Robert Langdon is back and all ready to solve yet another great mystery of the universe. Who knows if not the greatest one this time, as the famous Harvard University professor is confronted with the questions humanity has always been trying to answer: where do we come from? Where are we going? What’s our real origin?
There’s always a whiff of controversy surrounding Dan Brown’s new releases and it all started with the infamous “The Da Vinci Code”. The book, denounced as an attack on the Roman Catholic Church, caused quite a stir among devout catholics and quickly became a worldwide bestseller, despite its questionable literary value. Hate him or love him, the American author still tops the lists of world’s most popular writers and one could not turn the blind eye to the omnipresent advertisements announcing his newest “spellbinding” novel, the fifth installment in the Robert Langdon series, titled “Origin”, released early last month. Honestly, I have no idea why I fell victim to the hype and failed to resist the temptation to find out what ingenious ideas the author presents in his newest work. Probably two factors are to blame: 1) the plot revolving around the eternal conflict between science and religion (it did look promising!), 2) the setting, as I never say no to picturesque descriptions of Spain’s undeniable beauty. Sadly, none of these aspects succeeded in fulfilling my expectations, but knowing three of the previous Robert Langdon novels I really shouldn’t have hoped for Brown’s deviating from the already established pattern, so enthusiastically received by the vast audience. After all, if it sells well, why changing it?
In “Origin”, professor Langdon will again find himself in trouble, this time after facing the death of his former student and good friend, Edmond Kirsch, a forty-year-old billionaire and futurist, during an event at Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. As the host of the evening, the scientist aims at delivering a groundbreaking announcement that will “change the face of science forever.” There is, certainly, the Catholic Church involved in the entire plot and not only – this time Dan Brown decided to go one step further and build the entire story around the dark secrets of the Spanish Royal Family, who desperately tries to silence Edmond Kirsch at all costs. As always, Robert comes to the rescue and will have to resolve the mystery behind the crime, running away from the murderer – a former Francoist driven by vengeance – and following the encrypted clues left by the deceased, which will lead him to unveiling his friend’s disturbing discovery. The subsequent events take the usual course: an attractive young woman, Ambra Vidal, the museum director who also happens to be the fiancée of Spain’s crown prince, steps onto the stage and joins Langdon in his quest. They are guided and aided by Edmond’s ‘docent’ Winston, who’s in fact an artificial intelligence invented by the genius scientist. Amidst numerous works of art, quotes of great thinkers like Nietzche or Churchill, miss Vidal and our favourite symbologist will travel from Bilbao to magical Barcelona, exploring its most popular sites, such as the Sagrada Familia and the Casa Mila, following the steps of Edward who reveals himself as the art lover and a great admirer of Antoni Gaudí. “Origin” definitely has all the typical ingredients of a well-blended and easily digestible Brown’s cocktail that will perhaps satisfy the craving for a mindless entertainer, but fails to quench the thirst for anything more than that.
Nothing is invented, for it’s written in nature first.
Originality consists of returning to the origin.
Still, entertainment is one of the main purposes of literature, so why don’t just accept the fact and simply enjoy the story? Let’s give Brown some credit, he proved himself an indisputable master of creating gripping, action-packed stories and the king of conspiracy theories people nowadays seem to be so obsessed with, hence the tremendous popularity of Robert Langdon’s adventures. “Origin”, however, reads seamlessly only at the beginning and the closer to the grand finale, the more tired I was getting with each chapter following the same pattern: short description of a place or a work of art – Langdon and his great mind in action, as he gathers the pieces of the puzzle – the villain/ the police / the Royal Family interrupts him – the chase continues. Plus, the narrator keeps annoying the reader with constant reminders of how revolutionary the Kirsch’s announcement is and how devastating an impact it’s bound to have on everything we’ve always believed in. Given that there are more than 100 such chapters, somewhere in the middle of the book I couldn’t get rid of one thought: “Just cut to the chase, Dan, will you?” . Half of the book’s content seems forced and redundant, with countless pages filled with drawn-out descriptions, ‘scientific’, copy-paste definitions of various phenomena, and pointless, often unnatural dialogues, embellished with motives taken straight from sci-fi movies. To add insult to injury, the characters are rather one-dimensional, especially Ambra Vidal, but it does not come as a surprise – I can hardly recall any interesting female character from the previous Brown’s book I read. The murderer of Kirsch, if he’s supposed to be the main villain, definitely deserved more attention, but as usual, Robert Langdon must shine the brightest, so the rest is only the background for his larger-than-life actions, with the exception of Edmond and Winston, who are by far the only ones I actually cared about.
I wouldn’t say, though, the the book is completely bad, it serves well as a not overly demanding page-turner, which I truly need lately (to survive the awful month of November…). On the other hand, there are always some interesting historical facts and trivia I learn from Brown’s books, for instance about Francoist Spain and Gaudí’s works, which have always fascinated me. If only the author worked more on blending in such tidbits, it’d make his novels more worthwhile. Probably he could also attend some writing course to refresh his skills and vocabulary, as some of the words or phrases in “Origin” are so repetitive that I started counted them at some point (“mind-boggling” appears at least 6 times and the only adjective describing atheists is “outspoken”). Still, it is to admit that our modern Nostradamus did his homework well and apparently conducted a thorough research in revolutionary biology, computer science and numerous other fields, in his attempt to deliver another apocalyptic thriller. Edmond Kirsch’s objective is to enlighten us with what he sees as a proof of his prediction that “the age of religion is drawing to a close and the age of science is dawning.” The very much sought-after climax turns into a 10-pages long harangue drawing on all the known scientific thesis, starting with the Big Bang theory and primordial soup until the creation of DNA and first being, questioning the God’s intervention in the beginning of life on Earth. It is not for me to judge how veritable the whole Kirsch’s/Brown’s theory is, but the whole fanciful testimony, intertwined with the actual scientist’s quotes makes it an acceptable (in this convention), albeit a hardly credible idea. Yet, who knows, maybe such great minds – and “outspoken atheists” – as Richard Dawkins or the late Christopher Hitchens would appreciate and enjoy Dan Brown’s inventiveness. If only they weren’t better writers themselves…
My rating: 2/5 stars
Read in: English
Date read: November 2017