First off this is obviously all my fault. I was warned, I was given an explanation, and nevertheless, I persisted in reading Angels & Demons. Folks, what can I say: my affection for The Da Vinci Code is pure and genuine, see here. Angels & Demons, however, is genuinely the best sleep aid on the market.
How boring is it? It’s so boring that despite the fact that this is pretty easy prose, in a small paperback format, I’m barely able to digest 10 pages a night. I feel like I’ve been reading this book forever. There was no before Angels & Demons, and I’ve become so concerned that there will not be an after that I decided to write this now, even though I still somehow, despite all the action having been resolved, have (checks notes) SEVENTY-EIGHT PAGES LEFT?
So, the plot here is that the Pope is dead, need a new Pope. Meanwhile, in Switzerland, the enemy of religion, SCIENCE, has created antimatter that packs a super duper destructive force but also I guess is a great scientific advance with the potential to… do stuff. In fairness to Brown, the Hadron Collider and CERN were not as well-known in 2000 as they ultimately became, meaning the humor of Brown talking about these things like WHOA THIS GONNA BLOW YOUR MIND is unintentional but also a little mean and unfair. Brown isn’t (maybe) the rank simpleton he sounds like here, he’s just writing at a time when (unreasonable whackjob) people thought the supercollider really was going to destroy the world and no one was paying attention.
Like Da Vinci, our hero, Robert Langdon, is rather unceremoniously dragged off from being brilliant and thrust into an international conspiracy involving the Catholic Church. This time, it’s the infamous Illuminati (SCAWEY!) that appears determined to cause one final showdown between religion and science. What’s that you say? Other religions exist? Tut tut, tis not our concern here. You’re either a Catholic or a god-hating scientist. Pre-9/11 America had no shades of grey.
Unlike Da Vinci, Dr. Langdon does much less fumbling about, pretending not to be the super hero. He’s the smartest guy in the room here at all times, even at CERN, which is absurd. He’s joined by a comely (yes) lady scientist and I could tell you more about Vittoria but despite the many pages devoted to her backstory, she really exists only to be The Comely Lady Scientist and love interest. Where Brown exercised restraint in Da Vinci, not fully committing to the “will-they, won’t-they” trope because more serious stuff was happening, here, despite the threat of annihilation of a large part of the Italian peninsula, we have PLENTY of time to talk about Vittoria and how she just happens to be having this adventure in shorts and a tank top (so gross).
We traipse around Rome, hunting for Illuminati symbols, trying to catch a killer in order to stop the bomb. From the outset, it’s about 50% less fun to follow these clues. I’m an art history buff, with a interest in sculpture and Bernini in particular, and even i didn’t care enough to reach 10 inches to my right to Google the referenced pieces. I just didn’t care. I don’t think I really have to hide spoilers in a review of a 22 year old book that became a Major Motion Picture, but the amazing Dr. L and his comely (ick) sidekick fail to even once figure out the clues in time to actually stop the Hassassin (not a typo). All the brilliance they muster, all the near-death experiences, and in the end they could have just hung out at the Vatican and waited for 4 cardinals to be murdered and the true baddy to brand himself, pretend to have a god-inspired vision of the location of the bomb, and proceed to fly it away in a helicopter and then miraculously survive. (Aside: the helicopter and the camerlengo (don’t ask) is the most glaring Chekov’s gun situation; the information might as well have been written in bold type.) It is the most foregone of conclusions, the ramp up to which is so slow and plodding that when the twist happens you don’t care anyway; all these people are gross and boring.
The one backhanded compliment I will give Brown is this: Da Vinci got a lot of ink for the visceral descriptions of the monk’s self-abuse, and that was fair – it was pretty gory. In a world where rape is so often used as a cheap plot device, a fascinating thing happens here. Dan Brown either can’t write about sexual menace, or he won’t. He wants us to believe the Hassassin is evil with deviant, violent proclivities, but he should have just said that and not bothered trying to show it. It’s almost charming how inept, cliched, and clumsy the description of his nefarious intentions for Vittoria are. He just can’t sell sexual violence, or any sexuality at all, really. Would some titillation have made this slog more interesting? I mean, I guess, but given how dumb the plot was, I am legitimately relieved I didn’t have to read about “all the ways he would violate her” beyond him just saying that.
My completist nature means I’ll continue to abuse myself by reading the end of this, after which I will watch the movie and yell at my TV a lot. Wow, what a weekend plan!