Posted by: Ele Quigan | July 10, 2013

Inferno – Dan Brown or OH THE MISOGYNY

paperback exchange 2Lately, it feels like something has gone slightly weird with the world. Either I’ve changed, or suddenly where I was oblivious – suddenly all is apparent, like a slap to the face. And what is this? Casual misogyny.

I don’t know where I started noticing it, but I know the moment I truly got p*ssed off – which I’m going to decline to outline due to the powers of the internet and not wanted to cause anyone else any unnecessary stress (including myself). The internet never forgets! And I’ve seen the powers of 4Chan, so not even going to tempt fate with saying anything about it… But I digress.

It seems to have become grounded in popular culture recently – from the #RobinThickeHasABigDick (I hate myself for loving ‘Blurred Lines’ so freaking much – but would you really see a female artist doing the female equivalent?), Justin Timberlake’s banned music video, to the horrifying tweets about Marion Bartoli & the seemingly throwaway comment from John Inverdale (actually my favourite Guardo columnist has done a fantastic writeup up about Wimbledon sexism here – I am just feeling like I can’t get away from it at the moment.

So colour me surprised when I found it (or looked for it? I dunno) in the latest by Dan Brown – Inferno.

Dan Brown while a publishing phenomenon when the Da Vinci code released years ago, good for a trashy yet good read thriller (sure he took inspiration from Holy Blood Holy Grail which is worth reading if you get the chance), with Angels & Demons having a bit of a similar cult following. They always seem to have a historical focus, (I mean if I love Phillipa Gregory I’m well aware of my hypocrisy of hating thriller-type historicalish fiction…) which as I was in an airport on the way to Malta for work, and needed something to keep me entertained for the 3.5hr flight, so I picked up Inferno.

Yes I know, totally my own fault for being interested in the first place, but I was headed to Florence for a few days out of London after Malta, and thought it might perk my interest up a bit. And oh my god what a piece of craaaaaaaap it was.

Sure it had all the usual hallmarks – Historial person of interest (this time Dante) a death/suicide, a concerned/worried female who ‘happens’ to get herself involved, a police chase, and saving the world. Cheesy doesn’t even begin to explain it.

I’m not sure from which point it started to annoy me, but gradually I found myself from initially bristling to fuming in a few short hours.

Firstly? The saving the world piece is a little ridiculous. Sure genetic engineering has come in leaps and bounds, and no I’m not going to spoil the ending, but if I wasn’t on a flight for work I would have thrown the oversized massive hardback at someone. There’s a disclaimer at the start saying that these particular organisations exist – but I can’t help but feel it’s just bullsh*t under the banner of ‘artistic license’.

Secondly, like the start of my post (and what’s been rolling around my head the last few days) it just feels so out of place with it’s casual misogyny. Maybe it’s a generational thing – but I just don’t get the ideal that the girl in trouble needs saving (sort of similar to the virgin archetype?), and they always seem to fall for the male older protagonist? Bleurgh. It makes me slightly sick that every created defenceless yet resourceful female must fall for the other older man who helps her out (Mikael Blomkvist & Lisbeth Salander anyone?) can we not just have a female who can be resourceful, accept help, and move on with her life?

Thirdly, I guessed the ending half way through. Unusual for me, as I usually get so involved with what I’m reading, and often read so much in one sitting I don’t really leave myself time to really think through what I’m reading. That sentence barely makes sense, but is pretty much exactly how it usually is. I think as soon as they started ‘discussing’ a particular place they needed to find (I’m trying VERY hard not to just spoil it) I’d visited somewhere randomly on one of my trips away that pretty much was exactly what they were looking for, lo and behold – that’s EXACTLY what/where it was.

Lastly, I just don’t think I can do this fluffy, travel-friendly fiction anymore. I used to really enjoy it, but fiction seems to be either romance focussed, basic thriller/easy travel read (John Grisham for example also falls into this), or depressing yet award winning. Surely some falls out of this like the incredibly obtuse Wolf Hall/Bring up the bodies (if Phillipa Gregory is English history lite, Hilary Mantel is more like the Umberto Eco version) but I feel like everything I look at as I scan through shelf after shelf of covers, only fits in these 3 buckets.

I’m writing this from my apartment in Florence, literally across the road from Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, reflecting on what I came here to see and do. I didn’t get stuck into Dante due to Dan Brown, though I so an incredibly beautiful illuminated book of his in a museum yesterday. I saw and obviously took pics of his death mask, and saw the hall of maps mentioned in ‘Inferno’. Found the book shop mentioned, which obviously has a standing display ‘WE’RE THE SHOP FROM THE BOOK!!!’ (hence the above pic). While it didn’t ‘ruin’ my visit (and to be honest, it would be pretty pathetic if it did) – I do feel it made me reconsider my reaction to some of the places I saw. Surely there’s a viator ‘Do the Dan Brown ‘Inferno’ tour of Florence’ now? heh…

I think that’s probably because at times the city feels like nothing but massive tour groups, or pockets of tourists, which kinda spoils the experience at times? I say to myself I’m a traveler not a tourist… Yesterday as I wandered through the Uffizi super early, it seemed so packed with tour groups in every room you end up skipping past or speeding through the initial busy bit – and suddenly there is no-one in the second half of the museum.

Florence is an incredible place, and well worth spending time here. There was an American family in a queue behind me yesterday who mentioned they were in Rome yesterday Florence that day and then Naples the next day? There’s no way you’d get the vibe and hub of a city or really see and give time to its sites and life in that amount of time. I feel quite lucky that I can come here for as long as I have – I just wish I could stay longer. It’s nearly 11am which means it’s wine time already, my flights not from Pisa till 10, so surely there’s time for one more sandwich (and a wee peek at the sandwich maker!), one more giant piece of buffala mozarella with basil & pomodoro, one more cantucini & vin santo…

So on the book front, I’m going to finish Girl Gone which I’ve got back in London, and I’ve got the latest Barbara Kingsolver in my carry on luggage, but I think that might be it for Fiction for a while. A pity, as I felt I’d just decided to start reading again too.

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