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Dante's Equation

by Jane Jensen

(Orbit, £7.99, 695 pages, paperback, first published 2003, this edition published August 2004.)

Review by John D Owen

I suppose you could say that Jane Jensen's cover scanDante's Equation is roughly in the same area as Dan Brown's highly successful The Da Vinci Code. After all, it name-checks a cultural icon in its title, and for most of its considerable length, the book is about tracking down and decoding the parts of a Kabbalistic manuscript written by a Jewish mystic named Kobinski, who disappeared from Auschwitz in mysterious circumstances. Thereafter, the book does go spinning off into territory unvisited by Brown: alternate worlds, corresponding to personal hells for the characters. The various strands all come together again for the finale, naturally.

As a storyline, Jensen's plotting is workmanlike, though there are a couple of major "with one bound they were free" moments that strain a reader's incredulity to breaking point and beyond. Jensen's main problem in retaining reader interest as that her characters are less that wonderful people that most of us wouldn't want to spend much time with. And with a sprawling story spread over nearly seven hundred pages, that's a big hurdle for the average reader to get over -- if you get turned off by the characters in the first chapters, it is going to take a lot to keep reading through to the end. Personally, if I wasn't reading for review, I might have thrown this book onto the 're-cycle' pile long before the half-way point, the characters grated so much on me.

And that's it in a nutshell, really. The storyline isn't bad, but Jensen writes herself into corners that requires major leaps of faith from the reader to believe in her solutions, and she doesn't really earn the right to that faith along the way. Her characters are distinctive but unsympathetic, so it's hard to develop any empathy for them. As a whole, the book didn't work for me on any level, and was a struggle to finish. A hard book to recommend to anyone, frankly.

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