So let’s not dilly-dally around with The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum. You know that I’ve been reading it, I’ve talked about it on numerous occasions (here and here), and you know that I don’t like it. You know that it’s been on my TBR list for quite some time, mostly because I liked the movie, and I “borrowed” it from my dad. And who can resist a free book that’s just lying on your shelf, staring at you all incriminating-like: “I was written by Robert Ludlum, girlie. That dude has sold millions more books than all your fancy-schmancy literary fiction hacks. People actually like me. In fact, they like me so much they made a blockbuster movie out of me, starring Matt Damon. You saw that movie in theater and you liked it. Don’t deny it. Matt Damon was hot, and you liked it.”
Fine! Fine! A girl can only take so much. So I read the damn thing, and you know what? Sometimes, certain books are best left on the shelves. I hate to say something like that—I believe the unwritten rule of book bloggers is to encourage reading of all sorts—but in this case, I felt like I wasted my time with The Bourne Identity, and I wish there was a way to bill Mr. Ludlum for those lost two weeks.
I think we’re all familiar with the plot of The Bourne Identity, but in case you’re not: a man finds himself shot and half-dead in the waters off France. Soon thereafter, he realizes that he’s lost his memory, and the only clue to his identity is a photo negative embedded in his skin. The negative has the number to a bank account in Switzerland worth more than $4 million. Throw in a dozen or more folks trying to kill him, half-remembered skills from his past (fighting, killing, deception, etc), and a chick with serious Stockholm syndrome, and the rest of the book takes off.
Well, it tries to take off any number of times, but unfortunately fails at every turn. Seriously, I have never been so apathetic to something that was trying so hard to be thrilling and keep me on the edge of my seat (!). Occasionally, I found myself wondering, “Hmm, it sure will be interesting to know how this will eventually pan out.” But only very occasionally. Most of the time I didn’t care whether Jason Bourne lived or died, nor whether he accomplished whatever vague goal Ludlum sets out for us. The only thing I noticed was the number of pages til the end, and how fast I could skim through the fight scenes and not really miss anything.
Other reasons why The Bourne Identity bit the big one? Let’s see if I can make this short: (1) Unnecessary melodrama: Bourne and crew were the most dramatic bunch of emotional pansies I’ve ever come across. (2) Breaking the cardinal rule of writing: show, not tell. Ludlum told this tale 10 times over, and then some. Which leads me to … (3) Overwriten. I could have hacked away three-quarters of the copy, and we still would have been subject to passages such as:
“Up ahead! A light, another taxi! He broke into a run. He had to stop it; he had to get back to Paris. To Marie.
“He was back in a labyrinth, racing blindly, knowing, finally, there was no escape. But the race would be made alone; that decision was irrevocable. There would be no discussion, no debate, no screaming back and forth—arguments based on love and uncertainty. For the certainty had been made clear. He knew who he was…what he had been; he was guilty as charged—as suspected.”
And are we still paying attention? What the hell is going on anyway? I thought he was hailing a taxi? Oh wait, he finally gets around to doing that…10 lines down. After 10 more lines of Bourne acting all angsty and introspective and waaaay too verbose for a man simply thinking in the five seconds before calling a taxi. Geez. (4) Over-plotted. Fine Ludlum, do you want Bourne to be constantly thinking to himself? For the reader to be stuck inside the madman’s head? Fine. Then, why do you insist on confusing us with an overly intricate plot? Seriously, there’s just way too much going on here. And you didn’t even give us the courtesy of blocking off Bourne’s monologues into separate chapters or subsections. No, you just threw it in whenever you felt like, deigning to put it in italics so that we realize “Jason ran down the street. Help me! I am a useless vegetable!” isn’t completely nonsense. Thanks.
I can’t say I’m disappointed though. I knew that I was going beyond my comfort zone with this book—I knew I didn’t like the genre—so I shouldn’t be too upset I didn’t like it. If anything, The Bourne Identity confirms why I have a distaste for the action/thriller genre: even the “best of the best” are pathetic hack-jobs that are clearly meant to appeal to people who don’t read very often. Why else would Ludlum use that many adverbs? Shakes head* So, I know this makes me a snob. What can I say? The Bourne Identity was never my “thing” to begin with. However, for the sake of the entire genre and the good authors who write for it: seek elsewhere for your thriller kick.