanist movement – is one. I also enjoyed the concept of the Consortium; a mysterious organisation ran from a gigantic yacht. The Consortium provide a service to the elite – that service being anything which their elite clients require, as long as it falls within the law to all intents and purposes.
The underlying motivation which drives Zobrist to send Langdon on this race around Europe is the concern of overpopulation. Zobrist believes that if we are left to live and reproduce at our current rate, the human race will be extinct within 100 years. The concept and the extremes some people will go to in order to rectify it is intriguing and clever. Unfortunately, it’s not covered in too much depth as Brown is more concerned with describing the landmarks of Venice and Florence. It’s a great premise, but I felt it was executed quite poorly. Still, if you want to learn all about the history of Florence and Venice then, by all means, get stuck in.