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Dan Brown - The Lost Symbol - Unabridged Audiobook - Full Review
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Audiobooks - Audiobook Reviews

The Lost Symbol

by Dan Brown

Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol was, even before its launch, a record-breaking bestseller with the largest pre-launch print run for 2009. The hyped follow-up to the incredibly successful, The Da Vinci Code, and featuring the same hero, Robert Langdon.

From the very start this thriller is a page-turner. Although some of the leading-edge theoretical science, which is found throughout the story, went way over my head, the religious and artistic symbolism which also features strongly throughout, was more engrossing and digestible. The archictectural and masonic mysteries in which the novel is rich, were also a strong point. But all this, coupled with Dan Brown's undoubted skill in writing thrillers, were not enough to prevent the novel from being a major disappointment.

One accepts that an adventure tale will focus more on action than character but the characters in this novel are two dimensional and not believable. The sole exception is Sato, the senior intelligence officer who is a fierce opponent to Langdon's schemes in part of the novel. Sato is a Japanese-American woman and a veritable force of nature. She has survived throat-cancer yet still smokes and leads a unit which plays a crucial role in defending America.

Sato is Brown's most successful character in this novel, but she is ironically the poorest character for the reader Paul Michael. Paul Michael puts in a brilliant performance - and brilliant is the word - reading the book in a manner perfectly in sympathy with the text and capturing the essence of each character with his voice. Unfortunately Sato has been under the surgeon's knife and had half her voice box removed. Michael's attempt to render Sato's voice with full evidence of her disability is a wasted effort. It would have been preferable to state the fact of her disability and to leave the rest to the reader's imagination. In all other respects, as in his reading of The Da Vinci Code, Michael's performance is somewhat understated and pleasing.

For fans of The Da Vinci Code what is most disappointing in this novel is that there is no 'floating hand' moment. A point at which the reader must - if close to a computer - stop and google the reference in the book to see if what is said is actually true. The bizarre image of The Apotheosis of Washington is the nearest contender, perhaps. And there are many genuinely intriguing facts and suppositions put forward in the book. The feeling is one of reading a particularly interesting Wikipedia article. Dan Brown is a mine of obscure and astonishing facts about a huge range of subjects that encompass the symbolism of ancient religions to the role of freemasonry and pagan religious iconography in the design and building of America's capital city Washington DC, and a lot besides. And, just like reading a Wikipedia article, you never quite know if what you are being told is entirely correct and accurate.

The strongest feature of the book is the theme of religious sacrifice which is a deftly woven into the fabric of the story and which is presented in sometimes startling scenes which cause you to stop and reflect on the role that sacrifice plays in religion. Not just in the blood sacrifices of the Mayan's and burnt offerings of the old testament but altogether more significant sacrifices: the call by God upon Abraham to sacrifice his son and the actual sacrifice of Christ by crucifixion . These are powerfully moving events which even devout Christians sometimes struggle with. Not surprisingly another strong aspect of the story is its exploration of two of the most problematic relationships: that between father and son and that between God and man. Though quite what conclusions (if any) might be drawn from The Lost Symbol is something not easy to judge.

The weakest element of the novel is the plot which is sufficient only to support a short story. Dan Brown fills in the gaps with exceptionally well conceived and well written action scenes, a great deal of drama, mystery and suspense and not a little philosophical and scientic musing. None of this makes up for fact that motives of the characters, when stripped to the bone, are in the end really quite simple, and for the majority of the key characters the entire duration of the novel is taken up largely by responses to the actions of the evil mastermind of the plot, Mal'akh and not by any other more individual motives. And some of the scientific and philosphical stuff seems to connect barely at all with the rest of the novel, or with real-world science: ("The truth was that Katherine was doing science so advanced that it no longer even resembled science..."). Dan Brown also throws in a few red herrings and a touch of gruesome detail neither of which enhance the reading experience.

Published by Random House in the USA and Whole Story Audio Books in the UK. Read by Paul Michael.

Litrev Rating

Overall 2______

Suspense 3______
Characters 0______
Plot 1______
Audio 3______
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Daphne du Maurier - The King's General - Audiobook - Full Review
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Audiobooks - Audiobook Reviews

The King's General

by Daphne Du Maurier

At the end of a quaint, old fashioned romance there is a quaint epilogue where the author discusses the fate of her characters subsequent to the close of the story. The lovers marry and have plenty of children - of course, but we also want to know what happened to the kindly aunt who helped them through their troubles. And we want to know whether the ogre of an uncle who treated them awfully because of a long running feud with their father ever gets his comeuppance.

Sometimes, this epilogue - whisper it only - is the best part of the book. This because it is short and full of justice for all concerned. And also because in real life there is always an epilogue - in the sense that things never come to an end.

So it is with Daphne du Maurier's The King's General - a novel based on real events. At the very end, Du Maurier gives a short account of the outcomes for each of her characters and on top of this, an account of the discovery, centuries later, which seems to have been the inspiration for the novel. Unfortunately this ending is one of the few completely satisfying aspects of the novel.

The start of the novel too is quite good: the narrator of the story, Honor Harris, writing for the grave, as it were, an account of her life in Cornwall and hinting at the tyranny of Oliver Cromwell's rule. In the aftermath of the English Civil War, Honor and her family and many of their Cornish compatriots are undoubtedly the losers of a fierce, bitter, hard fought war. A war not to be lost.

Du Maurier is as effective in her hinting at Cromwell's tyranny, as she is ineffective in her depiction of the war itself.

There are many memorable scenes in The King's General: a wounded soldier being raised onto a horse by three men so that he may see the Prince of Wales; Honor seeing the bodies of hanging soldiers as she drives through a town; the destruction of Menabilly - house of refuge for the women caught up in this war - two of those women playing a game of cards as the soldiers destroy everything they can lay their hands on.

It is the comic book quality of some of these scenes that is problematic. A novel that encompasses war may be graphic but it does not need to be written like a graphic novel. Here there is drama, intense drama, but none of the emotional inpsection that gives the drama an individual angle, a human face.

Part of the problem is in the character of Honor's lover, Richard Grenvile, the King's General. Reading the book, one falls to wondering whether Honor fails to see that Grenvile is a monster, for all his tenderness towards her. Honor is of course not so naive. But to borrow her own suggestion, she is rotten with sentiment. An incurable romantic.

Gartred Grenvile, the General's sister, is as cynical as her brother. Yet whenever either of these two turbulent characters is on the scene, the book comes to life. For all their cynicism, the Grenviles are shrewd in their perception of personality. They are cunning. And risk takers. Gartred's biting, yet insightful suggest she doesn't live with the half-delusions that Honor struggles with.

The Grenviles are extreme yet believeable characters, but the relationships that develop between Honor and her brothers and the Grenviles are difficult to comprehend. Whatever passions Richard and Gartred can arouse in their lovers it is difficult to believe that Honor, in particular, can remain utterly loyal and completely devoted towards Richard. Committed enough to risk abandoning her family for him, her reputation and even life and limb.

Yet this is what Du Maurier asks us to accept: that Honor can suffer such ruin and yet remain enchanted by the charms of this one man - cruel, cynical and manipulative as he is.

The novel falls into the trap which exists for any fact-based fiction, descending at times into an accurate account of historical events rather than story-telling. This is not helped by Juliet Stevenson's reading of the novel which at times has all the passion of a rendition of a shopping list.

It becomes clear at the end of the novel, that Du Maurier must have done a lot of research for her work. There is a lot of fascinating material in this novel for anyone interested in Cornwall and the Civil War.

Published by BBC Worldwide and read by Juliet Stevenson.

Litrev Rating

Overall 2______

Suspense 3______
Characters 3______
Plot 1______
Audio 2______
Own it? Rate it!
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