I wouldn’t particularly say I’m a Dan Brown fan. I’d only read Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code, ages ago, back at the tail-end of the controversy over the latter. They were okay–nothing too exciting to me–not only is it difficult to get into a thriller when you pretty much know the end (as with Da Vinci Code), but I’m just not that into conspiracy theory stories. (In other words, I liked Angles and Demons the better of the two.) All that said, the moment I saw the cover of Inferno, his latest, I knew I was going to read it–if I have one bookish weakness, a la Book Riot’s “Genre Kryptonite,” it is books, fiction or non-, set in Italy. Especially Florence.
I was fortunate, when in college (university to non-Americans), to spend an entire semester in Florence, coming to know the streets of the old city nearly as well as my hometown–the sights, the smells, the textures. It is a map that remains well-imprinted in my memory, and with a little effort I can picture the paths I took from my apartment to the school or the market or various plazas or shops. (Which shops may or may not have included a number of bookstores. I may have kinda-sorta shipped home a box of winter clothes, some requests from my mom, and…books. Ahem.) Knowing the city so well, as well as a passing familiarity with other parts of central/northern Italy (I’ve been to Rome, Siena, Verona, San Gimignano, Fiesole, Como, Venice, Mantua, Vicenza, and Cinque Terre), I developed a fondness for books set in these locales. I can picture the settings, no effort required.
Dan Brown’s Inferno had an extra bonus–the reference’s to Dante’s Inferno, which was one of my top reads of 2010 (wow–has it been that long already!?). Sure, Brown provides enough information/background that knowing the Dante isn’t necessary but it is fun to pick out the references before they are explained by the text.
However, although the Dante is a fun side-note, it is really the break-neck adventure through Florence that made the book for me. Sure, the writing is so-so–Brown has a habit of turning from adventure novel to guidebook when describing the scene, an annoyance I at first assumed to be noticeable only because of my familiarity with Florence, but a change of scene made it obvious that his tone does change at these spots–and the plot implausible, and quite frankly I’ve read books that were harder to put down (come to think of it, Hunger Games is a recent example), but the armchair tourism was great. Actually, there were a couple of spots protagonist Robert Langdon visits in Florence that I haven’t been to (or rather, in–why, I’m not sure at this point, seeing that I hit just about every church and museum in town…), but that didn’t prevent me from knowing just what exactly the buildings and landscape look like. I was completely transported back to Italy. My Italy semester was the highlight of college, so a revisit is a good thing. Seeing as it’s an early scene, I don’t think it spoils anything too much to say I about squealed with delight when the action moved into the Boboli Gardens, one of my absolutely favorite spots in Florence. Later, there was a plot development I could see coming, not because Brown telegraphed it or in any way gave it away, but purely because of my familiarity with the city. Fun!
All in all, this was a purely fun read, something I don’t seem to have done too much of in a while. It seems with all the other library books I’ve checked out this year, I’ve bumped uncomfortably up against the due date, while this one I returned early. Sometimes, it’s nice not to work so much while reading. However, it does bring to mind that despite my weakness for books set in Italy, I think I’ve yet to read one that is really top-notch. Any recommendations?