In his latest work, The Inferno, author Dan Brown reintroduces us to the scholarly yet resourceful figure of Robert Langdon. Only this time, Langdon, suffering from amnesia, is as unsure of his role in the developing drama as the reader, a plot twist Brown expertly uses to provide asides and explanations to the reader without stalling the plot. Langdon, after all, needs them, too.
The focus of the novel is on an evil scheme designed to solve the world’s impending overpopulation problem. The schemer, a stereotypically misunderstood genius-scientist, leaves clues and references based on Dante’s The Divine Comedy (remember Inferno from high school English class? It’s the first and best known part of The Divine Comedy). While overpopulation is not specifically addressed in Dante’s work (probably wasn’t even discussed in Dante’s time—at least not on the scale that we think of it today), Brown’s antagonist obsesses over it and leaves clues to his master plot based on nebulous references to Dante. The novel is saturated with references to Dante, The Divine Comedy, and the outbreak of plague in Europe, known today as the Black Plague.
I had high hopes for The Inferno as an exciting adventure novel, great to read during the last few days of a relaxing summer. While it certainly had its fair share of car chases and death-defying leaps from historically significant buildings, the constant tour guide-like quality of Langdon’s internal dialogue kept me from really escaping into the novel. However, if I was looking for a guidebook to Florence, Venice, or Istanbul, where the book takes place, I would be hard pressed to find one better than Brown provides in The Inferno. I don’t think that Trip Advisor includes accounts of the artwork seen in Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio while fleeing from ominously vague threats of death. I doubt that Fromer’s describes even the void above the ceiling in the Salone dei Cinquecento, Hall of the Five Hundred, as eloquently.
“The air inside the void smelled musty and ancient, as if centuries of plaster dust had now become so fine and light that it refused to settle and instead hung suspended in the atmosphere.”
So perhaps reading The Inferno as escapist travel literature rather than a novel allows its greatest attributes to be fully appreciated by the reader. If I ever go to Florence, Venice, or Istanbul (as I hope to after reading such picturesque descriptions), I know that I will be packing my copy of Dan Brown’s The Inferno.
What did you think of The Inferno? Have you ever been to Florence? Venice? Istanbul? How do Brown’s descriptions compare to the real-life experience of visiting these places? Any art historians out there? How did you find Langdon’s account of the works mentioned? Anything else that you think he should have noticed while fleeing for his life?