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The Lost Symbol

Clare F Hobba

Dan Brown
Bantam Press, 509pp, ISBN: 9780593054277

danrown.jpgThis book has been one of the best sellers of all time, a massive juggernaut of a success, although it's true to say that these early sales reflected the popularity of The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons rather than the quality of The Lost Symbol itself. It certainly seems odd that with such a huge budget for publicity and logistics, so little effort seems to have been invested in the writing itself. There is so much cliché that I half wondered whether The Lost Symbol was, in fact, a very literary novel where the experimental aim was to write a story which contained no expressions which had not previously been well-used. The characters struggle to make it into even two dimensions, and their words would have sat happily in speech or thinks bubbles.    

Actually, I was a bit fed up because I really did enjoy The Da Vinci Code, gasped at the twists and turns, savoured the conjecture about whether Jesus was married, and admired above all the pace of the writing. I think that The Lost Symbol was also written with pace in the sense that Dan Brown seems to have been asking 'Just how quickly can I get this down on paper?' And why did nobody implore him to take a little longer and polish it?  In fact, forget the lost symbol, this book should be called The Lost Editor. Epithets transfer themselves like bits of lint, infinitives split themselves like banana skins and hey, if a word works well in one sentence, why not use it in the next one too?   

However, on the positive side, The Lost Symbol should still work well as a multimillion pound film script with actors left to fill in the emotional nuances at their discretion. Although the dialogue might need a little work… Brown even employs a filmic shorthand which I believe is his own - when a character has a sudden visual image (usually in order to illustrate a plot point to the reader), Brown will say they 'flashed on' the thing, as in 'Langdon flashed on the temple building'.

The subject matter of this book bothers me more than the Da Vinci code. One of the central messages is that the Freemasons are great guys who guard powerful secrets for the good of mankind. Towards the end of the book, our hero, the Harvard symbologist, Robert Langdon, sees a video of powerful members of the Freemasons in Washington undertaking an initiation ceremony. The members include high court judges, the chief of the CIA, a cathedral dean. Langdon is terrified that the video will get out because the macabre nature of the ceremony will make the freemasons look suspect and unsavoury and it will ruin the careers of these powerful men. At no point does the 500 page novel broach the very real fear that everybody else has about the Freemasons - that they meet in secret to arrange deals that will favour one another, ranging from recruitment and promotion through to buying one another's products in preference to non-Masonic competitors.
Brown deals with the objection that women are not admitted to the Freemasons by asserting that they may join the sister organisation called the Eastern Star. He counters the suspicion that non-whites may also be excluded or at least poorly represented in the organisation by including in the book a character who is a prominent black mason. What Brown fails to explain is why these 'regular guys', the Masons, feel the need to meet in secrecy. He points out several times that the ceremonies of many religions are just as bizarre as those of the masons when viewed dispassionately. To me the difference is that I will never get to watch the ceremonies of the masons dispassionately, or indeed any other way, because I would be debarred from them, something that is not the case for the Christian and Hindu ceremonies that Brown uses for comparison.

Brown also emphasises the Christian elements in the Masonic melting pot of religious ideas and symbols.  The story is told from the point of view of Langdon who says that he is a Christian and finds the Christian associations of the Masons reassuring and wholesome. In fact, he claims that the only reason he himself is not a Mason is because the society's rules of secrecy would then prevent him from talking to his students about the Masons and how great they are. Makes me want to spit.

Anyway, it doesn't matter what it makes me want to do, because being bright, but sadly chubby, and therefore not qualified to be Langdon's Love Interest, just like the character Trish Dunne, I would probably have been killed off on page 153.­­

Clare F Hobba