SITTING in the cavernous hall of the St Sulpice Church in Paris, I paid homage to a place that was immortalised in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.
The dimly lit altar with blank-eyed statues staring grimly and the hushed whispers of people within made it easy for me to associate the French Baroque church with the book’s gripping plot and shocking reappraisal of church history.
With 57 million copies of The Da Vinci Code in print, it seemed there were an abundance of literary pilgrims set on following the trail of the “Holy Grail”, beginning with the footsteps of creepy albino monk Silas who entered the church seeking the key to a secret about Christianity. Not that it actually exists of course.
A note alluding to Brown’s novel has been on display at a marble obelisk on the transept’s northern aisle, noting that: “Contrary to fanciful allegations in a recent best-selling novel, this [the line in the floor] is not a vestige of a pagan temple. No such temple ever existed in this place. It was never called a Rose-Line. It does not coincide with the meridian traced through the middle of the Paris Observatory which serves as a reference for maps where longitudes are measured in degrees East or West of Paris. (...) Please also note that the letters P and S in the small round windows at both ends of the transept refer to Peter and Sulpice, the patron saints of the church, and not an imaginary Priory of Sion.”
Forget the truth (and the terse note by the church) — Brown’s version is so much more interesting. Such is the power of his writing, that the cities and places he alludes to in his books become tourist hotspots in no time.
From Rome and the Vatican City (Angels And Demons) to Paris (The Da Vinci Code), Washington DC (The Lost Symbol), Florence, Venice and Istanbul (Inferno) and now Barcelona, Spain (Origin), Brown lends intrigue and wonder to some of the most interesting places in the world.
With his latest novel Origin, Brown doesn’t fail — in promoting the beautifully diverse and culture-rich country on Europe’s Iberian Peninsula. And Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy will have him to thank when tourist numbers start increasing again as they retrace Brown’s story, beginning with the breathtaking Montserrat monastery in Catalonia.
The plot thickens
Once again, Brown attempts to answer the perennial questions we ask ourselves: “Where do we come from?” and “Where are we heading?”, shrouding his answers with intrigue, mystery, symbolism, coupled with many heart-racing scenes atypical of his novels.
The fifth of Brown’s bestselling series starring Robert Langdon, the Harvard professor of symbology and religious iconology, Origin takes Langdon on a trip to Spain to witness his former student Edmond Kirsch (an archetypal Elon Musk) who’s a tech genius on the precipice of a ground-breaking revelation.
The revelation Kirsch is about to unleash to the world contains information that promises to answer our fundamental questions about existence, forever casting aspersions on the world’s religions.
Langdon arrives at the ultramodern “swirling collage of warped metallic forms” Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao to attend Kirsch’s major reveal that “will change the face of science forever” and drive religious leaders the world over in apoplectic fits.
The meticulously-orchestrated evening suddenly erupts into chaos as Kirsch is assassinated and his precious discovery is under threat of being lost forever.
Within the hour, Langdon is on the run with the beautiful Ambra Vidal (the elegant museum director who’s also the future Queen of Spain) in a “deadly game of cat-and-mouse” being chased by baddies all over renowned sites in Spain, with boats, Gulfstream jets and Tesla self-driving cars to ferry the characters between locations.
Through the corridors of history, religion and modern art, Langdon and Vidal race against time to retrieve Kirsch’s work, evading a nameless villain who seem to exert immense power all the way from Spain’s Royal Palace itself and who’ll stop at nothing to silence Edmond Kirsch and those who want to reveal the tech genius’ controversial discovery.
Forget sinister archbishops, an Artificial Intelligence named Winston, a morose former Navy admiral with a penchant for drink and revenge and a myriad of wizened apoplectic religious leaders. Brown’s prose is filled with side stories of amazing sites that’s bound to cause a mini tsunami of curious bibliophiles to the country.
The big reveal
The duo is essentially after Kirsch’s password (a 47-charactered one — but of course. If he had a simple abc123 the story would be more than halved) so that they can get the latter’s presentation up and running and presented to the world.
Sporting his white tie and tails, with Vidal in her “form-fitting white dress with a black diagonal stripe that ran elegantly across her torso”, the quandary is really not about what Kirsch had to say in the end but how these two in their evening best managed to sprint, run, race up spiral staircases in old ruins, stand on rooftops and fight villains without tripping over their feet.
But never mind that perennial question. There are bigger questions left to answer. Like Kirsch’s discovery. The “reveal” is painfully delayed for 400 pages. And when it finally reaches to the point of me finding out if my faith in God will be substantially shaken by what Kirsch has to say, I find my eyes blurring over words like “nucleotides” and “obligate endosymbiosis”.
This is hardly a spoiler, I must attest here. Just a heads up so you won’t feel too let down at the end if you’re expecting another earth-shattering The Da Vinci Code reveal.
What’s Hot: It’s Dan Brown. I’ll still give him credit for making me finish the book in two days. Okay, three. The fast-paced action is a page-turner if you’d close one eye to the glaring plot defects and Langdon’s irritating way of thinking in italics and how his “eidetic” mind helps him solve mind-boggling puzzles with villains breathing down his neck. However, he’s excellent at showcasing tourism hotspots and should be hired to write travel brochures.
What’s Not: I guessed who was behind Kirsch’s assassination and the murders of all the hapless religious leaders. At page 66. Even before the techie playboy got shot. No, I’m not a genius. That’s how predictable Brown has got after the success of Angels And Demons and The Da Vinci Code. The Washington Post review sums it up nicely in the first line: “Dan Brown is back with another thriller so moronic you can feel your IQ points flaking away like dandruff.”