"The Lost Symbol"

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

Closing the cover on "The Lost Symbol" was a little like getting off a circus ride.You're out of breath, a bit dazed and confused, and though it was fun, you're sort of glad it's over. Like the ride, it's a 'can't stop once you've started' thing and the speed alone keeps you pulled in.

The pace is fast. Each chapter leaves you hanging. You frantically turn the pages because you have to know what happens next. I know that's a good reason for turning pages, it's just not my favorite reason. I like to turn the page because the words I've been reading are a sheer delight and I want the pleasure of  reading more of them. But, that's a different kind of book. This book is pure escapism, great for getting out of your own life for a while and into somebody else's. If you want a book you can't put down, this one's for you.

The story's setting is Washington DC, with lots of description of the government buildings. I've never had much of an interest in visiting there, but the Library of Congress was so beautifully described that I would like to see it. The city itself didn't captivate me, but some of the old buildings sound interesting.

The book is full of mysteries. There were times when it seemed to me the answers to the mysteries were being deliberately withheld to lengthen the book, and as it progressed I confess I did grow somewhat irritated when the characters repeatedly almost told their secrets, but then just said something else mysterious. Mystery may not be my genre.

What I liked best about The Lost Symbol is the math. It too can be mysterious, but it doesn't toy with you. The answer is clear and honest once you figure it out. Throughout the story he makes use of magic squares, where all the rows, columns, and diagonals, and sometimes even the 4 corners, add up to the same number. They are works of art. I love the way the numbers fit so perfectly as to be almost poetic. I can get the same enjoyment out of a magic square as I do a perfectly crafted sentence or a beautiful figure of speech.

There are lots of secret codes in the book as well and that was fun. One of the simpler codes is actually diagrammed in the book and I'm going to teach my granddaughters how to use it. It will up my cool factor considerably, which is a good thing because they are getting to the age when I'm about to become just another outdated, boring adult.

I was fascinated with what I learned about Freemasonry in this novel. I've never really understood much about it, but in certain circles I've sensed that the organization wasn't always admired. It gets a little confusing at times but I'm fairly sure that by the end of the book the author wants the reader not only to approve of the Masons, but also to view them as credible spiritual guides. The Christian church is dismissed as being misguided in it's belief in the Bible as the Word of God as well as it's belief in Jesus' virgin birth and resurrection. The book accepts that He was divine, but only in the way that we are all divine and therefore all gods. I'm seeing this same kind of spirituality in many of the books I'm reading lately, which I find sad but I guess is understandable in today's world where we all want power and other good things, but we don't want an actual God having any expectations of us in return. This book suggests strongly that the Freemasons are the people with the spiritual inside information, the ones who know the real truth about the truth.

The Lost Symbol also introduced me to Noetics. The word was new to me, but I've found through some internet research that it is a valid science. There is an actual Institute of Noetic Sciences studying all aspects of consciousness including the effects of thought on matter. Noetics is a "new science based on old wisdom". It says your thoughts can create your reality, that positive thoughts will give you a better reality than negative thoughts. We've always suspected that, but it's becoming a measurable reality and not just a platitude. Very exciting stuff. 

One aspect of the book I didn't enjoy at all were the very detailed torture scenes. I don't know that they added anything at all to the story other than to stretch it out a bit. I read novels for entertainment and I just don't find torture entertaining. I know there are evil people in the world, but I see them in the papers and on the news; I don't need them in my entertainment.

Something I always look for in a good story is character development. This being a "thriller" the action is more important than the characters. I understand that, but I can't help it; I want character development. Many of the characters in this book are, to me, one-dimensional and predictable. I don't really like any of them. I'm sure the author would say he didn't write it so I could make friends, and he'd be right of course. The flaw is in my expectations. I have to stop looking for well developed characters in books that are plot driven and not character driven. Sigh.

It may have been a tiny bit of a hindrance to my enjoyment of this book that I've seen Tom Hanks in the role of Robert Langdon in The DaVinci Code movie. As a result of that, it was his face I kept seeing as I read, although in this story I think someone else would be more believable. There were very serious scenes that became almost comical when I  thought of  Tom Hanks in them. Not the author's intention I'm sure. Another character, Director Sato, I found to be overwritten and heavy handed. She is supposed to be intimidating, but at times she was ridiculously fierce, and I couldn't take her seriously. Now that I think of it, most of the secondary characters were written that way. You only get to see one side of them, and again that's probably ok in a story like this. The star of the show is the mystery, not any of the characters.

Overall, an ok read. I learned some new things, escaped my own life for a while and mostly had fun on the ride. I think though, that to be fair, I need to learn how to read this genre of book for what it is and stop having expectations they were never meant to fulfill. I'm not sure yet if that means I'll read more mysteries to educate myself, or less, so i don't have to.


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