I must admit that we at urbanmoms.ca Book Reviews are normally lucky enough to get advance copies of the books we review, so that we can come to you with our take on new titles when they’re still hot off the presses. However, in the case of The Lost Symbol (Dan Brown’s sequel to his massive bestseller The DaVinci Code) we had to line up at the bookstore just like everyone else. This book was kept under serious lockdown, and only the biggest bigwigs were able to get their hands on advance copies. So, like all the other small-time literati, I was out there pawing over the book table at Costco for my copy of The Lost Symbol, which I finished in record time, although I will admit I sacrificed the better part of two nights’ sleep for it.
So, what did I think? Well, first of all I should come clean and admit to being a major Robert Langdon fan. I’ve read The DaVinci Code at least three times, and Angels & Demons (Brown’s first Robert Langdon novel) twice. I’ve seen (and enjoyed) the movie adaptations of both books, and I was looking forward to seeing what kind of adventure Professor Langdon would get himself mixed up in this time around.
Some of the advance buzz around this book worried me a bit, though, and here’s why: most of the rumours related to the prevalence of Masonic symbols/codes, etc. in Washington D.C. Now, gee, where have we heard that one before kids? National Treasure, anyone? Plus, one of the things I had loved most about Robert Langdon was his bookish skepticism, and the sense that he really was an urbane and intellectual citizen of the world and not your rah-rah American patriot type. I just had a niggling suspicion that a book set in the American capital, written by an American, and related to secret messages encoded centuries ago by the founding fathers might be, well, too rah-rah.
All right, so we’ve covered my reservations. Were they borne out? Yes and no. I was fascinated to learn about the Masonic symbols hidden in all kinds of American icons (including the famous pyramid on the dollar bill), and I was interested in the echoes of ancient civilizations (especially the famous Roman Republic) in Washington’s architecture – I had forgotten the Potomac was orignally named the Tiber, and didn’t know Washington’s first name was, actually, Rome. So that was cool. And the plot was riveting, right up until the last ten chapters or so – which explains the two nights where I stayed up until 2am reading. Brown is a master of the cliff-hanger chapter: “ohmygod! I have to find out what happens to Robert!” so you read on, but the next chapter is about Katherine. Now you need to know what happens to both Robert and Katherine, and the next chapter is about Peter! I find that kind of suspense almost irresistible, and end up falling asleep with the book on my chest.
The only problem is that – for me – things started to fall apart towards the end of the book. For one thing, it got predictable. I hate predictable. Then I felt like it carried on for about five chapters too many. I remember at one pivotal point in the book thinking: the real
controversy is never going to live up to the hype he’s building here.
And I was right. When he reveals the “threat to national security” near
the end of the novel, it’s one of the great anticlimactic moments in
literature. I read it and thought: ‘that is what all this fuss is about?’ Then there was the major cop-out of the actual meaning of the eponymous “lost symbol”, which actually turns out to be a word. Word with a double-entendre. A predictable cop-out of a double-entendre, in my opinion. But to say any more would be to spoil the ending, so I’ll leave it there for now.
As for the rah-rah patriotism, I’ll give Brown points for tempering it with really interesting and non-conventional tidbits of information about the founding fathers. Masons, deists and utopians all, Brown paints them in an admiring yet realistic light, providing great insights into the history and psychology of the world’s only remaining superpower.
And noetic science, which Brown predicted would be one of the touchpoints of controversy in this novel…meh. Didn’t grab me at all. And that’s probably the root of my disappointment in The Lost Symbol…the real scandal and controversy created by Angels & Demons and The DaVinci Code just don’t exist. There isn’t anything all that controversial about the Masons – they’re no Priory of Sion, and noetic science has no substance whatsoever.
So: arcane knowledge? Check. Suspenseful plot? Check. Killer ending? Not so much. In the end, I think it’s well worth the read for Langdon-ites, but if you’re not already a fan, don’t shell out for the hardcover version…wait until it’s released in (cheaper) paperback.