So I finished Inferno by Dan Brown, finally.
What I expected would take me two days ended up taking me closer to two weeks, and I’ll tell ya, I’m not super pleased about it.
Now, I’m not usually a Dan Brown basher. I know he isn’t a great writer, but his books sell. And I enjoyed his previous books. You can’t hate a guy just because his books make money. But now, after reading this book, I think I officially give up on trying to defend him.
I originally picked up Inferno because I was interested to see how Brown used Dante’s Divine Comedy as a backdrop to a thriller plot. I mean, levels of hell? Come on, it’s ripe of interesting conflict! Sure, I knew there would be another scavenger hunt of historical clues and some ridiculous melodrama – that’s exactly what his other books had, so I figured I knew was I was getting into. But what I really got was a book full of tired cliches and exhausting repetition.
The book opens to Robert Langdon in a hospital room in a foreign country with amnesia having just suffered a bullet wound to the head. Okay, interesting! I mean, it felt a little forced, and the visions/hallucinations were kind of lame, but it still an interesting, page-turning way to start a story. But as soon as we cut to the spiky-haired woman in an all-black, skin-tight body suit garnishing a gun with a silencer, I wanted to throw the book across the room. So freaking cliche. Why was she wearing a body suit? What is this, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? And then we meet the beautiful blond doctor who saves his life and also happens to be an incredible super genius with an IQ over 20o. Groan.
We then spend the next half of the book basically catching up to where Robert Langdon was before the “head injury,” following clues focused around Dante and his famous works in the Divine Comedy. This was pretty standard in comparison to the previous books. Find ridiculously obscure clue, try to figure out what it means, be baffled, then suddenly remember something from a lecture ten years ago and then find the next clue. Rinse and repeat.
Did I mention that he is being chased by a ton of people with guns and drone planes? But he just keeps giving them the slip….
Eventually we learn the underlying plot to this story, which is actually not that bad. Apparently there is a famous doctor who has been concerned about the world collapsing due to overpopulation to the point where he sort of goes mad and creates a super virus that will kill a big chunk of the world’s population similar to what the Black Plague did to Europe, paving the way for a Renaissance.
Considering over-population is a real concern, I was intrigued. Why the doctor felt the need to go all Dante on us is not certain since the only real explanation we get for that is because no one would have a meaningful discussion about a solution with him so he felt angry and isolated, thus driving him insane. Oh, and he sort of jumped off a building and killed himself before all of this nonsense even really got started. But not before planting a super virus to be released on a certain date and time. Cue ticking time bomb plot trope.
In all seriousness, seeing how Brown was going to tackle the whole over-population thing is what kept me reading this book. There were so many times I wanted to put it down and never finish, but I was determined. Sure I could have just skipped to the end, but I consider reading to have a code of honor – and skipping to the end is just not allowed.
So around 75% of the way into the book, we are still chasing down clue after clue, following Langdon and his brilliant, sexy blond doctor all over Europe. The thing is, they don’t exactly know why they have to solve this mystery. As far as they know, some Dante man has hid a bunch of clues and the woman from Langdon’s visions is tied up in the back of a car. Otherwise, they are flying blind. The only real pressure on them to keep moving is that this mysterious group of people might catch them so they have to get to the end of the bread crumb trail to figure out what they are even looking for…because as I said, THEY DON’T EVEN KNOW.
There is one specific thing about this book that I really, really liked. But it is a HUGE spoiler and reading this will ruin the effect should you choose to read this book. DO NOT READ BELOW THIS LINE IF YOU DON’T WANT IT SPOILED FOR YOU. Simply skip this section and get to my take on the book in general.
The best part about this book was the one major twist that I did not see coming. And it was because the setup was actually pretty well done. Brown essentially introduces a new character to the bread crumb crew while the B-plot characters realize that a specific character is actually a bad guy. Cut to a phone call we don’t get to listen to and a chapter entirely in flashback about meeting the crazy Dante scientist and becoming his lover. So logically, we assume that this new character is evil (and infected with a plague), which colors our reading of him for the next few chapters. Then, after Langdon is picked up by the B-plot people who were chasing him, and who are actually good guys…sort of, we find out that the flash back we saw wasn’t from the new character’s point of view…but actually from Langdon’s hot blond doctor! And that it was actually her who was the doctor’s lover. And that, GASP, she is a bad guy! The old switch-a-roo!
I thought this was actually pretty clever on Brown’s part. It was the one twist I didn’t see coming and it was a pretty cool realization to come so late in the book since it completely changed the playing field.
(Except not really because we find out that she was never really a bad guy at all…. which is a whole other issue with this book that I’ll talk about later.)
Then they head to the end of the trail only to find that the specific date on which the virus was to be released was not the release date, but instead it was the saturation point for the plague to have affected everyone on earth. Okay, Interesting!
And then we find out what the virus does. Apparently, it manipulates the human DNA to make people infertile, meaning no more babies, thus curbing human overpopulation. But it doesn’t happen to everyone! It only works on 1/3 of the population (a number taken from Dante and the Black Plague). So it is just this DNA defect now built into everyone so some people can have babies and some can’t. No one dies, they just stop having kids.
Okay, this might sound horrible, but my first reaction when reading this was, “that’s not a the worst solution to global overpopulation…” I know, that’s an awful thought, but after spending the entire book thinking people were going to die horrible deaths, things ended in sort of a “could be worse” type of situation.
Oh, and since everyone was infected, the book just sort of ends with “guess we’ll just have to deal with it.” What? Okay… I guess…
It was the first time one of these books felt separated from our reality.
I found the book’s ending to be really interesting, but not satisfying at all. It felt like we had departed from our reality and now Robert Langdon is part of a completely different universe. It just took away some of the “oh cool, maybe that’s true” from the story.
5 thoughts on this book:
1) Cliches. Cliches everywhere. Seriously, assassins in tight body suits brandishing guns. Hot blond brilliant doctors. Epiphanies for every single clue. It felt tired, old, and not original at all. I mean, it’s the same story over and over again, and I knew that going in, but it got to the point where it just felt so forced and contrived. Couldn’t he have tried to do things differently at all?
2) Repetitive. Repetitive. Repetitive. I swear I did more skimming in this book than actual reading. Brown kept telling me the same things over and over again, as though he were trying to reach his word count through repetition. A video was a critical part of the story, and every time we sat down to watch it with a new character (which was like, 4-5 times), we sat through almost the entire script of the video again. And just constant reminders about the plague and Dante and amnesia, etc. etc. etc. I know that emphasis is important, but I don’t need eight different instances of contemplating the exact same thing.
3) No one was actually a bad guy. So the woman trying to kill Langdon is the bad guy. Oh wait, no, she’s not. Must be the other guy trying to catch him. Wait, no. Maybe the guy ordering those two people around? Nope, he’s not so bad either. How about this random new character? He must be evil. Okay…how about this other character who is clearly made out to be the villain. Nope, not that one either? Okay, crazy doctor guy for sure. Well, he didn’t really…er….okay, who is evil here because seriously, I feel like that was a lot of work and effort for nothing.
4) Not enough Dante. I don’t think Brown did as much research for this book as his others because the interesting Dante facts were few and far between. There just weren’t as many clues or steps to take before reaching the end of the trail. In fact, once they reached the location of the virus, it felt like all of the tension was pulled out of the story. And anything related to Dante felt like an afterthought to the actual bio-terrorism plot that was actually kind of interesting.
5) A little bit of interesting character work and a lot of running around for nothing. Some of the characters had potential to be so interesting but then twists upon twists made them lame again. It just sort of felt cheap at the end.
Overall: Don’t read this book. Seriously, it took way too much of my time to force myself to read this book and it was mostly skimming anyway. It would be a waste of your time to pick up this book. There isn’t all that much Dante so it’s not like you’ll learn anything and I’m pretty sure any summer blockbuster movie would be better than this — and that’s saying something.
Sorry Dan Brown. I tried, I really did. But this book was bad and you should feel bad (while you roll around in your piles of money.)
Do you finish books even if you aren’t enjoying them?
What are your guilty pleasure books?