If a writer reaches his apogee with a book that creates unimaginable fame for him, he or she is perhaps compelled to forever write in the same vein, in the same style unless he is bold or iconoclastic enough to change direction. Some like Rowling can manage it, both because she was writing a series and also because she had the courage to finish off something that has already made her the modern Enid Blyton (and much more than that).
However for some like Dan Brown, who ploughed magnificently into the need for people to believe in mysteries and controversies with his ‘Da Vinci code’, the end of the road may have already been a few years back. Telling the same story by a different name may seem an easy way to continue sales but the lack of freshness may well trigger the literary equivalent of diminishing marginal utility. Which is something I felt strongly with his latest book “The Last symbol”
After you finish the book, you realize that the author still has a very potent touch when it comes to marrying action on the pages with deep mysteries and conspiracies that the characters are trying to solve before the time runs out. Which is what made Da Vinci code so engrossingly addictive. This book too is a furious page turner right from the first page.
But we soon run into problems. You get a powerful sense of Déjà-vu. The same sense of Langdon rushing headlong into a conspiracy that only he can decipher before everything goes awry. There is an intelligent good looking woman neck deep into everything who he has to accompany and occasionally save, (you wonder what happened to the other two!!!). There is a powerful secret organization (in this case the Freemasons) whose secret is about to be unveiled for the better or worse. And there are clues strewn around (in this case in Washington DC) that Langdon has to put together, while being on the run from, well, virtually everyone!!! and there is the villain, some twisted, misunderstood, self mutilating outcaste who believes in miracles – rings a bell anyone?
But Washington is not Paris and the secret of the Freemasons does not exactly set your pulses racing as a secret about Jesus might. And a story twice told loses it zing. You feel you are watching a cover version of a book after some time. You know that something is going to be revealed at the end and its going to end happily. And well, it does…and though a good amount of research has gone into the book but the symbology jigsaw puzzle is not that exciting anymore as it was in Da Vinci.
Another problem is that I found the book to be exceedingly preachy. You begin to feel that you are being told to believe than make up your own mind. The vision of noble founding fathers of America building the nation in the image of a utopian society, seeing themselves as helping humans attain god-like status by spreading knowledge begins to really jar on on you after a while. I mean hey, they kept slaves in the backyard and committed a few merry genocides on the way. If they were really following Masonic principles (Atom bomb dropping, Harry Truman was a mason, no less), the world would have had a few hours of quiet sleep today. The preaching becomes screechingly preachy towards the end when the characters talk of universal consciousness and Bible being a repository of deep knowledge (instead of being a political book). You almost feel you are in some New Age healing centre where you pay a small fortune to sit in groups to chant (and go back to the punishing work grind the next day!!)…
A book to read if you have nothing else to do and if you are immune to preachy writing that stops making too much real sense after a while. If you enjoyed Da Vinci code, give this a miss. It would be too painful to see an author trying to make money by piggybank on his fame by churning out a Xerox copy…