This is the fourth book in the Robert Langdon series and Brown’s sixth novel. As with the others, this is exactly what it sets out to be: a page turning action and adventure novel that although not a literary wonder Inferno does make you wonder about major societal and environmental issues. The entire story takes place in less than 24 hours with flashbacks to two days before.
The only other Robert Langdon novel I’ve read since starting this blog is the third installment The Lost Symbol. I’ve read all of Brown’s books and enjoy them for what they are and don’t judge them harshly like it seems most people do. I remember reading The Da Vinci Code the summer between high school and college and immediately going out to find copies of Angels and Demons, Digital Fortress and Deception Point. (Call it my hipster moment, but I read it BEFORE it took off.)
In this most recent book, Brown doesn’t disappoint with the story. It moves a lot faster than I remember the others moving and goes from the first to the last page with very little downtime. I’m not sure how I felt about the psychological aspects of the novel and the major switches that occur but I won’t spoil them for anyone else; suffice to say the way I read I was very mad when twice Brown forced the reader to reconsider major plot points. I don’t think I was mad because Brown wrote the book this way, but rather I was mad because it felt like Brown did this as a gimmick versus it being a part of the story (at least for the second of the two incidences).
The other part that really bothered me about the book was Brown’s seeming need to provide Robert with hyper-masculinity and hyper-heterosexuality. I thought I was reading things into the text, as everyone does based on their own experiences, but then Brown made it explicit,
“Normally, Langdon’s visits to the Palazzo Vecchio had begun here on the Piazza della Signoria, which, despite its overabundance of phalluses, had always been one of his favorite plazas in all of Europe.” (146)
Now this wouldn’t bother me in general, but it was the ungainly way Brown brought it up again and again. I believe part of this is because he wrote in an LGBT character and a VERY strong female antagonist. I don’t think he knew how to do this properly and overcompensated to the detriment of the story in my opinion. There were other comments similar to this one to set Langdon off as the ‘hetero-hero’ and another character as ‘other’ and that bothered me in the way that it was done, not that it was done.
As for the story itself, I’m not bothered with whether it’s factually or historically accurate. I think the draw of these novels is that they give you a glimpse of artwork and places that many people don’t have the opportunity to visit and it’s great! Throw in that Brown has merged his earlier writings on technology Digital Fortress and science Deception Point with art, art history, architecture and classics and this makes for a fascinating novel. I found transhumanism intriguing and will probably look into it more just out of curiosity, and isn’t that what fiction is all about: creating a story that ignites the imagination and encourages wonderment and curiosity?
(Potential Spoiler in this paragraph?) As with Atwood, I appreciate Brown’s dabbling in speculative fiction. Writing about technology and science that are only moments away from where we are is both terrifying and fascinating. Both Atwood and Brown use it in ways to terrify and thrill their readers, where as Atwood has an elegance and thoughtfulness Brown doesn’t generally have, they both make you think. In this instance Brown really brought to light the problem of over population and what some people would consider as appropriate action to remedy this problem.
Recommendation: If you want a fun page-turner definitely check this out. Don’t expect to find much of literary merit (aside from the included Dante), but definitely expect to find thrill and intrigue! Brown does what he does best in this novel combining seemingly disparate topics to create a whirlwind novel.
Opening Line: “I am the Shade. Through the dolent city,I flee. Through the eternal woe, I take flight.”
Closing Line: “The sky had become a glistening tapestry of stars.” (Whited out.)
Additional Quotes from Inferno
“The decisions of our past are the architects of our present.” (20)
“Nothing is more creative…nor destructive…than a brilliant mind with a purpose.” (163)
“Denial is a critical part of the human coping mechanism. Without it, we would all wake up terrified every morning about all the ways we could die. Instead, our minds block out our existential fears by focusing on stresses we can handle–like getting to work on time or paying our taxes. If we have wider, existential fears, we jettison them very quickly, refocusing on simple tasks and daily trivialities.” (214)
“It is physically impossible for the human mind to think of nothing. The soul carves emotion, and it will continue to seek fuel for the emotion–good or bad. Your problem is that you’re giving it the wrong fuel.” (350)
“Believe me, I know what it’s like to feel all alone…the worst kind of loneliness in the world is the isolation that comes from being misunderstood. It can make people lose their grasp on reality.” (449)
“Remember tonight…for it’s the beginning of forever.” (457)