In this age of information technology, when news is old the moment it makes the headlines, when all kinds of information is available at the touch of a screen, making it to the limelight is no mean achievement. In this super-competitive, ever-changing world, what does an author do to get noticed?
Looking at Dan Brown, many would say: write a controversial book. If you are lucky, the book will be made into a movie. Luckier still, if the movie gets banned in some countries. The controversy surrounding Dan Brown’s first novel The Da Vinci Code catapulted him into international recognition. This book has sold more than 200 million copies and made him one of the most popular authors of our time.
To date, I have read all of Dan Brown’s books. They are not tremendously good literature; but therein lies their appeal. Stripped down to the bones, all the books are like car chases, especially the ones starring Robert Langdon. Fast paced, they take the reader on a rollicking journey. Twists and turns, jerks and jolts, are to be expected after every few pages. These page-turners can really hold your interest, and are just the thing to re-charge mental batteries, or relieve the tedium of a long flight.
But I digress, I began this piece of writing to acknowledge all that I have learned from Dan Brown. Each book opens up a world of knowledge: historical and scientific facts cleverly interwoven with fiction. Whether it is nanobot technology (Deception Point) or computer cryptography (Digital Fortress) , Dan Brown adds to our knowledge of science and technology. The Professor Langdon books: The Da Vinci Code. Angels & Demons, The Lost Symbol and Inferno provide well-researched glimpses into the worlds of history, religion, theology and art.
Langdon, a Harvard professor of symbology, is drawn into a fast-paced adventure in each of the stories. Like Indiana Jones, he combines his intellectual prowess with physical courage to unravel mysteries, ancient and modern. Langdon usually manages to befriend a damsel in distress (again like Indiana Jones), and with her help breaks codes and deciphers symbols at breakneck speed; all the while dodging criminals and misguided authorities. After many hair raising adventures, Langdon and his lady friend(who always combines beauty with brains), manage to avoid catastrophe and save the world.
Brown’s latest book Origin follows the same formula. The plot races at first, helped along by conspiracy theories as well as historical and scientific references. The story is heavily peppered with theology, evolution, creationism, with a bit of comparative religion thrown in for good measure.
The story begins in the Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art in Bilbao, Spain. Ignoramus that I am, I never knew that Spain boasted a museum of modern art. I have Dan Brown to thank, not just for this knowledge but for detailed descriptions of the exhibits and some facts about the artists.
As the story progresses, it moves to Barcelona. Here we are treated to vividly drawn word pictures of two old buildings: Sagrada Familia and Casa Mila.
Dan Brown’s skillful depictions make me want to hop on a plane and visit all these places. However, what I can actually manage is the next best thing: armchair travel. I had a great time googling all the sights mentioned in the book.
Similar to the Da Vinci Code, the story develops into a convoluted chase sequence. Langdon and the beautiful Ambra Vidal keep jumping from successive frying pans into successive fires, emerging largely unscathed. This time, however, the Professor has extra help in the form of murdered scientist Edmond Kirsch’s digital assistant called Winston. Winston is a male version of Siri, only far more sophisticated
All the while, there is a steady build-up of hype regarding a revolutionary scientific breakthrough that Kirsch was about to reveal when he was shot. Langdon and Ambra spend about 350 pages trying to access the discovery. When this eventually materializes it seems like a bit of a let-down. The unveiling of the discovery, though, is not really the denouement. The actual denouement comes after another fifty odd pages. By this time, I am so fed up that the grand finale of revelation seems to fall absolutely flat.
This technique of the real finale following a supposed ending has been used before in Angels and Demons where it kept me glued to its pages. In Origin, however, this formula is unsuccessful. Brown employs Jeffrey Archer style plot twists in all his books. Mostly they keep you interested while at some points in the story, they just don’t seem to gel.
Characterization is not really Dan Brown’s strong point. The hero, Professor Robert Langdon is the same as in his previous adventures. Fans can rest assured that his tweeds, Mickey Mouse watch and claustrophobia remain unchanged. The heroine, like all of Dan Brown’s female leads, is beautiful and intelligent but is content to remain in Langdon’s shadow. The rest of the characters are sketchily drawn, existing only to help the story along.
Like all of Brown’s books, Origin seems very well researched. Although having a few loose ends and inconsistencies, the book remains quite well entertaining. Ancient symbols, historical buildings, conspiracy theories, artificial intelligence: all combine to make Origin a really interesting read. Now isn’t that the perfect read for a rainy evening in front of the fire, or a lazy afternoon at the beach?
Which is your favourite Dan Brown novel and why? Do comment and let me know.