A Dan Brown launch usually goes like this: critics sneer a bit, the media swarms to a rare author appearance (he is known for only occasionally deigning to meet press), readers buy the book in their millions, and the cities he’s chosen to set the Indiana Jones-style adventures of his protagonist, symbology professor Robert Langdon, subsequently see an influx of conspiracy-keen tourists. It will be interesting to see if this pattern is repeated with his latest book Origin, which is entirely set in Spain, its publication coinciding with the full-on crisis that has followed the Catalan referendum and the police violence that tried to repress it.
Origin, the fifth book following Langdon running around the world in his repeatedly described “collegiate cordovan loafers”, is set in Spain, starting in Bilbao’s Guggenheim museum, then moving to Barcelona’s Sagrada Família and Madrid’s Royal Palace.
Brown himself is set to visit Barcelona on 17 October – but with the Catalan president set to present his post-referendum plans to parliament on Tuesday, and potentially declare independence, local readers may have more pressing concerns.
“The book will probably climb straight to the top of the bestseller lists,” says Jordi Nopca, critic and literary editor for Catalan newspaper Ara. “But the uncertainty the city is living these days […] has made the news of this novel pretty much go unnoticed in Catalonia.”
Tourists famously flocked to the locations in France, the UK and Italy mentioned in previous books. In France, most notably, staff at the Louvre have grown fed up with tourists asking to be pointed towards the room where a curator was found dead, naked and with a star drawn on his chest, as depicted in the first scene of The Da Vinci Code. The Lost Symbol, centred on freemasons in Washington DC and a conspiracy that could be somehow traced in many of the city’s architectural structures. All of which annoyed the real freemasons, who were preemptively annoyed at the imagined flood of visits they would have to endure, with tourists hunting for the secret ancient portal supposedly hidden by the Founding Fathers in the Capitol (and like the Louvre’s dead curator, placed there by Brown).
In Catalonia, Brown’s sales will almost certainly be fine – but, despite Barcelona’s tourist machine remaining pretty indifferent to the political climate, it’s possible that the city will receive the book with a shrug at best, as politics fills the horizon.
For comparison, Nopca saw firsthand the excitement around Brown’s previous book Inferno, the launch of which he attended in Madrid. “Four years ago, the launch of Inferno gathered more than 150 journalists at Madrid’s National Library. The buzz was huge, and Planeta printed 1m copies of the novel’s first edition. The print run for Origin is – despite still being an impactful figure – much inferior: 600,000 copies.” At least Sagrada Família staff can probably be relaxed about Origin-related questions, for now.