In Dan Brown’s Origin, the likeable Harvard professor Robert Langdon is involved in a chase to unlock the answers to two questions at the core of human inquiry: Where do we come from? Where are we going? Langdon has left Roman domes and churches, and Parisian museums behind for the vibrant confluence of Spain – a country that is especially now caught in a crossfire between cultures, traditions and art. It is in Bilbao and Barcelona that Brown’s nurtured expertise shines through again. Langdon’s story flows through the seamless structure of Guggenheim Museum and into the sunlit spires of Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia. His greatest achievement in all of his stories has been to make a city into an ancient creature that has always been breathing, evolving and hiding secrets. The best-selling author justifies his own work rather befittingly in a dialogue in Origin. A docent that is equipped with artificial intelligence describes masterpieces of modern art as “often more about the idea than the execution”. Brown’s prose is hardly a work of beauty. In occasional paragraphs, his sentences appear to be a Wikipedia introduction rather than a novel. It is instead in the labyrinths of churches and secret societies; in the codes and patterns unearthed in modern cities that make Brown’s work profound in meaning. Not in language or technique. At the heart of this novel are questions about faith that seem more pertinent as Siri and Allo become more intelligent. Kirsch’s revelation about the birth of the first cell on this planet discredits the act of God in creating man. Despite all the praises, it only took a few hundred pages to guess who was pulling the strings behind the inexplicable occurrences. There was a time Da Vinci Code, the first of the series, was unique. It brought Christian legends and folklore to popular culture and soon became the Holy Grail of mythological fiction. But Brown’s stories are now grinded, their mysteries disappearing with every twist. The thing about replicating a tested blueprint is that it becomes predictable over time. Like Umberto Eco did with James Bond, a loyal reader can just as easily list the designs of a prototypical Dan Brown story.
I write a lot, which keeps me off the streets and out of trouble. There is always something to write about, always a new story to craft. Not writing, for me, is like trying to hold back a sneeze. Learning to write was the most powerful influence in my life. I can still remember the awe I felt when I realized I could put real words onto paper and tell out a story. From that first ‘a-ha’ moment I knew I wanted to write.
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