Tuesday, November 10, 2015

"The Bourne Identity" by Robert Ludlum

"Cain is for Charlie, and Delta is for Cain."

Every time I read this book, that phrase gets stuck in my head and cycles around and around for weeks.  Not in an annoying way, but more in a "Here's how I can instantly get sucked back into the world of this amazing character whenever I feel like it" way.

This is the third time I've read this book, and I must admit I was a little hesitant going in because I went through a phase where I read like ten of Ludlum's books and then got tired of him and haven't touched one since.  That was 9 or 10 years ago, and that was when I read this twice, and each of Ludlum's sequels (Supremacy and Ultimatum) once.  Those are really good too, and I would like to reread them at some point, but it's the original that I love.  And I do still love it!  Yay!

There are also 9 sequels written by some other guy after Ludlum's death, but I refuse to read those because by the end of The Bourne Ultimatum, this poor character has been through so much that I want him to be able to live in peace, not keep getting sucked into one deadly situation after another.  And this is a little odd for me, since usually once I love a character, I want to spend more and more and more and more time with them -- that's why I love Sherlock Holmes pastiches and so on.  But nope, not for Jason Bourne.  Let him be at peace.

Now, I also love the Jason Bourne movies that star Matt Damon.  But they have very little to do with these books besides the idea of a trained assassin with amnesia who starts out the story riddled with bullets and floating in the ocean.  Watching them is what got me to read this book in the first place, and I love both dearly, but they are quite different.  Quite.

Matt Damon as Jason Bourne

I have a great fondness for stories about amnesia.  I think it's because I myself treasure my past and my memories -- I rely on them to inform so many of my daily decisions, small and large, trivial and important.  The idea of having all that erased, of having nothing at all to rely on in that way... it terrifies and fascinates me.

Which brings me to describing the plot of this book, I guess.  Only I don't want to describe too much, so consider this relatively spoiler-free.  As spoiler-free as I can make it while still giving you some idea of what it's like, at any rate.

It all begins with a man on a ship in the middle of a storm.  He gets shot by person or persons unnamed, falls in the water, and is left to die.  Except he doesn't die, he gets found by fishermen and taken to a drunken English doctor who patches up his body.  But what the doctor can't patch up is the man's mind -- he's got amnesia and remembers nothing at first of his previous life.  Images and words trigger fragments of memories for him, and from that he pieces together clues that lead him to believe that his name is Jason Bourne, and that he's a ruthless assassin.

Then there's Marie St. Jacques, a Canadian financial analyst who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and whom Bourne takes hostage to escape people trying to kill him.  Through lots of twists and turns, they wind up falling in love.  She's a great character -- she's fiercely intelligent, stubborn, brave, clever (not the same as being intelligent, you know!), resourceful, and morally strong.  I really love her way more than Marie in either of the movie versions.

Um, yes, I said either of the movie versions.  Besides the Matt Damon version from 2002 that I mentioned already, there's also a TV movie from 1988 starring Richard Chamberlain.  I didn't realize the 1988 existed for a long, long time, but once I found out about it, I had to find and watch it, and I'm so glad I did!  In fact, I bought a copy.  

Richard Chamberlain as Jason Bourne

The TV version follows the book's plot very closely, and the book's characterization too.  At first I wasn't sure if I could buy Chamberlain as Bourne because I'm so used to him in costume dramas like The Count of Monte Cristo (1975), but he absolutely nailed my perceptions of the book's character and made me hungry to re-read it.  I'll review the 1988 version on my Soliloquy blog after I've had a chance to see it a second time, but I really did want to mention it here because if I didn't know it existed, very likely lots of other people didn't either.

Okay, so back to the book.  It's got lots of action, lots of suspense, and many, many plot twists.  So many wonderful plot twists that feel absolutely right and real as they happen, but that I couldn't see coming beforehand.  The very best kind of twists.  Also, it has some slam-bang character development -- we see Marie St. Jacques turn from a lonely, hardened career woman into a fiery, determined champion.  We see a man who has no idea who he is begin to learn who he once was while also figuring out who he is now.  As he learns more and more layers about his past, so many of them frightening and horrible, he fights to hang onto what he's grown into in the present, and it's beautiful and aching and... I love this guy, okay?  The last three lines of this book both give me cold chills and make me want to cry at the same time.  

Particularly Good Bits:

The day was being born, and so was he (p. 34).

"The easiest thing in the world is to convince yourself that you're right" (p. 371).

He was going mad!  Blurred images from the past converged with the terrible reality of the present, driving him insane.  The doors of his mind opened and closed, crashing open, crashing shut; light streaming out one moment, darkness the next (p. 424).

...all around him objects too painful to look at; he knew them and did not know them.  They were fragments of dreams -- but solid, to be touched, to be felt, to be used -- not ephemeral at all (p. 517).

He was being pulled to another room high up in the brownstone, a room that held both the comfort of solitude and the frustration of loneliness (p. 519).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  A very regretful R, for lots of bad language (including many instances of taking God's name in vain), a non-explicit rape, several non-explicit love scenes, and lots of violence.


  1. I always forget that there was a book series first. I've been meaning to read them, and now, after reading your (great) review, I'll have to. :)

    1. Thanks, Laura! I'm so glad my review has spurred your desire to read these, because that's what I always hope for when reviewing a book I love :-)

  2. Aw, I'd love to read this, but it's definitely too mature for me right now. :( I guess I'll just have to stick to the movie + Matt Damon adorableness...

    My parents own the older movie version and they say it's pretty good. I think they prefer the new ones, though.

    1. My estimation of your parents continues to rise. I do like the new ones better, but I quite like the older as well because it's got a totally different story line and so on.

      But yeah, it's not something I'd let my kids read before college-age, I don't think.

  3. For fans of the Bourne Identity, L. P. Davies' The Groundstar Conspiracy novel & movie sound similar ~Michael Sarrazin as the amnesiac & George Peppard as his pursuer. Gosh, it has been at least 25 years since I read his books. He would add a touch of fantasy to essentially action/adventure. One, not TGC as I remember, also involved an amnesiac who had just flickers of images coupled with discomfort with some earth experiences, and he was worried that he was not human, but alien.

    1. Kelda, I've never heard of those, but they do sound intriguing! I'll have to see if my library has them.

  4. They're quite good. I can't imagine why they've fallen out of print. If they're in the public domain, Amazon should surely consider Kindle availablity. When I was skimming through the list, I noticed several that had amnesia - themed characters caught up in some version of lost blocks of time,whether past or future.

    1. Well, out of print doesn't equal public domain, alas. But at least used copies are available!

  5. I may some day read this book, not sure about that. But I can say that I love the movie! I haven't watched it in a great while, but Matt Damon does an amazing job. And now you've made me want to watch it again. :)

    1. Kara, I agree, I have been wanting to watch the Matt Damon movies again ever since I started reading this. I'm quite excited that he's making another :-)


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