One could in theory sit down and write a review of Dan Brown’s new novel Inferno and talk about how it’s poorly written, how Brown uses italics the same way teenage girls use emoticons and exclamation points, or how the boilerplate plot prevents Brown from constructing characters with much depth because at least one of them has to switch sides midway through.1 Yet, that would be too easy and repetitive, given this is the fourth Robert Langdon novel (and sixth overall) so anyone picking up Inferno undoubtedly knows what they’re getting into. To put it simply, if you liked any of Brown’s other books you’ll probably find some amusement in Inferno, if you didn’t enjoy the previous novels you won’t enjoy it.
Yet Inferno has more annoying issues than being a cheap pulp thriller trying to pass itself off as something more. The book involves Langdon waking up in a hospital in Florence suffering from a head wound with no memory of the last 48 hours of his life. Whereas the other Langdon novels dealt with groups like Opus Dei and the Masons, Inferno involves Langdon trying to stop a plot by a Dante-obsessed genetic scientist who feels overpopulation will make Dante’s vision of hell reality. So while Dante provides the cultural basis for the book’s puzzles, the book truly pivots around Malthus.
Whereas The Lost Symbol concluded with what amounted to Reagan’s “Morning in America” ad in print, Inferno concludes with a collective shrug and a general endorsement of both the idea that overpopulation is a serious threat and the means to achieve a reduction in the planet’s population. Overpopulation can be an issue, but Brown frames the discussion to make it seem like everyone but the Catholic Church (his usual punching bag) support measures to curb the problem. Yet, as Wired noted last year, fears about overpopulation reality are quite different.
Inferno isn’t a bad book if you treat it for what it is, yet at the same time, Brown’s simplitistic attempt to put a discussion of overpopulation into a summer thriller makes you wish Robert Langdon was still chasing Masonic boogeymen.
Picking Low Fruit
Brown has a chapter (just over two pages) written almost entirely in italics.
At one point Langdon approaches a tourist with an iPhone an asks to borrow it to search out a copy of Dante’s Inferno. What follows is just over two pages of Brown explaining cool iPhone features and reminding his readers to be careful of overseas data rates.
“…the Piazza della Signoria, which, despite its overabundance of phalluses, had always been one of his favorite plazas in all of Europe.”
Brown spends roughly 20 pages explaining how Langdon and his female companion escape from one building over the course of roughly ten minutes.
Brown mentions eugenics but only mentions the Nazis in connection with the movement.
Brown includes a graph supposedly showing “key environmental issues deemed by the WHO to have the greatest impact on global health.” The graph includes GDP and foreign investment.
Assorted other articles
Jesse Walker, Reason, Dan Brown in Hell
Noah Charney, Daily Beast Fact-Checking Dan Brown’s Inferno
AN Wilson, Financial Times, Hell is Other People
Clive James, USA Today, “I Pity Him Deeply”
Malcolm Jones, Daily Beast, Dan Brown’s Best Book Yet
Joan Acocella, New Yorker, What the Hell
See “Picking Low Fruit” below for that.↩