10 December 2007

Book Review: The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum

Book to Movie Challenge #3

The Bourne Identity A man is fished out of the Mediterranean with several bullet wounds, the number of a Swiss bank account, and zero memory. While convalescing in the home of a drunken English doctor, and travelling to Zurich, he finds that he possesses some quite alarming skills - like the ability to con people, and an intimate knowledge of firearms. In Zurich he at last discovers a name - Jason Bourne - but also learns that there are people who are very keen to see him dead. With the aid of French-Canadian economist Marie St Jacques, he sets of to Paris in search of memories and answers, not just about his own identity, but that of the mysterious organisation known as Treadstone. Soon it begins to look like the truth might be unpleasant. Could Bourne really be the cold-blooded killer who goes by the name of Cain? And if so, how can he reconcile who he once was with who he now is?

Although the Book to Movie Challenge is now over, I did read this during the challenge period and so will continue the spirit of comparison. This is a case where it doesn’t matter whether you read the book before seeing the film or vice versa; they are so different that knowing one won’t much spoil the other. I actually resorted to looking up the film’s IMDB page, to see whether my memory really was that atrocious. Turns out not; and that the screenwriter was working off the director’s outline without having read the book, which explains a lot. They share some things: the main character, the places, Treadstone, Alexander Conklin, a girl named Marie and a man surnamed Abbott. Otherwise, there’s very little resemblance. But the reasons for this are obvious: at over 500 pages the book needed a lot of trimming; the whole Vietnam War background had to be cut (unless you wanted a geriatric spy) and modern technology brought in. And I suspect a spot of political correctness in having Bourne pay Marie to help him escape, rather than abducting her. The upshot of all this modernisation is that I prefer the film to the book. (Yes, you did read that correctly.)

The book was still an okay read, even with the slower pace and puzzlement as to whether my memory was going. Ludlum is good at creating a sense of the confusion felt by a man who can’t remember anything about who he is but must if he’s to escape the people after him, and the fear caused by the suspicion that the truth might not be at all palatable. I also liked seeing how a well-trained spy’s mind works, and the tricks he used to gain information and dodge the bad guys, even if it did get tedious after a while. Marie wasn’t so well-drawn a character; while I admired her intelligence and nerve, a lot of her emotional reactions didn’t ring true. And with such distinctive colouring, would changing her hairdo and make-up really render her unrecognisable? I know I wouldn’t trust a mere hairstyle to disguise myself. The plot had plenty of twists and turns - so many that I surprised myself by not getting completely confused - but ultimately the characters let down the plot.

Rating: C+

3 comments:

heather (errantdreams) said...

It's been so long since I read the books that I don't remember much of them at all. However, I loved the movies. I always try to take movie & book as separate creatures, though, since you can't translate directly. Generally a short story is much more appropriate for translating to movie length---if you're going for a book then you're going to have to change a lot. It's nice to run into someone else who doesn't automatically have the "omg! they changed this detail/left out this scene! how could they!" reaction when seeing a movie made from a book. ;)

Literary Feline said...

I've been curious about this book after having seen the movies (and loving them). I am sorry to hear it wasn't all that great of a read in the end. I probably will still give it a try just because though. Thanks for the review.

Charley said...

I, too, enjoyed the movie more than the book, so you're not alone there! For those who can overlook the fact that the book and movie are pretty much two totally different stories, perhaps they'll enjoy the book more, because I didn't think it was bad by any means. I liked it enough to continue with The Bourne Supremacy, but half way through is as far as I got before I lost interest. Oh, well.

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