Inferno: Review

Before I get into Inferno
I found The Da Vinci Code irritating for a number of reasons – one was the way the book presents speculative analysis or conjecture as fact. I forgave Brown for that however because the story was so well told that I felt the Twain Defence (never let the facts get in the way of a good story) should reasonably be applied.
The chief irritation, however, was the main character – Professor Robert Langdon. We are asked to believe that Prof Langdon is the world’s foremost expert on religious iconography, and yet we are constantly privy to the thoughts of this so-called Harvard professor and they are NOT the thoughts of a 50+ intellectual. More often than not he comes across like a teenager with ‘attitude’! Even worse, with substantially less background in religious iconography and renaissance painting, I was constantly guessing the next step 5 pages ahead of Prof Langdon, so note to Dan Brown: if you’re going to portray a genius, don’t just tell me he’s a genius. Have him do some clever stuff before most of the readers do it.
I am seriously struggling to find words that convey strongly enough how I feel about this unmitigated train wreck. One of the key principles in writing fiction is to keep the story plausible within the rules of the milieu created. To fail to do so is to distract the reader from the flow and make them conscious they are reading. I was so distracted by the unlikely sequence of events that I never got into the flow at all. The only reason I continued reading was because I was intrigued as to how such a giant of the genre was going to wrap it all up after such an abysmal start.
Poorly, as it turned out. If the premise was unlikely and the plot developments ridiculous, the resolution was nothing short of insulting. He may as well have involved aliens, or just had Langdon wake up and realise it was all a dream.
A major disappointment in Inferno was the absence of the inventive clues as employed in The Da Vinci Code. There was actually one clue where all Langdon had to work on was a reference to a chapter of Dante’s Inferno. Langdon only had access to the first six lines of that chapter, yet somehow he worked out that a reference to baptism in those lines could only mean that the object he sought must be hidden in a very specific baptismal font in an obscure church in Florence.
Do me a favour! Most of the other revelations were the most appalling type of sudden switcheroos which the reader has no hope of working out in advance and therefore cannot admire. For example, changing a main character’s name at a convenient moment and even inventing an organisation whose unlikely purpose was to simulate events (at enormous cost) to hoodwink characters (and readers). No-one could possibly read this without feeling massively cheated.
Of course, the fact that there were clues in the first place beggars belief when the bad guy was a maniac who 100% believed in the rightness of his mission. Why would such a person leave clues to potentially thwart the goal to which his entire life had been dedicated? Like everything else in the book, it made no sense.
But if the clues were obscure or confected beyond belief, even worse was the love interest. Yet again we are told we are in the presence of genius (a 208 IQ) but does Sienna Brooks do or say anything to make us believe her intellect? She does not. If we are supposed to feel any kind of sympathy or admiration for Sienna (or want her to get it on with the Professor) then Brown fell way short. It’s almost as though he created the character and then didn’t know what to do with her. Consequently, I couldn’t care about her (and her kaleidoscopic allegiances).
My final criticisms relate to the editing. There were numerous typos (to my surprise) but far worse were the inconsistencies. First we are told that Langdon visits Florence every other year, later it’s every year. Then there is an implication that he only speaks basic Italian (inconceivable though this be for such an expert on the Italian renaissance who is so frequently in the country and with so many Italian friends), but later in the book he is speaking Italian like a native…or at least like a frequently visiting professor. The whole thing read like a first draft needing a heap of work to make publishable, rather than just saleable.
The only positive thing to say about Brown’s Inferno is that it was so bad, there’s a really good chance that no-one who read it will ever buy one of his books again.

The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins: Review

Let me begin by saying that Irvine Welsh is my favourite writer of the last 25 years. I was blown away by Trainspotting, The Acid House, Ecstasy, Glue and Filth. I didn’t particularly enjoy Marabou Stork Nightmares but I could appreciate its ambition and power…it haunts me still. I loved Porno, but after that he started to seem a tad jaded. If You Enjoyed School You’ll Love Work was trying too hard. The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs was a confused mess. And Crime left me cold (with too much riding on a late-revealed traumatic childhood to explain a dysfunctional adult – ground he’d already covered so brilliantly with Bruce Robertson in Filth.
There was a brief return to form with Skag Boys – Begbie in particular was breathtaking in that reprise – so I looked forward to Irvine’s next effort confident that he’d rediscovered his edge.
Alas, he has not. The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins is an almost colour-by-numbers attempt to counterpoint the evolving relationship of two women (one fit, one fat) with the developing media fascination with a pair of conjoined twins who want different things in their lives.
It was pretty hard for me to get into the story – mainly because I didn’t like (or believe) the main character – Lucy. She seemed to have the same voice as the increasingly coke-psychotic Sick Boy from the second half of Porno, and the only reason I knew she was a woman was because she kept saying so (despite her unrelenting misogyny).
Neither did I believe the other main character (Lena) – especially her true sexual orientation which is conveniently revealed towards the end. I especially did not believe the major turning point that happens about halfway through. Stranger things have happened, of course, but there needed to be at least some vague foreshadowing that such was possible to make it believable when it came. Too much in one go did not make sense.
There was an interesting idea underpinning the plot but the whole thing read like a first draft. The story needed a lot more structural editing to pull it into shape. Most disappointing was the absence of the usual Welsh dark humour. The sex scenes also read like a middle aged man’s lesbotic fantasy rather than smacking of any authenticity. And TWO main characters with dysfunctional lives attributable to past trauma is just getting lazy. Worst of all, I guessed every detail about the ending long before it happened. A further couple of drafts might have enabled him to conceal the ‘twists’ a little better – or even come up with some better twists to trump the reader’s expectation.
The question must be asked: has Irvine Welsh become the sort of writer he might most have despised when still scribbling in obscurity? Is he now a complaisant ex-virtuoso basking in the ebbing shadows of former glory like Meatloaf at the MCG? (Google it.) I reckon the talent is still there, he just needs to work harder than ever to refine his draft plots into something worthy of the Irvine Welsh brand.
Mibbe eh just needs back oan the skag? Ah widnae mind a sequel tae Porno. Aye right, Irvine?