Book Review: Origin

When I was younger – and, even, older – I would often play truant to spend quality time with my gran. Although hours would be spent watching daytime detective shows such as Murder She Wrote, Columbo and, my particular favourite, Diagnosis Murder with Dick Van Dyke, we would also discuss the mysteries of life. For all intents and purposes, my gran was a very spiritual and religious woman. On closer inspection, however, you would find that she was in a love affair with science and space. How these two warring beliefs co-existed is an intriguing one and one that is very much debated in Dan Brown’s new novel Origin. Discussing the ripple effects of scientific discovery, Brown whisks us away on a fast-paced tour of conflicted Catholic Spain, and probes us into asking those age-old (and terrifying) questions; ‘Where do we come from?’ and ‘Where are we going?’

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The fifth in its series, Origin re-introduces, Robert Langdon; a Harvard professor that has  unwittingly found himself at the heart of, yet, another adventure. Beginning at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Langdon is in attendance of the ominous unveiling of a huge scientific discovery relating to the origin of man. Friend, futurist and the evening’s host, Edmund Kirsch, claims that his findings could not only shatter world religions, but alter the face of scientific endeavour. With this in mind, Kirsch takes to the stage to answer the questions of all human existence…only to be shot dead on national TV. Having left clues that only his artificial intelligence ‘Winston’, co-host Ambra Vidal and, of course, Langdon can solve, the fate of his discovery rests in their hands. Hoping to release the presentation remotely, it isn’t long before they find themselves playing the ultimate game of cat-and-mouse with the Spanish Royal Guard and, oh, Kirsch’s mystery assassin.

low angle photography of brown architectural building
Guggenheim Bilbao by William Justin de Vasconcellos

I would first like to admit that Origin was my preamble into the world of Dan Brown. Although his work has adorned bookseller shelves for over a decade, I had always been reluctant to make a commitment so late in the game. Much to my delight, however, far from being dependent on others in its series, this book was entirely enjoyable as a stand alone. Transported to the sunny planes of Spain, Brown is nothing if not descriptive. Thanks to his immersive imagery, I now have an addition of Spanish attractions on my ‘Go To’ list, and a range of historical knowledge etched in my brain. Excellently researched, Robert Langdon’s latest adventure is more than just a philosophical treasure hunt/mystery; it is a compelling education on Spain’s national heritage, a summary of AI science that is being developed this very second and a probing commentary on modern society. Indeed, by highlighting our technological dependency and our recent leaps in science, Brown convincingly speculates the role of religion in future civilisation. Naturally, akin to those detective shows, I found that I needed to stay tuned- if only to answer the questions of my own sorry existence.

Predominately slated by literary critics, it was arguably to my benefit that this was my first Dan Brown book. Having eagerly read Da Vinci Code in the haze of my Origin affairI quickly realised that his novels could easily be construed as, erm…’same, same, but different’? Yes, despite being impressed by Brown’s historical prowess, I admittedly began to feel like I was reading a robust collection of well written wikipedia entries. Although a convention of Dan Brown books and a valued vice by Dan Brown fans, this characteristic – for me – distracted from the actual narrative in Origin. Seemingly hoisted by its own petard, the dramatic reveal (that keeps readers thinking philosophically throughout) read more like a boring and convoluted science report in which I had to google every other word. In light of this, I would possibly argue that this book would benefit from leaving the layman-like explanations for when it’s truly important. This may say more about me, however, than it does about this book.

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So, is Origin slightly predictable? Is it a little far-fetched? Well, yes, but so are most enjoyable  TV shows, particularly, those with ‘murder’ in their premise. I like to think that there is something reassuringly familiar about them but perhaps I am biased by melancholy. Obviously I have no way of knowing whether my gran would have liked this novel, but I have my suspicions that she would have approved of professor-come-detective Robert Langdon and Brown’s exploration of her faith. I believe there is a great deal of admiration to be bestowed upon this book. Rather than just “produce a chase thriller with added sudoku”, Brown has weaved the oldest biblical tales we know with an innovative and plausible(ish) twist. He has ultimately attempted to tackle the most fundamental issues of human existence (something even the best of us don’t want to do at times). Thus, if you are to read any Dan Brown book this autumn, I’d sure as heck make it this one…

…although if anyone has got the secrets to life it’s Dick Van Dyke at 92.


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