Race against time


The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown was released to the media at midnight, ready to be snapped up by the book-buying public from whatever time the shops opened this morning. A hardback copy was dispatched from the publisher Transworld (where, it is said, only four people had read it) by motorcycle courier, to my house. I signed for it at approximately 1.15am, having already been asleep, in preparation. I started reading what is a 510-page novel at approximately 1.18am. I reached about a third of the way through before requiring a nap. I had a nap. I woke up and carried on reading, aware that the Times required a 600-word review by “as soon as I could do it” today – chiefly because they wanted to beat their competitors to a full review on their website. I took the book on public transport as I travelled in to the Robert Langdon-style British Library to write my 600 words. I speed-read bits of it, in order to reach the end before making my judgement. I delivered my review, at just over 600 words (unprofessional, but it will be edited for the page; this was for the website), at just before midday. I had completed my quest in under 11 hours. The review is now online – although a frustrating 90 minutes passed between delivery and publication, during which some rapid-fire sub-editing made a nonsense of two sentences, but most of what I wrote survived intact. I am very proud to have written the review of Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol for the Times. I’m not quite sure how it happened, and I only found out I was doing it at 5pm yesterday in Caffe Nero. If it doesn’t make me a proper journalist, I think it makes me a proper book reviewer. You can read my review if you want to know what I thought of The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown, but in precis: it’s not as good as The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, even though it follows an identical pattern. I am a bit tired.


23 thoughts on “Race against time

  1. Good work Andrew! You're right to be pleased with yourself. But I have to take exception to this: "Brown writes genre fiction — hence the literary snobbery ranged against him…"I think, really, it's more to do with the fact (as you later concede) that the man simply cannot write. Genre fiction, done well, is often favourably received (think Ian Rankin). The problem is that it isn't often done well. And Brown, given his success, is simply the very worst offender. Snobbery has little to do with it.

  2. Did they always make such a fuss of books being published, or did it start with Harry Potter.I loved James Herbert as a teenager, but I didn't queue up at midnight when the next one was coming out. Neither did my mum stand in line for the latest in the Magaret Powell 'Below Stairs' saga, my grandmother for the new Jean Plaidy or my dad for the next Hammond Innes.It's surely a modern phenom?

  3. In terms of genre I was thinking particularly of horror fiction – Stephen King was left out in the cold for years, never mind the piles of books he sold. It's still a basic mathematical equation that the more space a book gets in the review section of a broadsheet (as was) newspaper, the less copies it sells. I don't know enough about Elmore Leonard, but I bet it's only latterly that he was taken seriously by the critics. If I'm wrong, fair enough. (Johnty, I never said genre fiction was a lesser form of literature anyway, I said there was a literary snobbery against it, which there still is.)

  4. "Langdon thrillers are laced with art history as well as political and theological fact, making their dismissal as junk both patronising and misleading"Well the problem is that so much of the 'factual' or 'historical' stuff in his novels is utter nonsense. It's said that the reason no respectable historians bothered to take issue with The Da Vinci Code is that it was simply so preposterous that nobody felt it was worth bothering. So even if there is some factual stuff in there, the nonsense renders it undetectable and entirely useless.In fact, what books like The Da Vinci Code have led to is people who actually seriously believe in the conspiracy, no matter how many people show them evidence to the contrary. Whatever the opposite of educational is, that's what his books are.

  5. I also read The Lost Symbol overnight, from 9pm to 5am, with breaks for food and twittering. The book is very ambitious – Andrew is right there is an incredible amount of detail about art, science, religion etc – though I didn't feel it slowed the action down too much, and if I'd read the book at a normal pace, it would have been even less of an issue, as I think I'd like to learn more about some of the stuff inside.

  6. Populist snobbery, literary or otherwise, is annoying and typically illustrates the shallowness of those who indulge far more than any 'damage' it does to a writer's reputation or sales. Anyway my critical review is that Stephen King's a far better writer than Dan Brown. King does in-story swearing a lot fucking better for a start.Well done on your marathon stint AC.

  7. Granted you're tired Andrew, but: "the more space a book gets in the review section of a broadsheet (as was) newspaper, the *less* copies it sells". Surely you meant fewer? I shan't be bothering with the Dan Brown book just yet as there are lots of other better, more engaging books that I'd like to read first. I may well read it next time I fancy something disposable but entertaining. A "Friday night book", if you will.David, Liverpool

  8. @liquidcow – Albert Einstein said "There are only two things that are infinite – the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the universe."Dan Brown does not claim anything factual at all about his novels (the clue being in the word "novel".) He cleverly includes a page that claims to be "fact" but it doesn't really contain any actual information (I believe this one says that the Freemasons are a real organisation. Well, big shock there!) But he honestly can't be blamed for people not being able to figure that out.I haven't read it or even got it myself (I'm planning to pick my copy up in Oxfam in a couple of weeks) but I was somewhat surprised to see that the cover appeared to use the same plot device as was used in the highly enjoyable – and equally nonsensical – Nicholas Cage movie National Treasure, although that was about the Templar treasure, which was, of course, the main plot of the DaVinci Code (albeit with the Baigent/Leigh twist applied there.) But there are only so many of these things to go around, after all.Entertaining review though. Well done.

  9. You're taking it all very seriously, Liquidcow: "Well the problem is that so much of the 'factual' or 'historical' stuff in his novels is utter nonsense."So what? It's still based in art-historical and architectural fact and encourages an interest in the subject, which makes it far from "junk", my original point. There are far easier books out there if you don't wish to test your brain at all. Brown's at least operate in a more demanding world."It's said that the reason no respectable historians bothered to take issue with The Da Vinci Code is that it was simply so preposterous that nobody felt it was worth bothering."Fine. Who cares? They're fiction. They're stacked in the fiction section. They are still based in the factual world."So even if there is some factual stuff in there, the nonsense renders it undetectable and entirely useless."If Da Vinci Code encourages somebody to visit the Louvre, where many of the paintings described are held, what could possibly be the problem?"In fact, what books like The Da Vinci Code have led to is people who actually seriously believe in the conspiracy, no matter how many people show them evidence to the contrary. Whatever the opposite of educational is, that's what his books are."You seem to be awfully protective about your version of the truth. The Da Vinci Code has led more people to investigate Opus Dei – far from put them off – and even influenced Opus Dei to become more open and approachable. The book has not turned 80 million people into raving conspiracy theorists. It might in some case have increased an interest in art history, or even the history of the Catholic Church. My original point is that his books aren't bereft of content and aren't junk.

  10. "The famous man looked at the red cup."I haven't read Dan Brown, and Stewart Lee put the final nail in the coffin for me with his deconstruction of Brown's writing.However, aside from the arguments that he's a bad writer, Dan Brown's books and the subsequent films hold absolutely no interest for me at all.I started reading 'Holy Blood and Holy Grail' years ago, but got roughly a third of the way in before realising that I didn't really care enough about religion or this particular aspect of history to warrant reading any further.Dan Brown's book took a lot from 'Holy Blood…' I believe. This means that he has written a fictional version of a 'factual' book which may or may not be fictious in itself.This was about the descendents of a man mentioned in another 'factual' book, which again may or may not be fictious in itself.So 'The Da Vinci Code' is nothing but a story based on two levels of conjecture. Yet people still seem to take aspects of it as gospel (excuse the pun).That put me right off him."The grumpy man looked at the word verification letters."

  11. I read his other books and enjoyed them. I have ordered this and will probably enjoy this as well. Job done. I am not the cleverest bloke in the world but far from stupid and the amount of snobbery that surfaces when Dan Brown comes to town is quite amusing. I dont neccesarily mean this comments forum, but most forums are full of people trying to come up with the cleverest reason for not liking DB.

  12. Dan Brown is to literature as Arthur Mullard is to ballet.His stories may be as gripping as a grippy thing but if you can't get beyond his execrable writing, and therefore beyond the second paragraph, what's the bloody point?

  13. We're all entitled to an opinion, but it does amaze me how many people seem driven to pull Dan Brown to pieces. I read The Da Vinci Code at record speed, literally finding it impossible to put down. I followed that with Angels & Demons, which is inferior and more obviously replete with errors, but I can honestly say I didn't spend the whole of my time underlining bad writing or factual inaccuracies as I raced through Da Vinci Code. It didn't make me think, Wow, what a great writer – move over Kurt Vonnegut and James Joyce! But it did make me think, Wow, what a good yarn, and how keen I am now to look again at those paintings. Which I did. I don't think it works as a film, and examples of bad writing others have picked out from it are, when taken out, bad. But I maintain it was a good read.The Lost Symbol cleaves too faithfully to the formula, and the background – Freemasonry in DC – isn't as exciting as the secrets of the Catholic Church. I doubt he'll write another Robert Langdon adventure. He might not write another novel for years and years. But the hatred for him will burn on, forever, or so it seems.

  14. Hmmm. Someone has posted this over on a Guardian blog…I'm pretty sure comedian Mark Steele has been reading it in the British Library over the last day or two. Doubtless for one of his lectures. You heard it here first.Not me, honest. I just laughed a lot when I read it.– David(who is also the anonymous Anonymous above.)

  15. I am in awe of your ability to read and write so quickly. To read the book is one thing, but to write a coherent 600 word review is quite an achievement.You mention speed reading and I have been tempted to learn the technique. However, I was put off by a friend who found that while it helped him trawl through work documents, it spoiled recreational reading as he couldn't switch out of speed reading mode. Does this match with your own experience at all? Incidentally, I put my hands up to having described the Da Vinci Code as "execrable" in a comment on one of your earlier posts. This groups me solidly in the "patronising" element mentioned in your review. Although not recanting from that view when it comes to Dan Brown's writing (although execrable may have been harsh), I do agree it was a good yarn with some interesting ideas and I may even read the new one. I find "pulp" fiction like that, my father in law lent me a couple of thrillers by Lee Child. One was really pretty good. The other gave every indication of having literally been written by a child.

  16. The Da Vinci Code was what led me to Where Did It All Go Right? in a two for one offer at WH Smiths in Richmond in 2004. WDIAGR was very much an impulse buy to bear out the offer, it led me to this blog and I’ve been a regular reader ever since. This has no real bearing on this post but I thought it worth mentioning.I too raced through The Da Vinci Code and found it very difficult to put down. As much as I enjoyed it – and I enjoyed it immensely – the thing that detracted from it for me was Brown’s tendency to explain things three times, just to make sure we got it. There was the main explanation. Then a summary of the explanation in a short paragraph. Then a summary of the summary in one sentence in italics. Usually at the end of a chapter.I really enjoyed it. I couldn’t put it down. The triple-explanation at the end of each chapter was very irritating though. I got it the first time, thanks.There was no need to explain things three times.I haven’t read any other Dan Brown books because of this. He’s undoubtedly a good storyteller, but he is not a good writer. I don’t suppose there’s anything wrong with that. I’m just sorry I was a couple of years too late to catch the swathes of ‘Da Vinci Code’ tourists, book and tie-in guide in hand, looking all awestruck and emotional at the Louvre when I finally visited Paris last year.Now then. I wonder if there's any Dan Brown/Robert Langdon fan fiction online…?

Do leave a reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s