Origin: A Novel
“Perhaps the critics who vigorously bash Dan Brown and will instantly trash Origin, with or without reading it, should gently but firmly remove the hockey stick from their posterior region and relax.”
In Origin, New York Times bestselling author Dan Brown’s newest blockbuster, renowned Harvard professor Robert Langdon travels to Spain to attend a major announcement by former student Edmond Kirsch. A billionaire computer scientist and futurist, Kirsch’s upcoming pronouncement is guaranteed to capture the world’s attention as he has promised to answer the most fundamental questions facing humanity: Where did we come from and Where are we going? In other words, what is our origin, and what is our destiny?
When Kirsch’s carefully orchestrated event erupts into chaos and murder, Langdon finds himself on the run, desperately eluding a crazed assassin and Spanish security forces while trying to track down the cryptic password that will unlock Kirsch’s epic discovery and enable Langdon to share it with an eagerly-awaiting world. . . .
“So here is us,” as Mal Reynolds remarks in Serenity, “on the raggedy edge.” Many veteran authors such as Jonathan Kellerman, James Patterson, and John Grisham still sell briskly and receive an occasional kind word from reviewers despite having played out their string several books ago. But is there another current bestseller who inspires the same revulsion and bitter condemnation among book critics and reviewers as Dan Brown?
The Da Vinci Code, which propelled him to fame and fortune on its publication in 2003, was described variously as “bad writing for Biblical illiterates,” “unmitigated junk,” and “ludicrous” by critics reviewing it in major newspapers and magazines around the world. His most recent, Inferno (2013), was criticized for its “awkward awfulness” and condemned by the Guardian as “dreadful, abounding in malapropisms and solecisms, leaden restatements of the obvious and naive disinformation about the reality outside the bat-thronged belfry that is Brown’s head.”
So what, oh what, shall we do with Origin?
Once again, the early reviews are already mixed. A critic for the New York Times Book Review, for example, boasts that he didn’t bother reading the novel itself because he noticed a code embedded in the synopsis printed on the inside flap of the dust cover that spelled out the central questions of the novel (stated above), decided the whole thing was laughable, and walked away from it without going any further.
However, those of us who aren’t nearly that observant and foolishly read the darned thing right through may consider its relative worth by answering two basic questions: Where has Dan Brown come from? and Where is he going?
Brown’s first novel, Angels and Demons, introduced us to Robert Langdon, an endearing protagonist whose appeal is enhanced by having Tom Hanks permanently associated with him. It also introduced the subjects of secret societies, religious conspiracies, semiotics, art, and architecture, tin cans that Brown has kicked down the road in each subsequent blockbuster all the way to Origin.
That’s where he’s coming from, and despite the visceral dislike radiating from the critics, Brown’s books sell. Millions of people read them. The Da Vinci Code, for example sold about 80 million copies, while Inferno, Origin’s predecessor, sold over six million.
Why? Because his novels are readable. Despite the inaccuracies, overabundance of italics, malapropisms, and occasional misspelled word, the pages turn briskly and the stories are very easy to read.
The vast majority of folks who shell out their hard-earned cash for Brown’s 400-plus-page bricks aren’t historians, experts in semiotics, or religious iconography art critics, or even grammarians. They’re readers looking for entertainment with some interesting subject matter thrown in to stimulate their imagination.
Goodness, what would happen if a few of them went from Origin to books about William Blake or Antoni Gaudí, for example, and discovered that while Brown may have been inaccurate in some details and applied literary license to a few others, he’d introduced them to something new and engaging? That would actually be a good thing, wouldn’t it?
Understanding where Dan Brown is coming from, we can easily predict where he’s going, then, with Origin. To the top of the bestseller list, quite obviously, and perhaps back to the keyboard over the next several years to create yet another page-turning thriller in this much-maligned but highly popular series.
Perhaps the critics who vigorously bash Dan Brown and will instantly trash Origin, with or without reading it, should gently but firmly remove the hockey stick from their posterior region and relax.
Origin is comfortably predictable, it brings back Robert Langdon and his Mickey Mouse watch for another sprawling romp, and it moves the pages pleasantly on those otherwise stressful nights when sleep eludes us and we need something to divert our minds from our problematic lives.
For this book critic, at least, these are the reasons why Origin and any future successors are more than welcome on my bedside table.