Saturday, 30 January 2010

book review - "The Lost Symbol"

This is the third review of my "book per fortnight for 2010" series. It is, however, a review of the fourth book in the series, and both #3 and #4 have been read way ahead of schedule; I should be 2.07 books in by now, given the date, but I finished #3 today (hence this review) and will be finished with #4 tomorrow.

The reason I'm reviewing #4 before #3 is that I started #4 when I was only pages from the end of #3, thinking that I'd finish #3 before #4. This was of course incorrect: I instead got tangled in Brown's incessant web of cliffhangers, twists, factoids and conspiracies, as has happened the past four times I've read anything by him.

'The Lost Symbol' follows Robert Langdon, the fictitious, claustrophobic, eidetic and semiotically gifted Harvard professor who we met in 'Angels and Demons', and again in the phenomenally popular 'The Da Vinci Code', as he is plunged into the middle of a chain of events that threaten to change the world as we know it.

If you'd like, you can imagine Robert as portrayed by Tom Hanks in the film adaptation of 'The Da Vinci Code' for the purpose of this review:

Now I know it may sound cynical, but it needs to be said. If you understand the adjectives in the paragraph describing Robert (claustrophobic, eidetic and semiotically gifted), it becomes incredibly clear why Brown gave him these attributes: each forms the basis of large (and often vital) amounts of the plot line. I'm not sure whether this criticism is valid, or even if it is actually a criticism, really, it just seems sometimes like otherwise unsolvable problems / inescapable situations are consistently and conveniently resolved instantly by Robert and his gifts. I think I'm probably just being sensitive: claustrophobia isn't a gift, and doesn't benefit Langdon at all throughout the book (or the two prequels) - it does however, contribute around 8 pages of "Robert felt scared as he walked through the small dark tunnels" or similar. An eidetic memory, though rare, is entirely possible. For those unfamiliar with the term, it is the 'smart' name for a photographic memory, and those of you who have seen aforementioned film will know that Langdon solves a huge chunk of the plot by 'remembering' a statue he had seen earlier that provided the answer - a similar thing happens in this book, and the eidetic memory is put to another use that seems highly convenient. The semiotic gift Langdon possesses is just me wanting to give 3 examples of these characteristics: his knowledge in symbology and iconography is entirely learned, and he is an active professor in the field so it is only natural he would know his stuff.


A synopsis. I don't want to provide ANY spoilers whatsoever, because this book relies largely on twists and cliffhangers as I mentioned (hopefully that disclosure doesn't count as a spoiler...). For this reason the synopsis will be incredibly brief:

Robert Langdon is swimming -> he receives a phone call and a request -> he attempts to honour the request -> he travels to a famous city -> things are not as they seem when he arrives -> a government intelligence agency become involved -> Robert gets hold of an important object -> him and accomplice then flee the involved agency -> they seek refuge -> they attempt to discover the meaning of the object -> the antagonist wants the same, and is committing nefarious deeds to try and get his way -> Robert gets upset by these deeds -> Robert gets involved in these deeds -> Robert gets hurt by these deeds -> all looks bleak -> the object changes hands -> SOMETHING COOL HAPPENS -> the book ends.

The crude "SOMETHING COOL HAPPENS" refers to a key part of the book that I could not summarise without ruining it for potential readers. Other than that I'm quite proud of my synopsis! No important names, groups, items or places are named, and no part of the plot is ruined.

With that, though, it is incredibly hard to give my opinions of the book beyond this: I liked it. Aside from the sometimes over-convenient character development I mentioned, and the CONSTANT cliffhangers (seriously; every 2 or 3 pages), it was a good book. And I guess the cliffhangers just make you want to keep reading; they aren't necessarily a bad thing. Brown is able to provoke interest in ancient secrets, rituals, groups and whatever else through his engaging writing, and I have the intention of following some of these interests up later on in my readings. I won't say this is better than 'The Da Vinci Code', but I won't say it's worse either. It lived up to expectations (mine at least), and was a good, quick read.

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