This was my first Brown and I had high hopes but I found the application of the plot onto elements of Dante's long poem clunky and banal. The pace is extremely rapid, which probably accounts for Womersley's dismissing the dialogue as poor, but in essence this book is just a standard-issue thriller although it contains some interesting things. It will irritate anyone with the slightest degree of knowledge about the world, and even with a regular intellect, that Brown finds it necessary to invent a shadowy and all-powerful organisation - the Consortium - to pull the levers that control mankind's fate, and then (on top of that) a genius motivated by evil who wants to kill off a third of the world's population, although these conceits contain nuggets of truth. It's hardly necessary in the post-9/11 world to posit powerful forces operating in secret in ways that affect all of us. But the only aesthetic charm available when you contemplate the fictional Consortium is the luxury yacht hovering off the Italian coast like a negative image of Tony Blake's aeroplane in the 70s TV series The Magician. The yacht houses professionals who fix things for a price. There's plenty of food for thought in such an image, but ultimately the performance relegates to the oblivion of academic niche interest any more substantial overview of how the world has changed in the past 15 years or so.
The obverse of this regret is my own regret at academic Robert Langdon's facile evocations of Dantesque symbology in the lectures that appear at weird times in the narrative, and that serve to fill the unlearned reader in on the medieval Florentine poet and the significance of what he created. A terminal depth of banality occurs when Langdon proudly tells his audience that the sculptor Michaelangelo had praised Dante in verse. Here's the ultimate in Amazon-style marketing of literature, a potent representation of modern culture consumerism embedded like a polyp underneath the skin of the novel, ready to seed and propagate like a million sycophantic squeals of delight in the comments section under a video by Justin Bieber. And all the while the bad guys in black uniforms, the Italian carabinieri police, and God-knows-what-else are chasing Langdon and his female sidekick through Florence while they - the two in flight - must solve the riddle that will save the planet.
The flight meme is as old as Gothic fiction, which is usually about as unreadable (today; it was wildly popular 200 years ago) as Brown's concoction. Flight has something compelling about it: think of Shelley gadding madly across Europe with his wife, Mary (creator of Frankenstein), or across the fields of rural England and Ireland. Shelley was, in fact, being chased - by the security services of his day, an organisation suspicious of his radical politics in a time of war - and the trope perhaps can serve to link that time of general paranoia to what we see around us today. You be the judge of whether this holds any water; I'm just riffing here. One thing you can say about Brown, despite how tired the book made me, is that he doesn't hold up the action. This is seriously sugary stuff, a pure fictional high, if you aren't too discerning.