Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Bookish Saturday - The Bourne Identity

A Bookish Saturday
I'll begin with my thoughts on what I think is one of the best books of fiction written in the 20th century. Now people may or may not agree, but books and their perceptions are to a very large extent personal. In any case, a book I hold very dear is 'The Bourne Identity' by Robert Ludlum. And here's why.

At the outset, the book is divided into 3 parts. Post the blockbuster movie, most of us know who Jason Bourne is. But one thing many who haven't read the book don't know, is that the movie is absolutely not like anything in the book. So, the opening lines begin with a shooting aboard a trawler, where we know that someone is mercilessly shot at. This someone topples overboard and then we have a body that is spotted by fishermen and brought over to the Ile de Port Noir in France. They think he's dead, but he isn't. A drunk doctor tries to save his life and succeeds, only to realize that our man remembers precious nothing of his life. And then starts the journey of trying to find out who he is and the reader is taken along in this journey. At each stage he stumbles upon a clue which leads him closer to the truth, while at the same time, someone else is out to get him killed.

The plot is a maze of very well etched characters, with Jason showing his personal traits in situations, which give you a hint that he is perhaps conscientiously a good guy. But then, the reader also comes across some pieces of news that point towards him being an assassin for hire. While the reader would be confused over what his true identity is, Jason's turmoil of perennially staring into an abyss is very well brought out in the book. The character of Marie St Jaques, a Canadian economist is also well sketched - portraying an independence and a steadfastness albeit without explicitly using those words! The circumstances that put Bourne and Marie together, and how they try to find out who Jason truly is, is edge-of-the-seat interesting to say the least.

As the plot goes on, one travels through the mystical world of Parisian haute couture, the corridors of power and diplomacy, the arcane world of the CIA, the crooked mind of an assassin, and the dark environs of a man without a memory. All in all, a real treat for those who like intrigue and unpredictability. The best part is that this book does not have a hero and a villain or a goal to achieve by the end of the book - like say find the bad guy and eliminate him or solve a whodunnit. The magic lies in figuring out the nuances of the characters and delving deeper into each character's psyche. How would one feel if suddenly one were to wake up in an unknown land, with no idea of who he is and the very next instant find out that someone out there wants him dead? What is the relationship between a certain event that happens early on and a certain person somewhere later in the book? Who is Jason Bourne and what happened on that trawler that night? These are the questions one would find himself asking throughout the book and the book never lets a reader down. The high point also is in the believability of the characters and the circumstances. Nothing is left to chance, everything is perfectly... believable. Like it is possible for someone in stress to trust the wrong guys. It is possible for someone to feign an identity and get through to someone else. It is possible for the bad guys to have connections all the way to the top. But then again, who is the bad guy? Such is the tone of the entire book.

And the book may have been written in 1980, but the story and the way it is written will continue to thrill millions for years to come.
Plot - excellent
Characterization - brilliant
Pace - Typical Ludlum
Veracity and believability - Up to the mark.
If you haven't read it yet, it's time you did.

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