Dan Brown gets an A, as usual, for writing style. He keeps the reader turning the pages. But this time, the plot is a stretch. As anyone who’s read Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and the Lost Symbolknows, protagonist Robert Langdon is a Harvard professor specializing in symbology who is summoned for emergencies that require him to rocket through Europe running from bad guys and heading off global disasters, while following clues and cues in art. He’s always called “Professor.” Many of my friends are professors, and I have an adjunct title myself, and we don’t call ourselves Professor. Maybe it’s different in the art world. Inferno takes a completely tangential route, and deals within the frameworks of another classical narrative, and completely misses the goals of a thriller: to keep the reader insatiably flipping pages. If it weren’t for the overt and blatantly artless connections made between the two texts, Dan Brown’s Inferno, and Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, there would be little point to Dan Brown’s novel at all. But then, the critic’s job is not to heavily penalize the writer for writing in a particular genre. It is just infuriating to read a work that is not neatly filed into a specific shelf of the library.
For a thriller, the book is too prosaic in the first half; and if it is contending to be a literary work it contains outrageously atrocious language – the river has “churning waters” and there is a “sea of corpses” at the feet of “a veiled woman“. The bodies are “writhing in agony” and Langdon can “hear the mournful cries of human suffering echoing across the water.” That is just the first page.The Da Vinci Code managed to establish Dan Brown as a breed apart from other thriller genre writers. He deconstructed Christianity for mass-market thriller readers. Unfortunately, Dante’s Inferno is not as accessible to Brown. Sure, it is beautifully written, and wreaks havoc across the heart of the trained critic and theorist; but its warnings against evil are hidden behind veils that cannot be penetrated with Brown’s pen. That is the irony of the thriller genre: it cannot examine the details of a minute moment or object, but it can deal with the world at large. Brown’s lavish strokes with the needle-point brush were bound to be ineffective, and they are.