Remember when The Da Vinci Code exploded onto the literary scene, with everyone from archbishops and pastors, panel TV shows and your next door neighbour weighing in on the implications of the plot – the discovery that Jesus Christ had a family and descendants? Well, the fifth book in the Robert Langdon series, Origin has also been stirring up controversy, though for a distinctly more patriotic reason. Ryan Tubridy has gotten a bit red in the face about the portrayal of a pair of Irish football fans in an early part of the book. They’re described as thugs and hooligans, and are far from our reputation as ‘the greatest fans in the world’. They’re more akin to English football louts, who want nothing more than to stir up trouble in a pub called Molly Malones, and subsequently get taken care of by a deadly assassin for their troubles.
Now, I had a similar reaction to Mr. Tubridy’s at first; not happy at all with our beloved fans’ misrepresentation, but Robert Langdon resides in a world in which a pope and a nun have managed to pull off a virgin birth by using a convoluted form of IVF (Angels and Demons), a virus has been released into the waters of Istanbul rendering a third of Earth’s population infertile (Inferno) and a mild mannered Harvard professor is plunged into one international conspiracy theory after another, making it about as close to the world in which we, the readers, dwell as the one in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, where humans are paired intrinsically with animal presenting daemons. It could just be that in Brown’s world Irish fans are the louts as they are portrayed to be in that dingy bar in Bilbao (which is empty but for one patron after a Spain v Ireland match, by the way, which is as unrealistic as it comes), but at least we’re somewhat redeemed by the secret wine cellar under Trinity College, discovered on a trip to view The Book of Kells. So at least we’ve got that going for us, in this topsy turvy world.
So. Hapless Robert Langdon, who is always startled to find himself thrust into danger although it happens to him with alarming frequency, finds himself this time in Spain’s Guggenheim museum, invited to an exclusive presentation being given by his former student and billionaire futurist Edmond Kirsch. Kirsch is about to reveal to his audience of hundreds of influential people in the museum, and millions of anticipated science enthusiasts across the globe the answers to humanity’s greatest unanswered questions, which he alleges to have solved; where do we come from and where are we going.
At a private audience prior to the presentation Kirsch confesses to Langdon that he had let three of the most dominant figures in world religion in on his discovery a week prior to this; a priest, a rabbi and an imam, and is feeling unease over a threatening voicemail he has received from one of the three. It turns out he’s right to be; right at the crux of his revelation Kirsch is gunned down, leaving only Robert Langdon and the director of the Guggenheim, the very beautiful and beguiling Ambra Vidal (who’s engaged to be married to the heir to the Spanish throne, naturally) to track down the remainder of the demonstration, which is under tight security, and release it to the eager members of the human race.
The usual formula is in place; Langdon and his gorgeous companion are on the run, from the authorities who are under the mistaken illusion that the pair are fleeing the law, and from a single minded zealot, who is under the instruction of a mysterious leader, who may or may not be one of a few background characters. On the face of it Langdon is in charge, connecting dots, putting two and two together, solving puzzles and riddles, but it’s actually his oft mentioned eidectic memory at play, and in actuality he’s none too bright, just an art and literature enthusiast whose special interests unfathomably have been the top assets in getting to the bottom of five international incidents.
Like Downton Abbey, which was a historically inaccurate soap dressed up as a period drama in order for the viewers to convince themselves they were watching something sophisticated and smart, Origins is a silly thriller, which leaves each chapter until about 92 on virtually the same cliff hanger, disguised as something more substantial thanks to its admittedly captivating backdrop of art, literature and philosophy. And therein lies its ace card; it’s fun, campy and page turning. It’s made me look up pieces of art that I haven’t heard of and start to plan my trip to Barcelona. It’s worth suspending your disbelief for a few hours and wrapping yourself up in the emerging story, leaving your reservations about certain offensive portrayals aside, because Dan Brown’s rollercoaster universe delivers a rollicking good ride.