7 – Dan Brown, Origin

Budapest skyline


Dan Brown Origin

The Szechenyi Chain Bridge—one of eight bridges in Budapest—spans more
than a thousand feet across the Danube. An emblem of the link between East and
West, the bridge is considered one of the most beautiful in the world.
Dan Brown, Origin


After reading an excerpt from the novel, consider this review:

To say that Dan Brown’s Origin is one of the worst “thrillers” ever published would not be accurate. Not because it is not appallingly, insultingly, groan-inducingly written — it is — but because it is not, in fact, a thriller.

…a version of Europe that rarely achieves a CIA World Factbook entry level of descriptive interest…

Despite the exotic locales in which he insists on setting his books — Paris, Venice, Madrid, Barcelona [and Budapest] — no one could ever accuse Brown of being a cosmopolitan.

his idea of describing architecture is to visit the Wikipedia page for a building and quote all the accolades compiled there

Dan Brown is a truly terrible writer.
                         -“Dan Brown is a very bad writer”  -Matthew Walther


Q: Do you agree with Walther’s critique? What is your opinion of Brown’s depictions of Budapest? Does the city evoke nuanced depths that influence the narrative?
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(Dan Brown was invited to discuss Origin with our class. According to the assistant to his literary agent: “due to his writing schedule, Mr. Brown is not available.”)   

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9 thoughts on “7 – Dan Brown, Origin

  1. For me, as for a person who has not read “Origin” (I mean the whole book), it is difficult to judge whether it is a real thriller or not.
    However, I cannot disagree with Walther’s opinion regarding the depictions of the city, especially Synagogue and Chain Bridge. In my opinion, Brown’s descriptions are rather dull and sound like dry facts. And I am convinced that any person who has ever visited those places of interest indeed and spent some time there (especially if that person is a writer), could give much better reflections on the distinctive features of those beautiful spots.
    Nevertheless, I must say that description of Szimpla bar is quite detailed, which leads me to the conclusion that Dan Brown has spent quite a lot of time in there 🙂 Yet still, I highly doubt that it could be possible to kill someone and go unnoticed in one of the restrooms in Szimpla since all of them are super crowded any day of the week 🙂

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  2. Given that I could not even finish 19 pages from the book—only about 10—yes, I do agree with Walther. If Brown’s texts usually read like the Origin excerpt, I would also question his writing skills. Even an Agatha Christie text reads much better than Brown; not to mention that a good Christie mystery can hold my attention, and even surprise me, without relying on clichéd narrative techniques or overused idioms and phrases (e.g., “accept a painful truth”; “we must choose the lesser of two evils”; “but on a far deeper level”). And the “padlocks”—just no. Once I read a review on Tennessee Williams’s Glass Menagerie (a beautiful Hungarian adaption at the Radnóti Theater, which I myself attended, by the way) in which the author noted that although the symbolism of the glass figures is screaming, even that level of didacticism is unable to take away from the substantiveness of the Williamsian figures. My point here would be that when clichéd plots meet “screaming symbolism,” the text will most definitely read as a piece that was constructed by, just to fittingly cite Brown himself, “going back to . . . [the] grade-school arithmetic” of writing. Also, an “entry level of descriptive interest,” as Walther puts it, will not cut it for a Budapest-located story. The city has much more to offer. It deserves better.

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  3. After reading a short except from the novel, I would say that I cannot decide on his writing whether bad or not. I do not know many things about the history of budapest as well which makes me completely neutral. However, when some critics describe a writer as ” a very bad writer” as Matthew Walter means that there is something wrong with it. Dan Brown gave a detailed description of the synagogue at Dohany street, Chain Bridge, the Szimpla Café…etc.

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  4. Dan Brown
    I have read a few chapters of his novel that is entitled to “Origin,” and for me it feels as if not Dan Brown is the author, since I read his previous novel that is entitled to “Davinci Code”, because he was, in my opinion, one of the most professional postmodern authors, but in his novel origin he has some flaws that will be mentioned in a few points.
    First, he made some typing errors, which causes simple problems for the reader in understanding the text and several mistakes were made within short spaces in the text. Second, the way of telling the events in the chapters of his novel has an unstable style, for example, while reading the book I found that two chapters had the same way of writing, but later on in two subsequent chapters he kept describing the bridges of Budapest. Third, he discussed the idea of religion, and he discussed it in a way that is not true because for him Hungary represents Judaism, Christianity is represented by Spain, and Islam is represented by UAE, which is not true because Israel represents Judaism more than Hungary, Christianity is represented by the Vatican more than Spain, and Jerusalem represents Al-Islam more than the United Arab Emirates.

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  5. While I agree with several points that Walther makes, calling Dan Brown a “truly terrible writer” might be too harsh. For me, the story itself seemed quite intriguing, as I became genuinely interested in Rabbi Koves’ story.
    However, I must agree that the descriptions are boring and one-dimensional. The critique’s remark about using facts from Wikipedia seems to be right on point. Moreover, describing a bridge as the “most beautiful” sounds strange and unprofessional. It feels like the author did not want to devote too much attention to these descriptions either, as they are relatively short, fact-based passages. However, considering the importance of the setting in establishing the tone, the atmosphere of the writing, the assigned chapters do fall short.
    Incorporating Hungarian words into the dialogues (házikó, köszönöm) was a pleasant surprise for me, however, I can imagine it being somewhat annoying for someone who does not speak the language. I particularly liked the part where he linked the sight of the old monuments to the present: “…people impulsively reached for their phones, their earbuds, and their games, unable to fight the addictive pull of technology. The miracles of the past were fading away, whitewashed by a ceaseless hunger for all-that-was new.”

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  6. Reading both the expert and the critique made me think of Jókai (and some other romantic writers – I believe Victor Hugo writes similarly), who filled up pages of tangential details in his novels, including long-long descriptions about the Danube’s canyon in Romania (one chapter) and how coal is formed. The difference is that his descriptions are vivid and emotional (even though readers today like to skip them), written not only to educate but also to entertain the reader, while providing important factual backdrops (in the case of the Danube-description, I am not quite sure about others), while Brown is short and factual – like the critique says, like the Wikipedia entry’s summary at the beginning. Especially in the beginning I had trouble with how Köves was placed into the environment – he wasn’t. The descriptions of Budapest are those and nothing more: descriptions of bits and parts of Budapest. They are not descriptions of scenes happening at Budapest. We get to know about a place’s looks, but not feels. The first description of the synagogue never becomes relevant, because we do not see Köves (or anyone) doing anything inside or at the garden. It becomes a goal, but since reaching it is not attained, it remains irrelevant. I was a bit troubled with the házikó as well, because I cannot imagine it – is it a single-room building in the middle yard of an apartment building with all-around open corridor? I… am not sure how to understand a cottage/házikó in the middle of the city.
    Interestingly enough, the weather is not once mentioned (with the exception of the setting of the sun, with indicates time instead of weather). The city is reduced to buildings – there is a little history to them, but people do not seem to affect it. Some of the research is accurate, other information (like the padlocks) is less so. I felt like the description of Szimpla had some life to it, but I think the place itself is baffling enough for the first timer for it to leave an impression.

    I definitely have issues with the text and its flow and its flatness, and no – the setting has little to no bearing on the plot or the mood of the text. (I did have trouble imagining Budapest at places, e.g. at the chase scene.)

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  7. After reading the excerpts, I still did nog get the impression that it is a thriller novel. I was kind of disappointed a little bit because the excerpts did not meet my expectations about Brown’s writing (so I hate to say that I agree with Walther’s critique). I also noticed some typos and too personal descriptions about the city which made me have worse impression toward this particular work of his. I mean, he could have done far better than this.

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  8. I haven’t read anything from Dan Brown so far, and I seriously doubt that I ever will. I know how popular he is, but it’s kind of easy to build a thriller on subjects like the Freemasons and the Illuminati (whatever that is), and religions as well; it’s easy to create controversy around the secrecy of such organizations. I remember the films (Da Vinci Code, and the other one with Tom Hanks) to be mildly entertaining, but this novel, or the excerpt at least, is even less entertaining to me. The descriptions of the “mysterious ruin bars” and the seating capabilities of the Synagogue don’t help, nor does calling the Chain Bridge an “emblem of the link between East and West”, which makes it sound like Buda was not part of the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War. The reviewer is absolutely right to compare the descriptions of the landmarks to Wikipedia (although articles on Wikipedia are usually more entertaining than this), and describing these landmarks serve no purpose to the plot whatsoever. I speak of course as a Hungarian living in Budapest, which could cause me to be impervious towards Brown’s attempt to create an atmosphere for foreign readers, but I don’t think that it’s entirely my fault. Books set in America do not feel the need to always operate with such famous landmarks as the Danube, or the Parliament; people in them don’t take “long walks along” Broadway or next to the Empire State Building.

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  9. I have to admit, as a teenager, I read “The Da Vinci Code” (it was super popular at that time), and I hated it. If possible, the excerpt from “Origin” is even worse. As many of the other comments mention it, the descriptions are boring and lifeless. I might be influenced by my personal negative opinions about Brown, but I agree with Walther’s critique – he is not a good writer. The depiction of Budapest is not natural at all, but then again, Brown’s “cityscapes” are usually not natural, so I do not think it is my bias talking.
    I love a good thriller, but unfortunately, this is not one of those.

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