Saturday, November 14, 2009

Book Review: The Bourne Identity, by Robert Ludlum

Well, it's been for quite some time that I have wanted to try out this book as well as Ludlum himself, and now I have finally done so.

First and foremost, I will need to mention the film (the Matt Damon version--yes, there were two). I may review both films at a later date (as well as the rest of the books and movies in the Bourne series) but for the time being will stick to the book. However, whether you liked the film or not doesn't matter. They should have said "inspired by" and not "based on" as the book was wildly different from the movie. The overarching plot base as well as some characters, events and places is about all that are the same. Very, very different. About the biggest issue of the whole book is completely missing from the film. While the film felt more like action, the book was more of a thriller.

So. This is one of those books you can't speak a word on what it really is all about until you've read the very last page. If you don't know, the premise of the story is a strange man with strange talents who has absolutely no memory of his past. This man, who discovers his name to be Jason Bourne, embarks upon a personal quest of identity that ends up being a little more perilous than he had first wagered. At every turn a new twist arises, and everything you thought was now seen in a new light. New events, new shocks, and a new way to look at all the information you thought you already had figured out. Topping out at 535 pages, I won't lie, this was one exciting book, and it kept me turning.

Ludlum's writing style is nothing to complain about--subtle, thankfully. I hate the try-too-hard, in-your-face junk. The first few pages felt too lyrical, but that faded quickly.

If you expect the book to have lots of action sequences like the film, then you are somewhat mistaken. While some events do occur as such, they are much less frequent. With the exception of the well-done scene with Bourne and his enemy fighting and attempting to kill each other in the dark, the few fight sequences felt a little off in my opinion, somewhat due to Bourne using too many fancy kicks in the hand-to-hand exchanges. Perhaps this is just me and my "reality-based" thinking coming through here, but Ludlum did not convince me when he described these few scenes. Then again, this was back in 1980, when the view of what was effective on the street was perhaps quite different from what it is today. (I haven't been able to verify it either way just yet, but Ludlum may have created his own versions of martial arts shouting (like kiai and kihap). "Tao", "che-sah", "mee-sah" and "kwa-sah" are used. Anyone know of these? Pages 27-28.) I had also heard, whether it be true or not, that Ludlum had a lacking in firearms knowledge. While I didn't notice anything really off, he didn't describe much either. Perhaps only the power of suggestion?

On the other hand, the intrigues of the book are utterly fascinating. This kind of material fills the book and is what carries and drives it. Bourne did not hold a particular interest for me, but the clandestine activities of spies, assassins and all their comrades did. Secret meetings, hidden agendas, banks, agencies.... Very well done, and masterful in scope. It must have taken poor Mr. Ludlum an eternity just to work out all the little plot nuances before even beginning writing! I'm guessing if I read it again, I'd catch something I had missed. (If you do choose to read it, I recommend not going out in public immediately after reading, otherwise you will dart your eyes about, think everyone is suspicious and therefore be suspicious yourself, and be tempted to drop false names. Ha!)

So, if it was just all of this, I would probably say it was one at least fairly spiffy book and give it a good review, but as is customary around here, unfortunately, I have something else to tell you.

[WARNING: SPOILERS!] I will do my best not to reveal too much of the plot here, but assuming you've seen the film, you know he meets and falls in love with a woman named Marie, right? 'Nuff said.

To escape the searching eyes of his pursuers, Bourne kidnaps a woman who turns out to be Marie. He threatens to kill her and is apparently prepared to do so (he says so), and he even strikes her numerous times as she struggles. He is intent on getting out of the building he is in with her help, forcing her to pose as his friend, or what have you, to make an inconspicuous exit. He had given his word that he would let her go, but after something of an injury, he breaks his word and forces her to drive him about. (At one point, when he obtains her compliance through force and threats, he is "...satisfied. Satisfied and revolted." P. 83.) What is the matter with you, Jason? What kind of a slime ball is he? While his actions come from the instincts of his past and many times disturb him ("revolted"), he still carries them out. Very, very unmanly, Bourne. Fight your way out, die if you must, but never, ever treat a lady in such manner. Bourne wins no points with Spencer!

[Warning: sexual issues to be discussed. Adults only, please.] After this, for some strange reason, Marie falls in love with Jason, and he with her. A few days after an ordeal wherein she was raped (Again, Jason's fault for putting her in that position!), Marie actually comes on to Jason and they sleep together. What gives?

So, they do it more than once (at least twice we read), and while not overtly explicit, we do get some descriptions. A reference to a sex act between them is later made, and as stated before Marie is raped (we "see" a little, and later she tells more--perhaps not good for female readers), Bourne purposely manipulates an important man by walking in on him and his prostitute (in the end to rob him), etc. I need not get into any more detail. As I said while not horrible, some descriptions were there. Yes, truly, the love story that develops between the two gets to the point where it was sweet and even a little touching in a scene or two, but do we really need anything more? Apparently Mr. Ludlum thought so.

References of varying degrees are found on pages 26, 37, 42, 121, 132, 144-145, 147, 160, 338, 362, and 488. Unnecessary! As my readers know, this will always get a bad mark with me.

However, I must admit that his treatment of her does improve, and the best of all, he did suddenly become protective and come to her aid during her rape/near-murder. Now that is manly, but what he did before was not. (It does appear that he feels guilt when he should--although not all the time--but anymore than that will spoil things for you way, way too much!)

And just when we think he might be learning the rudiments of chivalry, Bourne interrogates a woman, and while not hurting her, he is prepared to kill her if it is necessary in his mind (it isn't, and he doesn't actually get the chance either). ("He would break her, Bourne thought. Kill her if he had to. He would learn the truth.") An enemy? Yes, she most certainly is (long story short, she is on the side of those trying to kill Bourne), but it looks like Bourne needs to learn a few basic lessons in manliness.

Bourne does do other things; he steals, lies, and acts according to his instincts, although as stated before he is often disturbed by his own actions. Other than that, mild violence and some language is present, but in the end, that isn't why I am forced to give a negative review. Because of how Bourne can and does treat women on occasion (and also because of the sexual content), I must give a thumbs-down.

"I cannot let that pass, and I need you to understand that please." --Bruce Wayne, Batman Begins



olde.fashioned said...

Great review. From what little I saw of the Richard Chamberlain mini (which from what you've told me about the book, sounds much more faithful to the novel) and also in reading (and listening to) your remarks, it sounds like the Matt Damon movie made several improvements.

Also, again, it's always refreshing to have someone stick to their principles instead of being wowed by snazzy plots and clever writing! ;-P

Josh said...

Hi Spencer,
Interesting that you reviewed this book, because I just watched the movie with my dad a couple days ago! Like olde.fashioned said: "It sounds like the Matt Damon movie mad several improvements." I would have to agree. Though I never have read the book, judging from your review, I would say that the movie is better. There was a scene that my dad skipped because of sexual content, and a bit of language, and of course action violence. But it was better than what the book sounds like =)
Of course, there was suspense like crazy! (cool!)

BTW, thank you for following my blog! I pray that you are blessed by it...

In Christ Alone,

The Warrior said...

Thank you for your comment, Josh! As to the film, you mean the Matt Damon one, correct? I have seen that and it didn't have any sex I don't think...perhaps a kissing scene? I think?

Anyhow, yes, while I really like a lot the book had to offer there were some plain dissappointments. Oh well!


Andrew said...

Thanks for posting. I'd often wondered if the movies were very much like the books.