Book Review: The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum

Title: TheBourne Identity
Author: Robert Ludlum
Pages: 535
Genre: Spy Thriller/Action
Year Published: 1980
Publisher: Bantam Books
Source:Personal Copy

My first spy novel!  Of course, I’ve seen the movies and thoroughly enjoyed them.  Bought this book a couple of years ago from a discount bin and have just now gotten around to reading it.  The movie and the book have almost nothing in common besides a character named Jason Bourne so just because you liked the film does not mean you’ll enjoy the book – you’ve been warned!

The Bourne Identity follows a man pulled from the sea off the southern coast of France after being shot multiple times.  He doesn’t remember who he is or anything about his life.  Random things start to come back to him – languages he knows, phrases he’s repeated over and over again, and a bank account number removed from his hip leads him to begin his adventure to a bank in Zurich.  Once people start shooting at him things get interesting.

I wish I could say this book was a spy-caper extraordinaire, but no – huge letdown.  The narrative is excessively long-winded, convoluted, and clumsy.  Ludlum beats his readers over the head with italicized paragraphs repeated probably hundreds of times.  And while the premise of supposed assassin (Bourne) pitted against super assassin (Carlos the Jackal) sounds great in theory, Ludlum manages to destroy any awesomeness by jumping the shark of reality one too many times.  For once, I truly believe the movie was loads better – in plot, pacing, and characterization.  The entire plot was changed because it needed to be changed – sliced and diced into something far more believable and spy-thriller worthy.

Where Ludlum fails most is the poorly executed ‘love story’ between Bourne and hostage-turned-soul-mate Marie.  Jason, in a desperate attempt to escape his killers alive, uses Marie as a getaway device – slapping her harshly more than once, bruising her arm, screaming at her, and just generally treating her like a grade-A ass.  Then just about 30-40 pages later, she’s in love with him?  No matter how well-written the rest of the novel could have been – this sham of a love-affair would have ruined the entire story for me.

Let’s try to find some redeeming factors, shall we?  The action scenes, though few and far apart, were relatively entertaining.  I enjoyed Jason’s backstory being unfolded and learning his true motivations – something better done in the book than the movie.  Setting and place were well-done – murder and mayhem against the beauty of Zurich and Paris a great juxtaposition.  Although not intentional, I loved the dated phone booths, lack of communication devices, and other old fashioned technology that added a bit more suspense to the 1980 adventure.  Unfortunately, none of these pros are enough to keep me reading the series.  So long, Mr. Bourne!