As Dan Brown sparks expectations with the announcement of his new novel, we look into the Brown effect
The puzzle is resolved. As his fans deciphered the ‘lost symbol’ in a digital mosaic created on social media, it became clear that Dan Brown’s much anticipated new novel, releasing on May 14, will be called Inferno. This time his central figure, symbologist Robert Langdon who is still remembered for cracking The Da Vinci Code, will venture into the passageways of literature. The title comes from the first canticum of Dante’s 14th Century epic poem The Divine Comedy, whichtalks about a soul’s journey towards God. In Inferno, Dante grapples his way through hell. What better title and what better situation could Brown have picked to unleash his spell of symbols and intrigue and season it with pop theology all over again!
In a release sent out by Random House, which will bring the book to India, Brown says, “Although I studied Dante’s Inferno as a student, it wasn’t until recently, while researching in Florence, that I came to appreciate the enduring influence of Dante’s work on the modern world. With this new novel, I am excited to take readers on a journey deep into this mysterious realm…a landscape of codes, symbols, and more than a few secret passageways.”
Our own ‘Dan Brown’, Ashwin Sanghi, whose novel The Rozabel Line was compared with The Da Vinci Code, says Brown explores the grey area between fact and fiction to the fullest. “He so skilfully weaves non-fiction theories into his fictional narrative that you don’t realise where one ends and the other begins.”
He admits he was hugely inspired by The Da Vinci Code. “While Dan drew from the theory propagated in The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, I used Holger Kersten’s Jesus Lived In India as the source.” Sanghi says the subgenre of conspiracy theory in the historical / mythology category is yet to be fully explored in India. It took Sanghi two years to find Westland as the publisher. “Though history and mythology are being revisited, I am the only one who is bringing in the conspiracy theory element to the narrative. Only recently, Manreet Sodhi’s The Taj Conspiracy has come out and I hope more is written in this realm.”
Ravi Subramanian, another bestselling Indian author who weaves conspiracy theories into his novels, says Dan Brown’s works are “classics of tomorrow” both in terms of language and narrative sweep. “They are truly unputdownable.”
Many call his writing the literary equivalent of claptrap. For revisiting Dante they find A.N Wilson’s recent work Dante In Love a better option. Talking about the literary merit of Brown’s works, author and critic Sukrita Paul Kumar says he deserves adequate literary recognition. “He unravels the working of the human mind using devices like cryptography, creating a sense of intrigue. He uses theology and mathematics in a very creative way to resolve an issue. There is a certain sophistication and polish in his writing, but at the same time he is easy to comprehend. He gives you logical interpretation, but at the same time a constant sense of wonder emanates from his narrative. It is a special combination, not easy to achieve.”
But last time Brown had to face the ire of Christian groups for sensationalising certain aspects of Jesus’ life. His website quotes Langdon in bold letters: “Widespread acceptance of an idea is not a proof of its validity.” Does it amount to instigation?
Sanghi feels the controversy arose because in the preface of The Da Vinci Code the author had mentioned that the book is based on facts. “One should not play with the religious sentiments of the reader. I always make it clear to my readers that though I have made use of some facts, one should read it as a piece of fiction. Also, I mention my sources at the end of the book in the form of a bibliography. So if a discerning reader wants to explore further he could. I get many messages where readers thank me for introducing them to the original source.” So, he adds, one should not be surprised if Dante finds a new lease of life on the shelf.
Sukrita says though his kind of writing lends itself to the charge of sensationalism, his work cannot be dismissed as sensationalism. John Dayal, Secretary General, All India Christian Council, says a novel can’t shake the Christian faith. “In the matters of faith there can’t be half-truths, and as a former scientist, I can say the moment you fictionalise a fact, the whole work becomes a piece of fiction,” says Dayal, who is against the concept of book burning.
Subramanian feels the way Brown writes, he doesn’t need to conjure up a controversy to sell his work. However, in the same vein he adds that sex and Christianity sell. “I will not be surprised if by the end of the year we have Fifty Shades of Grey and Inferno jostling for the top spot in the list of bestsellers.”
Meanwhile, bookshops are eager to embrace the warmth of Inferno. Ajay Mago of Om Book Stores says his outlets sold around 5200 copies of The Da Vinci Code. “We anticipate great sales for Inferno since Dan Brown is one of the world’s best selling authors and readers love his work. Keeping that in mind we have already started taking advance orders for the book.”