Where do I begin? There’s so many thoughts and angles running through my mind when I was listening to the audiobook, and same now as I attempt to write this audiobook review, I honestly don’t know where to start. But starting from the beginning? From the origin, would be a good start? Right? Hehehe.
So the latest audiobook my wife and I have just finished has been Dan Brown’s ‘Origin’, the 5th and the most recent (released in 2017) instalment in the Robert Langdon series (can you believe it! Dan has been writing the Langdon series for over 17 years now!). So now I can say that I’m officially up-to-date with all of Dan’s books.
Trying not to give away the entire book’s plot and ending, but let’s just say Dan’s fifth book also follows his nearly predictable story formula, that being someone dies (dies, dies, loses a hand, dies, dies) and Robert has 24 hours to solve an art/literary-centric problem, or something very bad would happen…..not just to him, or the city he happens to be in, but something bad would happen to all of mankind! The book format is so cookie-cutter predictable/replicable, that I wouldn’t be surprised if Dan has an excel spreadsheet template where every 3 years he sits down and inserts a new country, notable artist and secret society in his macros enabled workbook, and then it spits out a result! The bare bones/building blocks of his next multi-million dollar best seller!
Don’t get me wrong, ‘Origin’ had us entertained for the entire 18 hours 10 mins duration, but was it one of Dan’s better Robert Langdon efforts?
Ok, first of all I’ll tell you all that I liked about the book, before discussing the things that I didn’t like.
Like! It was thought-provoking – that is one enduring feature of Dan Brown’s writing, you can be confident that a lot of time has been invested in devising a unique and controversial/shocking grand idea! And that Dan (and his wife) had spent a lot of time researching all that is connected to the area of discussion, the location and the artist/artwork. And I imagine all readers greatly appreciate him for that. And to date, each of his ‘grand ideas’ has sent ripples through society, so much so that after the Da Vinci Code, the church had to publish a counter-claim book to refute all that Dan had claimed to be fact in a fictional novel. Each time it amazes me how he has this incredible way to weave in just enough truth among all of his own imaginations, so that the gullible might just believe, putting their faith into doubt. That’s some incredible power of influence one man has over the world’s population. And it’s obvious that ‘Origin’ has received just as much of Dan’s brain-power as his previous books, that the grand idea from ‘Origin’ might just be explosive and compelling enough to change some people’s minds/behaviours after reading the book.
Like! Dan’s ability to evolve with the times- I don’t think anyone could ever say that Dan is behind the times- although his main character is so caught up with things from the 15th Century. But Dan has shown through ‘Origin’ that his books and his fictional characters interact with the book’s present day, which deeply resembles the real present day, e.g. embracing smart phones, social media, AI, autonomous vehicles, and online conspiracists, all of which played a prominent role in the book. But not only has Dan kept up with the times, but is ahead of the curve, take Winston for an example (AI Smart Assistant) – Winston played an almost leading role in the book and he’s a computer! You might be thinking now, “So what?” AI Smart Assistants is nothing new, we interact with these things almost on a daily basis today. But remember, this book was released 2 years ago, and Dan probably started writing this novel 2-3 years before that, so he was imagining a highly intelligent Smart Assistant in 2014-15, you’d have to admit that he was ahead of the technology curve there!
Like! Transported virtually to another place – the last overwhelming positive of ‘Origin’ was Dan’s ability to take reader’s on a virtual visit of another notable location, this time to Spain! His ability to describe visuals in words is something remarkable, which transcends all other authors in the game today. From the opening chapters of the book I felt as if I was with Langdon at the feet of the giant spider at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, and later I felt like I too was craning my head to see better in the merky darkness of the crypts within Sagrada Familia! And maybe it’s just me, but I’ve learnt much about Spain since listening to the book, afterwards I spent some time Googling if there was actually a Spanish Royal family and if the Palmarian Catholic Church really exists (BTW, they both exist and I’m surprised that Dan doesn’t get sued more often for defamation….. but I guess if he’s willing to make up rumours about Jesus, I guess everyone else below that is a much softer target). So yeah, I loved being transported half way around the world without leaving the comfort of my own home, and I’m actually surprised that no tour company has tried cashing in from Dan’s books, and has designed a guided tour package around the locations Robert Langdon has breezed through in the books thus far. Now that’s a business concept you can take to the bank!
However the dislikes that I have against the book, is just as long as the ‘likes’.
Dislike! Too many inconsequential characters and side stories – in my opinion, Dan introduces too many minor characters, for which he invests time and chapters to build up their back-story, and cuts away to these side stories too often, sacrificing the flow of the book. At times it felt like every third chapter (and there are 100 chapters or more?) cuts away to another inconsequential character, none of which adds any value to the overall story. In my opinion, this unnecessarily dragged out the book by at least a quarter, and it felt a little tough going at times?
Dislike! The lack of action, famous works of art, and deciphering symbols/artwork/literature – Dan’s books are known for being like a scavenger hunt for clues hidden in famous artwork and symbols, but in ‘Origin’ this element was missing, by and large. Aside from the need to crack a 47 character PIN, the book lacked the same level of deciphering we’d come to expect and enjoy. So from the usual mad dash, rushing from point to point, clue to clue, it felt more like dropping down to the convenience store for some milk, meaning that it was way too easy to crack this code and it wasn’t suspenseful at all! I mean it, at all!
Dislike! Unbelievable fiction in a fictional book – I know that if you’re writing a fictional novel, the author has a certain freedom to embellish and stretch what is considered believable, to suit the story – as hey, you want something a bit out there to help you escape from the reality of life! I get that. But there were 3 details or scenes in the book which I found too hard to believe (or it was just annoying!). The first was the fact that Edmond Kirsch (the source of all the book’s drama) was a self-made billionaire! This was hard to believe as by profession he was a computer scientist and futurist. At no time in the book did they mention anything he was able to discover and sell to the world which made him his wealth, but it only positions him as a well-known futurist. I’m sure other futurists in the profession would also like some of that fake cachet and cash Dan was liberally bestowing on young Edmond’s shoulders. The second unbelievable element was a particular scene, although small and not having any impact on the story, but it really annoyed me! This was when Langdon and Ambra were fleeing from the authorities and they had a plane to catch, in 8 minutes they had to run up a mile long grass hill – even in the book they voiced their disbelief that they could make it (considering Langdon was in tails and dress shoes, while Ambra was in a fitted dress and no doubt heels). But low and behold, the power of literary license to bend time and space, so the next time the book cuts back to Langdon and Ambra, they’ve made it to their rendezvous point never expressing any exhaustion or complaint that they’d run a mile up-hill on grass in inappropriate foot wear!? I’m calling BS here!!!! And the last unbelievable detail which was the power and authority given to Mónica Martín, Public Relation Coordinator for the palace. I work in a corporate environment and I’m quite familiar with job titles, if someone’s job title is a ‘Coordinator’, they haven’t progressed very far up the corporate ladder and should not have much authority (for goodness sake, she’s not even a PR Manager!). And in the book she was able to have the Commander of the Guardia Real (that’s like the top dog of the most elite security force in the land) arrested??? That’s like having the sous-chef of the Whitehouse, ordering the arrest of the President of the United States! Unlikely, right? It’s these details which made it hard to fully immerse myself into the book, as my BS radar kept going off, intruding into the story.
End verdict – although we enjoyed the book, and it had us metaphorically turning the pages, and we were left wondering “Who dunnit?” right to the very end…unfortunately after 5 books spanning 17 years, Dan hasn’t gotten better at this ‘story-telling thing’, and if I had to rank ‘Origin’ among his other 4 Langdon best sellers, unfortunately I’d put it last, behind the ‘Lost Symbol’ (Book 3 in the series). However if you’re a Dan Brown fan, and you’ll sleep better knowing that you’ve read all of Robert Langdon’s tweed-suited escapades, by all means appease your feelings of FOMO, as I was in the same position as you! But if you’ve never been into DB’s books before, then don’t start here, ‘Origin’ is an easy miss. If there was any saving grace, at least the narrator Paul Michael did another fantastic job as the voice of Langdon, if Tom Hanks was half as convincing as Paul Michael, the movie franchise would be in a much better state…. Ouch! Shots fired!
To listen to ‘Origin’ by Dan Brown, click HERE!
Deciphering Dan Brown: excel spreadsheet template
Not only Langdon can decipher patterns, this is my attempt to find patterns and break the code of Dan Brown’s literary formula! Keep reading on to see what I predict to be the structure to Dan’s 6th instalment in the Langdon series!
Locations to date:
Rome/Vatican city; Paris/Zurich/London; Washington D.C.; Florence/Venice/Istanbul; and Bilbao/Barcelona.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini; Leonardo da Vinci; Giorgio Vasari; Sandro Botticelli; Dante Alighieri; and Antoni Gaudí.
Unmasked Secret Societies:
Illuminati; Opus Dei; Free Mason; World Health Organisation (they’re the worst! Haaha); and the Palmarian Catholic Church.
Vittoria Vetra (adopted daughter of murdered CERN scientist); Sophie Neveu (granddaughter of murdered Louvre Curator); Katherine Solomon (sister of kidnapped Smithsonian Secretary); Sienna Brooks (doctor/bystander); and Ambra Vidal (work associate of the deceased).
Middle Eastern Hassassin; albino giant Catholic monk; tattooed steroidal Free Mason; leather clad female assassin; and fanaticised former Spanish Navy Admiral.
So reading into the pattern, the 6th book will be set in a modern Western city – Melbourne, Australia, with cuts to the Vatican City. Now that Dan is trying to explore more modern artists- my code deciphering skills say that the next featured artist will be Australia’s Pro Hart! The shadowy Secret Society which will be unmasked will be the evil ‘Brotherhood’ of the Companion of the Order of Australia, as they try to protect their own, the main puppet master (George Pell). The female lead will be the sister of one of Pell’s young victims, and the day-to-day villain will be Robert Richter – disgraced Pell barrister. Shameful guys, shameful. *headshake*.
Nah, my deciphering is just tongue in cheek, no one would buy/read a book featuring these clowns!