Today is undoubtedly a day of celebration for the publishing industry, because it marks the release of Dan Brown’s newest Robert Langdon novel, Inferno. Needless to say, the book’s expected to do rather well — Doubleday is printing four million copies — but (surprise!) the critics are less than enthused. After the jump, the funniest reviews and meanest jabs to make you chuckle into your highbrow nonfiction (or ignore while you’re waiting in line at the bookstore).
Jake Kerridge, The Telegraph:
I don’t think I am giving away anything the reader won’t anticipate when I reveal that at one point Langdon has to wear Sienna’s blond wig as a disguise, and that he feels very uncomfortable doing so. There is nothing kinky about Robert: the man is so vanilla that he must be part-descended from orchids. We can’t even be told that the Piazza della Signoria is one of Langdon’s favourite plazas without being reassured that this is “despite its overabundance of phalluses.”
As a stylist Brown gets better and better: where once he was abysmal he is now just very poor. His prose, for all its detailing of brand names and the exact heights of buildings, is characterised by imprecision. It works to prevent the reader from engaging with the story. … But in the end this is his worst book, and for a sad, even noble, reason – his ambition here wildly exceeds his ability.
A.N. Wilson, The Daily Mail: “It’s all twaddle, but at least it is entertaining twaddle. Let’s just hope the new Pope won’t make the mistake of his predecessors and boost Brown’s sales even further by issuing a denunciation.”
Monica Hesse, The Washington Post:
His novels are like high-stakes, 500-page Mad Libs; a reader doesn’t have to worry that it will be a fun ride, just that the adverbs and proper nouns will line up in a way that honors the art form. … Unfortunately, at other times the book’s musty passageways seem to be not so much holding history up as sagging under its weight. Narration appears lifted from a Fodor’s guide, as when Langdon pauses in the middle of a life-or-death escape to remember the history of a bridge: “Today the vendors are mostly goldsmiths and jewelers, but that has not always been the case. Originally the bridge had been home to Florence’s vast, open-air market, but the butchers were banished in 1593.” It’s like trying to solve a mystery while one of those self-guided tour headsets is dangling from your ears. (Step over this prone body and press 32 to learn more about the velvet box containing Dante’s death mask in the Palazzo Vecchio.)
Steven Poole, The Guardian:
The tall writer began to analyze the blockbusting novel using his close knowledge of conceptology, the famous discipline about thoughts. He saw instantly that the stout book was brilliantly engineered. Its vivid paragraphs were short. Its establishing shots were cinematic. It repeated adjectives and explanatory phrases from one paragraph to the next, perhaps to jog the dulled short-term memory of the tired long-haul flier. It made art and poetry seem glamorous, and mixed them with luxury tourism and scenic chases. It spoke with the seductive urgency of a good-looking someone telling you a brainy secret.
At last, that night, the satisfied writer finished the exciting book. He gazed enigmatically into the middle distance. Then, using only his fleshy brain and a metal laptop, he began to compose his historic review.
Janet Maslin, The New York Times: “The early sections of “Inferno” come so close to self-parody that Mr. Brown seems to have lost his bearings — as has Langdon, who begins the book in a hospital bed with a case of amnesia that dulls his showy wits.”
Thom Geier, EW: “Because he is vain and a Dan Brown villain, he doesn’t merely set his overly elaborate plot in motion but sends Langdon on a complicated chase through tourist destinations in various European capitals. This lets Brown pause his well-paced narrative for some Fodor’s folderol on art or architectural history. Those smarty-pants tangents give this diverting thriller the welcome illusion of smarts, like a trompe l’oeil in prose form.”
A.N. Wilson, Financial Times: “Inferno reads less like a novel than a “treatment” for a thriller film. … To help unsophisticated readers, Brown writes like a tour guide, ever anxious to stress the fame of the places and art treasures we glimpse along the way. The prof and his doctor race past ‘Florence’s famed Cathedral,’ and Vasari’s ‘famed Studiolo,’ not forgetting the ‘world-famous Uffizi Gallery.’”
Brian Truitt, USA Today: “The new novel is probably the closest Brown will ever get to his version of The Hangover.”