I had promised myself that I was never going to read anything by Dan Brown, but huge posters for this book followed me all over the United Kingdom last fall as Amy and I made our way across the country by train, looming out of bookstore windows in every town except Oxford, where the main bookstore chose to highlight Allan Hollinghurst instead. (I think Oxford feels that Dan Brown is a bit beneath them. I agree with them.)
I’ll give Brown credit for one thing and one thing only. He knows how to keep a reader turning pages. He doesn’t do this by creating memorable characters, ones that you care about, or by writing in a compelling style, but by the simple trick of withholding information. From the beginning he makes it clear what that information will be about. It’s such a large, audacious and frankly ridiculous subject that he’s withholding information on that I kept reading just to see if, when it was eventually revealed, the revelation would be worth the buildup.
It wasn’t. It didn’t even come close. The whole premise seemed absurd throughout — at times, even Brown’s characters had to admit it was absurd — and at the end it turns out to have been a grand fake-out, a huge Maguffin that exists only to justify a mediocre chase thriller. (Another thing I’ll give Brown credit for is that he knows it’s important to keep putting obstacles in the path of the protagonist, even when those obstacles are rabbits that he pulls out of his threadbare but bottomless hat. It’s surprising how many authors don’t realize you need to do this, at least when you’re writing this kind of thriller.)
But at least I can say I’ve read a Dan Brown novel. It’s not much to brag about, but the next time I say something insulting about Mr. Brown, I’ll have evidence to back me up.
The revelation in The Da Vinci Code WAS worth the buildup, but the reader had to be willing to forgive an awful lot in order to reach it.
When I recover from reading Origin (that could take a while) I may break down and read The Da Vinci Code. I had friends who raved over it when it came out but also friends who hated it. It’s certainly the book he’s known for, though one of the Da Vinci Code fans told me that Angels and Demons was even better. But when I started reading Angels and Demons recently, the writing was so over the top and full of portentous exclamations that I couldn’t get past the first few chapters.
Hollinghurst is also an Oxford alumni who still has ties with the city (town?) which might explain that. Odd though, I remember hearing next to nothing about Origin when it came out.
The bookstore (I believe it was Blackwell’s) was also sponsoring a talk by Hollinghurst that weekend that unfortunately we were unable to attend, hence the large dump of Hollinghurst’s novel The Sparsholt Affair in their window. (I posted a photo of it on Facebook.)
As for Origin, I haven’t heard anything about it since I got back, but I don’t get to bookstores very often. I’m convinced that both bookstores and coffee shops are more common in the UK than they are here. Every town had several bookstores and every block had several coffee shops. (There were Starbucks of course, but the cappuccinos at the local chains were vastly superior and invariably had a decorative curlicue of chocolate poured on top.)
My memories of England would validate that. (Of course where I live in Victoria apparently we still have one of the largest ratio of bookstores to population in N America, so I can’t really complain).
I don’t care all that much, but I’d be curious to hear how this book sold compared to the previous Brown books. I *think* my brother read it, but I don’t remember ever hearing anyone mention it–unlike Angels and Demons and DaVinci (even before the films).
All I know is that it was getting a hell of a lot of advertising space in bookstores, but I don’t think it will be helped as much by word of mouth as his first two Langdon books were.