This blog post was written by guest author Kevin of Getdegrees.com. Thank you Kevin!
Every few years, a Dan Brown novel resuscitates the ailing domestic book market—and just as often, the press declares his prose poisonous. Salman Rushdie has called The Da Vinci Code, “a novel so bad that it gives bad novels a bad name.”
Scottish linguist Geoffrey K. Pullum, co-creator of Language Log, seems to have written as many words deriding Brown’s style as Brown has written words. Maybe they’re eggheads jealous of Brown’s gaudy sales numbers, but don’t quibble with his critics when your GMAT score is at stake. Dan Brown may indeed undo good habits you’re picking up in your prep work. The proof is in the reading. Here is our breakdown of Brown’s latest, The Lost Symbol, GMAT section by section.
Correct use of both modifiers and coordinated items—especially lists and comparisons—is paramount to success on the GMAT, and Brown is constantly flouting acceptable usage. A few sentences that wouldn’t fly on the test:
- “From the scarified Nubian priests of 2000 B.C., to the tattooed acolytes of the Cybele cult of ancient Rome, to the moko scars of the modern Maori, humans have tattooed themselves as a way of offering up their bodies in partial sacrifice…” (p. 12)
The list above is not parallel. Nubian priests and tattooed acolytes are people, whereas moko scars are characteristics of people. In the idiomatic construction from X to Y, X and Y need to be the same type.
- “Like the Rothschilds in Europe, the surname Solomon had always carried the mystique of American royalty and success.” (p. 18)
The Rothschilds are a family. They cannot logically be compared to a surname.
- “At the subatomic level, Katherine had shown that particles themselves came in and out of existence based solely on her intention to observe them.” (p. 68)
The modifier that begins the sentence is misplaced. Certainly the particles, and not Katherine, were at the subatomic level, so “Katherine” cannot be the first noun following the comma. An acceptable GMAT sentence may be written “Katherine had shown that, at the subatomic level, particles themselves came…”
Success on this section depends on your ability to understand and manipulate arguments. Some arguments are flawed, but understandably so—an unwarranted assumption here, an overlooked possibility there. Unfortunately, sometimes Brown’s characters are so slow on the uptake that it’s difficult to think of them as exhibiting much reason at all.
Consider: a police chief, a director at the CIA and a Harvard professor—of symbology, for Pete’s sake—see: tattooed on a disembodied hand. Two chapters and several unspeakably bad ideas later, Professor Langdon finally figures out that “IIIX885,” with its mysteriously invalid Roman numeral, is actually “SBBXIII,” the number of a door in the Capitol’s sub-basement. Dan Brown seems to think it takes a degree in symbology and “experience with the rotational symmetry of ambigrams” to comprehend that if a message is indecipherable to you, maybe you’re looking at it upside down.
A man walks into the U.S. Capitol building. He is bald and wearing a tattered army-navy surplus jacket. His arm is in a sling and he walks with a noticeable limp. Except, that’s not his hand protruding from the thick bandages; that’s the severed hand of another human being. The fingertips of the severed hand bear visible tattoos, but otherwise, the man’s skin, previously described as “completely covered with an intricate tapestry of sigils and symbols,” appears unadorned. Why? Because he is wearing makeup. What must be an enormous bucket of makeup.
Does that sound suspicious? Not to Brown’s security guard character, who, despite “carefully observing” the man and speaking to him for several minutes, senses nothing wrong.
Takeaway: though reading comp passages ask you to parse difficult information, at least they make sense.
Brown is a repetitive fellow. In the span of one chapter, he calls out a character’s “simmering black eyes,” “tiny black eyes,” “small eyes” and “jet-black eyes.” Brown is also quite fond of cubes, whose shape he ascribes to the two most important objects in the book, a “noetics” laboratory and a package containing a talisman. Cubes are mentioned so often, you might be lulled into thinking your geometry skills are improving. Don’t. The book refers to triangles just three times, but questions dealing with triangles are six times more common on the test than questions dealing with squares. Cubes are rarer still on the GMAT.
This should go without saying. 🙂
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