Inferno by Dan Brown: not a review, but a long, thoughtful sigh

Dan Brown is not a good writer. He’s a freaking great writer. Okay, this is argumentative since many feel that contemporary fiction is often too simple and will not have the longevity of the Classics. The thing about this frame of thought is that the Classics were once contemporary. I’ve read several of the popular titles created by Brown and in each one he utilizes the standard Freytag Pyramid to frame his novels. You know there is going to be a problem, a rise in action, a climax, a denouement, and a resolution. As much as real life doesn’t have this structure, and readers of classical literature tend to harp on the lack of realism in certain stories, I personally find myself able to dismiss the fact that Brown’s novels often have the same central problem, if someone with common sense acted differently the problem that becomes the foundation of the novel would never occur.

I guess that is the thing. Dan Brown’s novels work because people actually do lack common sense, and often the right or simple thing is never handled in a simple manner. People lie, things become complex and confusing and eventually bad things happen because of this. On to the novel!

Dante Alighieri created the modern concept of Hell in his epic poem Inferno. Whenever a writer decides to make a connection to Classic literature, they run the risk of alienating purists. In the mind of many tampering with, or drawing inspiration from literature will always fail to deliver on the beauty of the original. Dante’s Inferno has influenced art from the Renaissance to Modern period: literature, music and art has been shaped by the voyage through Hell. Dan Brown uses Dante’s Inferno as context for a modern analysis of a social issue that may not even enter the minds of those who have chosen to read the book.

I will not address the topic, but I will ask this question of you who are entering this review (see what I did there?). If you knew that the weight of your life would tip the scale that held the people in your family in balance, towards destruction would you take yourself out of the equation?

While the discussion in Inferno: A Novel (Robert Langdon)
is on a much larger scale the question is similar.Once again in Brown’s novel the protagonist is Robert Langdon (who is forever cemented in my mind as Tom Hanks). The American professor is drawn into a web where he has to use his profound artistic intelligence in deciphering a mystery. Brown does not deviate from his paradigm. He has a villain, a group that is pitched against another international group and a heroine who becomes the foundation for the success or failure of the narrative. Typically a formulaic novel fails to hold intrigue for those looking for literature that may be considered … well, literature. To use the same structure over and over leans toward a novel never being considered an important work by scholars and professors. Brown continues to offset this ‘problem’ by forcing the reader to get up and Bing/Google locales and historical references used throughout the text. The setting once again is Italy, with Venice and Turkey thrown into the mix. I have a great love for Renaissance art and for architecture, especially the structures that permeate Europe’s religious landscape. Brown uses the cities as characters and his novels always benefit from very descriptive settings.

One thing that I couldn’t remove from my mind is if a person could actually write a version of this type of novel based on their own locales. I almost wish I still taught so I could write a course for a creative writing class that forces the students to visit as many historical locations in their own city and create a character who has to decipher ‘things’ at these locations to solve a mystery that could destroy the city if left unchecked. This is what a Dan Brown novel does. It makes you want to create. His simplistic cliffhanger style, short chapters, is a technique that I really admire and think caters to a new generation of reader that is always interrupted by Facebook, cell phones, or other entertainment devices.

Inferno is a fantastic novel and like all of Brown’s recent novels, it is a great introduction to Renaissance art. If this review lacks any real information it’s because I really want to discuss it with someone who has read the book. So this is basically a spoiler free review. Pick up Inferno here: