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If you're into something well-written and profound, look elsewhere. If you're patient and have time to kill, you could do worse.
on 31 December 2015
Although this book would have seriously benefited from some harsher editing and re-drafting, it would be unfair to claim there isn't any enjoyment to be had here. Sure, it's far too long and, of course, the cardboard cut-out characters (of which they are too many) are uninspiring and only there to take the reader from A to B...but every now again you just so happen to get interested in what's happening between A and B. As poor as most of the writing is, some of the dialogue between Robert Langdon, Vittoria Vetra and various other characters about the interaction of science and religion is genuinely interesting and thought-provoking, even if the arguments the characters use in the book to defend their own positions are appallingly poor.
A lot is said about Brown's writing and, unfortunately enough, all the complaints I'd heard from his inability to tell the reader what the characters are thinking without spelling it out for them (literally, in the form of italics) to his obvious uncertainty as to whether he is writing a novel or a film script are more than justified. Some of the cliches in here are so painfully apparent that at times I honestly wondered if Brown was deliberately trolling us all, writing an incredibly subtle parody of the adventure/mystery genre. Seriously...literally seconds before one of the BBC reporters reporting on the Pope's death receives the scoop of his life, he is sitting around in the van considering whether he will ever make a difference to the world...So, if the slap-you-in-the-face style of explaining character motivations is the thing you go in for, you'll love Angels and Demons.
Perhaps most frustratingly however, Brown has an annoying tendency to relieve any form of tension he has built up purely for a cheap and unsatisfying end-of-chapter revelation. Particularly evident at the beginning of the book, every time an interesting question comes up, it is solved by Brown finishing a chapter with a throwaway comment, normally by frustratingly telling you what is happening with other characters in other places, killing any chance of tension developing in its crib. This becomes less of a problem once Langdon hits the archives for the first time, but one great example of this is when Langdon tells Vetra that their plan to stop the Illuminati relies on some extreme historical fortune, only for Brown to tell us a few pages later that their bang in luck by revealing what another character is doing and, importantly, where. The phrase 'being your own worst enemy' comes to mind.
But like I said, as annoying as a lot of this book is, it's difficult to not get involved at all. The mystery at the centre of the piece is ultimately well-hidden enough that you read on to reach the conclusion, whilst eventually the poor writing and forced humour become less of a problem once you've learnt how to ignore them. And, as mentioned, some of the discussion about religion and science is well worth a read, purely from a stand-point of seeing how ridiculous it is for people who believe that religion and science are in opposition to one another having a conversation about it and realizing how they justify their own conclusions. It's almost like watching two people take down two straw-men at the same time, whilst pretending to listen to one another. It's an interesting read, even if you're unlikely to learn anything profound from it yourself.
If someone had sat down with Brown before publishing and told him to take out the 250 pages or so that need removing then I would be much more willing to recommend this to others. If you can turn your brain off to an extent and ignore Brown's writing and can overlook the cliched characters and their motivations then there's no reason you can't have a bit of mindless fun with Angels and Demons. As harsh as it sounds, I think 'mindless entertainment' is the vibe Brown was (hopefully) going for, and to be fair, he's hit that mark well enough. Despite many claims to the contrary, you won't learn anything helpful here, but if you've got time to kill and watching a relatively solid mystery unravel is your thing, you've got nothing to lose wading through this.