The power cable for my iBook stopped working, and because my iBook is old and broken down, it took 10 days to order in a new power supply. Ten long days. So with no internet, no way of playing DVDs and not even that crappy game with the Incan marbles, I had to find other stuff to bide my time. I turned to the magical world of books.
I started with the most magical book I could find – Dan Brown’s new tome, “The Lost Symbol”, though I kept thinking of it as “The Da Vinci Code II” and, perhaps more accurately, “The Masonic Colossal Family Fun Book of Puzzles and Adventure Stories”.
Basically, Robert Langdon, hero of “The Da Vinci Code” is back, and this time he’s, um, wandering around Washington DC solving puzzles, encountering the mysteries of the Masons, and generally being on the run from the CIA and the freaky dude with the tattoos.
It is not without its charms, and that’s what I shall focus on here.
Everyone likes solving puzzles, and the book includes many:
- The one with the numbers in the grid (not Sudokus!)
- The one with the letters in the grid.
- The one with the symbols in the grid.
- The one with the “maths is fun” grid.
- The one with the anagram (Remember those? We learned about them in “The Da Vinci Code”!)
- The one with the severed hand.
Some of my friends, who are quite smart and read books by authors such as “The Japanese guy who wrote the one about the wood from Norway”, well, they frown upon Mr Brown and his novels. “Boo!” They complain. “His writing is crap!” But I’ve always been all about having a well-rounded cultural experience. If you read something like “The Lost Symbol”, then won’t the better novels you read be just that much sweeter in comparison? How can you rank something five stars out of five if you’ve never had a one-star experience?
Besides, it’s much more fun reading a novel knowing that its style can be aped as easily as this:
The New Zealand Parliament’s Executive Wing is popularly known as “the Beehive” and “the jewel of Molesworth Street”. It stands rotundly like a panopticon of politics, its marble floors, stainless steel mesh panels and translucent glass ceiling a gleaming symbol of democracy and competitively priced catering.
It has been criticised over the decades, and yet it is still used. Every day, the everyday men and women of the Government travel its tastefully carpeted hallways, on their way to making the laws that indeed create the buzz of the Beehive.
And it was in one of these hallways that Langdon found himself stooped over the severed tonsil of a maintenance worker. What sick mind did this? And what sick message were they trying to send?
At one point, Langdon phones his publisher, desperate to get hold of a person’s phone number, to warn her that some shit is going to happen. Even though Langdon is all desperate, his publisher hassles him for taking so long to write his new book. Just like Dan Brown took ages to write “The Lost Symbol” in real life! “Book publishing would be so much easier without the authors,” the publisher thinks to himself. Yeah, just don’t forget who feeds you.
There a plot twist based around a clue-pun on the original meaning of the word ‘sincere’. “…Langdon now understood that Dean Galloway was sending Peter a code. Ironically, this same code had been a plot twist in a mediocre thriller Langdon had read years ago.” That’s so meta it’s almost as if the novel itself is sentient.
For an author who has had two previous works turned into major motion pictures, Dan Brown has surprisingly put in a few elements that seem to be virtually unfilmable.
For example, Sato, the CIA director is described as being 4 foot, 10 inches tall, “bone thin with jagged features and a dermatological condition known as vitiligo, which gave her complexion the mottled look of coarse granite blotched with lichen”, and with a lady moustache and a manly voice due to throat cancer. She gets to deliver lines like , “You boiled the pyramid[?!]“ That’s either an Oscar for Best Actress or Best Animation.
And then there are the scenes in the totally dark room. Part of the action takes place in a lab in the Smithsonian, located in the middle of a pitch-black bunker. Like, totally dark; a complete absence of light. Of course a chase scene takes place there, so how would that be filmed? In Dark-o-vision, is how.
Page 10 refers to “the moko scars of the modern Maori” in its lesson of tattooing throughout the ages. Yay! NZ!
There’s a plot twist, where [redacted] is revealed to be the [redacted] of [redacted]. (There is also redacting in the story). Well, by the first time the character of Zachary was mentioned, I thought, “Oh, I bet Zachary actually turns out to be that crazy Mal’akh fellow.” And I was right. Oh, whoops, I forgot to redact the names in that last sentence. Sorry.
And there’s an amazing part in the book where it appears that the freaky guy with the tattoos has drowned Robert Langdon. I thought this was a totally brilliant move on Brown’s behalf – a classic “murder your darlings” situation, like Janet Leigh’s early demise in “Psycho”. No more Langdon! The story would have to be wrapped by that Katherine woman, right? How brave! Except it turned out Langdon wasn’t dead. He’d been drowned in scientific breathable liquid and was very much still alive, to go on and solve the puzzles.
Fuck you, Dan Brown. You boiled the pyramid.