First Published in Daily Times / (Pakistan) / 1 June 2013
Reproduced in The Kashmir Moniter
Fans who have kept up with Robert Langdon, our favorite symbologist/iconologist on quests that take him to the Vatican, Paris or Washington, will willingly join the professor jogging through the picturesque streets of Florence. Even when he claims to have a sad case of amnesia, no way of telling the time (his signature time piece lost), and a wily assassin on his tail, he is a force of nature.
It is a part he was born to play. And in Dan Brown’s murky universe, it is one he reprises at the first sign of an anagram.
The author uses the sorry state of mankind as a launch pad to project his ominous design, decrypt a Renaissance painting and set a controversial debate in motion. His novel provides delicious historical context as it plumbs the depths of Dante’s tortured soul and his savage interpretation of hell, helpfully illustrated by Botticelli (and available for viewing on iPad’s Dante app). The diabolical scientist who has a flair for theatrics arrives on cue with his clever take on Dante’s Inferno and proceeds to map out his scary view of tomorrow. Brown then proceeds to enter a grey area by using a bland theme of over-population as a cover. For that he brings in his least insane looking, most dangerous villain yet. The centrepiece though controversial, is both relevant and timely. And bold. As earth reaches its tipping point, the fast changing landscape is a source of fear for earthlings, and opportunity for mischief making evil geniuses roaming the planet.
Brown is the bestselling author of Angels and Demons, The Da Vinci Code, and The Lost Symbol. His plot generally hinges upon a towering structure of mythology, theology, science or a mix of all three , the ‘customizable template’ complete with a famed ‘Fact’ (sinister reveals to infuse the tale with added mystique) that adorns the opening page is a gift that keeps giving. Inferno is an elaborate nightmare that assigns contemporary attributes to an ancient vision of after-life and then sets off for a head on confrontation with the future. It swaps its usual array of earth shattering revelations that will shake the very core of Christianity for some grim statistics that will shake the foundation of humanity instead. A perfect recipe for a disaster (movie).
Readers transcend nine rings of hell to get a sense on Dante’s stark reality as talk of drones, iPhones and E-books echo overhead. Langdon and his companion, she with the ‘off the Charts IQ’, grapple with an obstacle course that snakes through three cities in the course of one day. Their job is to evade capture, be clever, and stare at death (masks) in the face without pausing for espresso or scrambling for a tourist guide, which is impressive. The show stopping spectacle serves to accentuate the city’s scenic skyline and honour its most celebrated exile from yore.
While Brown’s treatment of history always invites controversy, his depiction of Islamic era art/architecture passes muster. He navigates the great (religious) divide without bias seemingly oblivious to the growing fissures. The well-researched narrative promises high octane adventure with red herrings aplenty, sprinklings of humour and twisted plot twists, lying somewhere in a maze of repetitive language.
The tables will be turned, as they are in Brown novels, albeit a little clumsily. Interest tends to flag somewhere towards the finale; the end, however when it comes, gives one pause. The author is known for taking readers on a journey through time, checking off historic artifacts and breathtaking countryside, and given that Florence offers actual codes yet to be deciphered (Vasari’s cryptic message discovered in 1970s), it could have gone in a million different directions. Population explosion may not be an obvious choice for a Langdon thriller but bringing a platter of doomsday scenarios, and disconcerting imagery with a side of medieval horrors livens up the dry landscape.
Despite the whirlwind pace and ‘Smart’ technology at our baddies’ (there is more than one) beck and call, Inferno struggles to reach the perfect configuration, maybe because its chilling backdrop interferes with the joy of being part of intricate scavenger hunts. So while the happy reunion promises a heady ride but it will not be an energising one.
Inferno, which is the fourth book in the franchise, finds a creative way to juxtapose Dante’s fiery view of hereafter with Brown’s fiery view of ‘right here, right now’. Both are equally jarring. One is in stores now.
Cover courtesy of: Link1
Dantes Image link