Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Bourne Identity: Robert Ludlum

Most people reading this will have some familiarity with the character in this book, Jason Bourne, due to the 2002 movie starring Matt Damon, based on The Bourne Identity, and subsequent movies featuring Bourne.

As this book starts, a man has been fished out of the Mediterranean Sea. He is alive but just barely. The fishermen who saved his life bring him to a French island, where he is cared for by Dr. Geoffrey Washburn. Washburn discovers that the man he is tending has had surgery to change his appearance, and has a microchip surgically implanted in his hip. He pieces together enough information to help the man, who has amnesia from head trauma, start searching for who he is and why he ended up nearly dead in the sea. Washburn also helps him get to Zurich, the first step of his journey.

As the story progresses, Bourne conveniently can remember many of the facts from his past without remembering who he is or what has happened to him. He can use fighting skills, remember places (although only hazily) and recognize a person without knowing where the person fits into his life. I don't know if this happens in real-life amnesia or not.

As Bourne is forced to interact with those who want to capture him or kill him, his instinct and past knowledge of weapons and self-defense lead to some violent and cruel behavior on his part. Based on this behavior and flashes of returning memories, he makes the assumption that he was a pretty loathsome character, no matter what group it is in service of.

I prefer to provide as little about the plot as possible and in the case of this type of book, that is even more important. If you want more information in that area there are many sources online, including some excellent reviews and sites devoted to the series.

I had owned this book for years, and I don't know why I put off reading such a well-known book in the spy fiction genre. So, after waiting so long to read this book, what did I think of it? Overall, I enjoyed reading the book. It falls more in the action thriller area than most spy fiction I enjoy, and it did require me to suspend disbelief quite a bit. Yet, for the most part, the journey Bourne takes to learn his real identity makes sense. I don't have any complaints about this book other than the length and some repetitiveness. The same phrases repeated over and over by the main characters, the same interactions between the characters occurring a few too many times. Yet that isn't unrealistic, just irritating to read.

Ludlum keeps the story moving. Most chapters end with a cliff hanger and this ploy was very successful at keeping me in the story. It took me several days to read the book (it was 535 pages) but there were many times I read too late into the evening, each chapter pulling me into the next one.

I am not a fan of romances in mystery fiction, and this book does have that element. However, the woman that gets involved with Jason, Marie St. Claire, does serve a purpose in the plot and is not just there to add spice to the story. She is a strong female character and plays a significant role in his quest to find out who he is. With her background as a economist who works for the Canadian government, she can provide information on politics and finance that he does not have in his current circumstances. She is also not afraid to risk her life to help him out, and actively seeks to influence important people to come to his aid. This type of portrayal is admirable in any novel but  especially in spy fiction written in 1980.

After finishing the book, I learned that Bourne's nemesis in the book is a real person, Ilyich Ramírez Sánchez. The newspaper articles in the Preface to the book are actually published articles and press releases from 1975.

The Bourne Identity was the first of three Bourne novels written by Robert Ludlum. It was published in 1980 and the next two novels came out in 1986 and 1990. Starting in 2004 with The Bourne Legacy, Eric Lustbader continued the series. There are now a total of 13 books in the series.

I won't comment in detail on the 2002 movie here. I have watched the movie 2 or 3 times, and enjoyed it every time I watched it, but the movie is only loosely based on the book.

I like this assessment of some differences between the book and the movie at double o section:
Suffice it to say, the truth of Bourne’s identity in the book is far more interesting, more rewarding and more morally complex than in the movies, and it’s a shame that the films didn’t follow Ludlum’s template. And the secretive Treadstone program of Ludlum’s covert world is infinitely more fascinating (and possibly disturbing) than the mere super- soldier factory it's presented as in the films.

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Publisher:   Bantam Books, 2002 (orig. publ. 1980)
Length:       535 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Jason Bourne, #1
Setting:      Zurich, Paris, US
Genre:       Espionage fiction
Source:      I purchased this book.



14 comments:

  1. I've had this one (and the other two Ludlums) on the shelf for a few years now and no doubt a few more to come. I'm not rushing to a 500 page plus beast anytime soon. I enjoyed the film and you make the book sound better than it, so I shall have to man up and read it at some point!

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    1. Col, it did feel like a very long book, but it was good. The book and the film are so different, I just see them as two separate things, both very enjoyable, but in different ways. The book does have more depth. You should definitely read this one someday, and I think some people say the 2nd one is even better. But I sympathize about the length.

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  2. I enjoyed this book when I first read it several years ago...I never really tried the sequels or seen the movie but I did enjoy the book very much. --Keishon

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    1. This is more the action thriller kind of spy story, Keishon, not my preferred kind. But still enjoyable and I had a hard time putting it down.

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  3. Thanks, as ever, Tracy, for a thoughtful and honest review. It's been so long since I read a Ludlum! I really ought to dig one out and do a spotlight on it. I appreciate the reminder.

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    1. It would be good if you did a spotlight on a Ludlum book, Margot. This is the only book of his I have read.

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  4. I remember really liking this when I first read it (close to when it came out I think - I was certainly in high school because I pinched it from my brother) but I have never revisited it or read the follow ups. I thought the movie was terrible.

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    1. I am a sucker for action movies of any kind, Bernadette, and I am a Matt Damon fan, so it was the perfect movie for me. We have watched it more than once but I forget the plots easily, so I am about due to watch it again.

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  5. TracyK: Ludlum was my favourite author a generation ago. I loved his conspiracy laden books. He could be credible enough and drove the narrative hard. I still have The Bourne Identity downstairs. As you still found it compelling maybe it is time to go back to a master of the thriller.

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    1. Bill, if you have any specific titles to suggest that are not in the Bourne series, I would be interested. I may read another in the Bourne series, but I don't know much about the others.

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  6. I read all three some years back, Tracy, before the movies came out, I believe. I was stuck home with the flu, and needed something besides coffee to keep me awake during the day. I enjoyed the Ludlum series, but have not read any of the spinoffs. Your review has whetted my appetite to read the originals again!

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    1. I would like to read the next in the series, Mathew. I like a book that keeps me turning the pages. But I will wait until I see a copy at a book sale. I already have way too many books to read.

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  7. Tracy, I read Robert Ludlum in the eighties, though not all his novels. I read them along with other then contemporary popular and bestselling fiction from Harold Robbins to Frederick Forsyth and from Jeffrey Archer to Dick Francis and everyone in between. Back then, I could read these paperbacks in one or two sittings.

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    1. I don't know why I did not read these books when they came out, Prashant. We watched the 4th Bourne movie last night, Bourne Legacy. The one that doesn't really have Bourne in it, and stars Jeremy Renner. We enjoyed it a lot and are going to go back and re-watch the first three movies again.

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