I’ve never made any secret of my disdain for Dan Brown – bad form for a librarian, I know. But something about him has always bothered me. Sure, he can throw together a brilliant story with twists and turns and mysteries that are tough to solve. But it never quite disguised the awkwardness of his writing style, the fact that his stories are novelizations of the movies in his head rather than books designed for reading. He just doesn’t use the language well.
At least, he didn’t.
But I’m pleased to announce that, having finished reading The Lost Symbol, I can offer up a different opinion of Dan Brown. The man has stepped up his game. He’s never told a better story. I enjoyed The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons because they were fascinating tales, but The Lost Symbol went one better. It was a fascinating tale told in an engaging, clear way with humour, character development, and – dare I say it? – literary merit. Is it a better editor? More practice? Has he just been reading a lot of good works? I don’t even care. The point is, Dan Brown has always been coming up with clever intellectual mysteries, but now he’s got the writing style to back up the cleverness.
There’s a lesson in this, for Dan Brown and every other aspiring writer out there: no matter how absorbing your story line, it’s no good if you can’t use the language well. You might get the attention of avid readers – sure, it worked for Dan Brown – but fake-sounding dialogue, awkward descriptions, and stilted prose draw the reader out of the story’s world. You don’t want your writing style to jar the reader into remembering this is only a book.
Thanks to . . . well, whatever Brown has changed, I hit scarcely any of those jarring snags as I read The Lost Symbol. That made it more suspenseful, more gripping, and more fascinating than any of the other Dan Brown novels. It made the ideas (like noetics, symbology, absolute truth, and the potential of the human mind) clearer and more fascinating for me, and it helped me to feel closer to the characters, who seemed funny, emotional, and genuine to me for the first time.
Put simply, the plot was standard Dan-Brown goodness, but the writing made this novel.