Is Dan Brown’s new novel worth reading?

enablePagination: false
maxItemsPerPage: 10
maxPaginationLinks: 10

In “Origin,” bestselling author Dan Brown takes his “symbologist” Robert Langdon to Spain and delves into science fiction territory with modern art, supercomputers, and a personal assistant that makes Siri look more like Clippy. Photo from DAN BROWN/OFFICIAL WEBSITE

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Manila, according to a certain novel, is characterized by “six-hour traffic jams, suffocating pollution, and a horrifying sex trade,” by “child prostitution, panhandlers, pickpockets, and worse.” It’s “a city made of pieces of corrugated metal and cardboard propped up and held together,” where the air is rent by “the wails of crying babies and the stench of human excrement.” Being in the capital of the Philippines is, in short, like running through “the gates of hell.”

It’s a fitting, if controversial, description, considering that the novel in question is titled “Inferno,” after the first part of Dante’s epic poem, “Divine Comedy.” Set primarily in Dante’s hometown of Florence, “Inferno” is the fourth in a series of thriller novels written by the American author Dan Brown about the code-cracking adventures of the itinerant Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon. In the latest entry in the series, however, readers are spared hellish depictions of urban poverty and chaos. Instead, “Origin” (as the sequel to “Inferno” is called) is studded with encomiums to the many facets of the book’s main setting of Barcelona, particularly to the architectural works of Antoni Gaudí — from the “gently sloping spires” of Sagrada Família to the “undulating stone balconies” of Casa Milà. “Origin” is Brown’s very own homage to Catalonia.

Dan Brown Books Dan Brown's "Origin" tackles the age-old questions about humans: "Where do we come from?" and "Where are we going?" Brown's two most recent releases include a young adult edition of "The Da Vinci Code" and "Inferno" which described Manila as "the gates of hell." Photo from DAN BROWN/OFFICIAL WEBSITE

Spain makes for an interesting backdrop for a Langdon odyssey as it exists at the intersection of ancient religion and modern science. On one hand, it’s the land of the Catholic Inquisition. On the other, it’s home to MareNostrum, one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world. This dichotomy between faith and facts is what Brown explores through Langdon’s 24-hour exploits across art, history, and conspiracy.

In “Origin,” Langdon’s cloak-and-dagger quest begins when he attends a presentation at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, where an Elon Musk-esque futurist is set to unveil a discovery that promises to unravel two of life’s biggest questions. Not only are both of these questions found in the title of a famous Paul Gauguin painting, but they’re also encoded in bold letters onto the flap copy of the book: “Where do we come from?” and “Where are we going?” The answers are supposedly so epoch-making as to challenge human beliefs as well as human existence itself.

Soon enough, Langdon once again finds himself having to solve a plot-crucial puzzle as he races against time and adversaries in pursuit while accompanied by an attractive woman. This time around, the obligatory riddle is a computer password (which is made up of 47 characters) and the requisite female companion is the museum’s director (who is described as “beautiful” in at least six separate instances). Also joining Langdon in his treasure hunt is a virtual personal assistant named Winston, which (who?) is so advanced that it (he?) makes Siri seem like Clippy and easily takes “Origin” into science fiction territory.

Dan Brown Author Photo To a lesser extent, one reads Brown’s books, reveling as they do in codes and ciphers, to come away with a realization about or a reaffirmation of the coexistence of different ways of thinking and seeing. Photo by DAN COURTER/Courtesy of NATIONAL BOOK STORE

"Good science fiction has its roots in good science," says the requisite female companion in “Angels & Demons,” the first book to feature Langdon. And in an effort to make “Origin” pass for such, Brown stuffs the narrative with tidbits of trivia that, for better or worse, read like encyclopedia entries about artificial intelligence and other technological marvels. Brown even goes so far as to explain what Uber is and treat the ride-sharing app’s now-outdated “U” logo as though it were an antediluvian hieroglyph. “Uber’s ubiquitous ‘on-demand driver’ service had taken the world by storm over the past few years,” Brown writes unnecessarily and clumsily. “Via smartphone, anyone requiring a ride could instantly connect with a growing army of Uber drivers who made extra money by hiring out their own cars as improvised taxis.” The more you know.

But one doesn’t read a Dan Brown novel — whether it’s “Digital Fortress” (his debut, sans Langdon) or “The Da Vinci Code” (his most popular book, also featuring Langdon) — to encounter inspired turns of phrase. In “Origin” alone, there are passages that refer to “the inexorable swelling of the River of Scientific Knowledge” and to a physicist who was “making waves” that “sounded more like tsunamis.” Rather, one reads a Dan Brown novel for the sheer fun of turning its pages, for that “just one more chapter” compulsion amid the deliberate pre-climactic obfuscation of information.

Dan Brown Books The first three Robert Langdon books (from left): "The Lost Symbol" is set in Washington, D.C., and is about the secret of the Masons; "The Da Vinci Code" is an explosive book about Christianity; and "Angels & Demons" takes place mostly in the Vatican and is about the struggle between faith and science. Photo from DAN BROWN/OFFICIAL WEBSITE

To a lesser extent but perhaps more importantly, one reads Brown’s books, reveling as they do in codes and ciphers, to come away with a realization about or a reaffirmation of the coexistence of different ways of thinking and seeing. As Langdon puts it in the ultimately sanguine “Origin,” “Sometimes, all you have to do is shift your perspective to see someone else’s truth.” It’s far from original, but in this age of persistent conspiracy theories, fake news, and alternative facts, it’s a thought worth spreading.


“Origin” is available in National Book Store branches nationwide for ₱876 (original price: ₱1,095) until Oct. 20, 2017.