So, Dan Brown’s Origin is here. What’s new? Unfortunately, not much. Now a Dan Brown original (notice what we did there?) comes with a bunch of pre-requisites: Feverish skipping ahead to promised ‘earth-shattering discoveries’, mysterious (er..) things said in italics, some surfing of Wikipedia to cross-check Langdon/Brown’s rather lachrymose soliloquising and (quite) a degree of suspension of disbelief. That’s fine. That’s all par for the course.
But the question is: Is Origin as good a thriller as Brown’s other thrillers have been? Not quite. The premise is pretty much The Da Vinci Code meets Angels and Demons(aka science locks horns with religion) meets (another) pretty European country.
So, what’s this one about? Well, in a grail – I mean, a cup – I mean, a nutshell – Dan Brown’s trusted protagonist – Harvard University symbologist Robert Langdon – has been flown into the famous Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain because his former student and current tech visionary friend Edmond Kirsch is about to make a startling announcement that will pretty much, change the world. (But, of course).
However, in the middle of Kirsch’s rather preamble-filled announcement, an assassin who has slipped into the museum shoots Kirsch dead just before he’s got to the good part. It is now up to Langdon (we don’t know why) to ‘rediscover’ that discovery and release it to the world. He joins forces with the inevitable beautiful and super-smart woman for a night-long game of cat-and-mouse with the aforementioned assassin as they hunt down their dead friend’s secret.
Here are some key points you need to know about the book. Or, if you’re a Langdon/Brown fan, you probably know/can guess at already:
Tourism Ka Kya Kehna!
A colleague recently showed me photographs from his family trip to Paris. “And here we are at the Louvre,” he said excitedly, jabbing a finger at a picture of his wife near a large metal and glass pyramid – the Louvre Pyramid. “You remember that chalice? The Holy Grail, of course?” he continued, quoting DB like easy, well-worn literature, “My wife posed right next to it. Where Langdon said they’d buried Mary Magdalene.” But, of course.
Paris’ oldest historical monuments and churches saw a huge surge in tourism post Brown’s controversial book – including a number of ‘Da Vinci City Tours’ and smartphone apps that direct you to the hotspots in the book.
This one’s all Barcelona. How much are you willing to bet people aren’t going to queue up at the Guggenheim, among other very many, ‘symbolic’, ‘mysterious’ structures – all of which Langdon explains away rather self-evidently.
Why Does Everything Sound Like Wikipedia?
Now, I know Dan Brown puts in quite a lot of research into his books – for Origin, he reportedly spent six months just reading related material, then spent the next phase talking to experts – but why oh why does he make every factoid sound like Langdon is reading them deadpan from Wikipedia? “Of course, The Fog Sculpture outside is a perfect example of conceptual art”. “The Turing Test, Langdon recalled, was a challenge proposed by code-breaker Alan Turing to assess a machine’s ability to behave in a manner indistinguishable from that of a human”.
If I read another sentence that begins with – ‘“But of course,” Langdon interjected with a laugh, “Let me explain…”’, I’m going to kill someone.
Is Everyone and Everything Really “Renowned”?
Why does everyone know every remote, inaccessible church door, the symbol on that church door and what that symbol meant to a sect that lived in the 14th century, by heart? Everything that Langdon and his partner-in-crime for the night, Ambra Vidal, come across, are somehow just… super familiar. I understand Brown wants to relay all the research he’s crammed into each new book – but perhaps, make Langdon look a little perplexed at some of those fish heads?
Also, every biologist, futurist, king and his cat are introduced sagaciously with the prefix “celebrated”, “well-known, and “famous”. It’s like they could each have their reality show and beat the Kardashians at their own game.
What’s the Deal With Casual Sexism?
I’m surprised I rarely noticed this when I started reading Brown voraciously in school, but wise age will do that to you. Why is Robert Langdon also ‘Langdon’ and the woman, of course, mentioned by first name – Sophie, Vittoria… in this case, Ambra? Ambra Vidal, meanwhile, is the future queen of Spain but must be described as “vivacious” and “strong-minded”. An allusion is made to her “formfitting white dress”, more than once. At the beginning of the novel, as the author describes the future king of Spain asking her on a date, he writes – “Tonight, a powerful man had boldly strode up to her and taken total control. It made her feel feminine. And young.” Umm.
I’d still say you give Origin one read, if for the love for Langdon. Then, go back and reread Da Vinci Code. A lot of the matter in Origin has clearly been sourced from stuff that couldn’t fit into that one.