As this book starts, a man has been fished out of the Mediterranean Sea. He is alive but just barely. The fishermen who saved his life bring him to a French island, where he is cared for by Dr. Geoffrey Washburn. Washburn discovers that the man he is tending has had surgery to change his appearance, and has a microchip surgically implanted in his hip. He pieces together enough information to help the man, who has amnesia from head trauma, start searching for who he is and why he ended up nearly dead in the sea. Washburn also helps him get to Zurich, the first step of his journey.
As the story progresses, Bourne conveniently can remember many of the facts from his past without remembering who he is or what has happened to him. He can use fighting skills, remember places (although only hazily) and recognize a person without knowing where the person fits into his life. I don't know if this happens in real-life amnesia or not.
As Bourne is forced to interact with those who want to capture him or kill him, his instinct and past knowledge of weapons and self-defense lead to some violent and cruel behavior on his part. Based on this behavior and flashes of returning memories, he makes the assumption that he was a pretty loathsome character, no matter what group it is in service of.
I prefer to provide as little about the plot as possible and in the case of this type of book, that is even more important. If you want more information in that area there are many sources online, including some excellent reviews and sites devoted to the series.
I had owned this book for years, and I don't know why I put off reading such a well-known book in the spy fiction genre. So, after waiting so long to read this book, what did I think of it? Overall, I enjoyed reading the book. It falls more in the action thriller area than most spy fiction I enjoy, and it did require me to suspend disbelief quite a bit. Yet, for the most part, the journey Bourne takes to learn his real identity makes sense. I don't have any complaints about this book other than the length and some repetitiveness. The same phrases repeated over and over by the main characters, the same interactions between the characters occurring a few too many times. Yet that isn't unrealistic, just irritating to read.
Ludlum keeps the story moving. Most chapters end with a cliff hanger and this ploy was very successful at keeping me in the story. It took me several days to read the book (it was 535 pages) but there were many times I read too late into the evening, each chapter pulling me into the next one.
I am not a fan of romances in mystery fiction, and this book does have that element. However, the woman that gets involved with Jason, Marie St. Claire, does serve a purpose in the plot and is not just there to add spice to the story. She is a strong female character and plays a significant role in his quest to find out who he is. With her background as a economist who works for the Canadian government, she can provide information on politics and finance that he does not have in his current circumstances. She is also not afraid to risk her life to help him out, and actively seeks to influence important people to come to his aid. This type of portrayal is admirable in any novel but especially in spy fiction written in 1980.
After finishing the book, I learned that Bourne's nemesis in the book is a real person, Ilyich Ramírez Sánchez. The newspaper articles in the Preface to the book are actually published articles and press releases from 1975.
The Bourne Identity was the first of three Bourne novels written by Robert Ludlum. It was published in 1980 and the next two novels came out in 1986 and 1990. Starting in 2004 with The Bourne Legacy, Eric Lustbader continued the series. There are now a total of 13 books in the series.
I won't comment in detail on the 2002 movie here. I have watched the movie 2 or 3 times, and enjoyed it every time I watched it, but the movie is only loosely based on the book.
I like this assessment of some differences between the book and the movie at double o section:
Suffice it to say, the truth of Bourne’s identity in the book is far more interesting, more rewarding and more morally complex than in the movies, and it’s a shame that the films didn’t follow Ludlum’s template. And the secretive Treadstone program of Ludlum’s covert world is infinitely more fascinating (and possibly disturbing) than the mere super- soldier factory it's presented as in the films.
Publisher: Bantam Books, 2002 (orig. publ. 1980)
Length: 535 pages
Series: Jason Bourne, #1
Setting: Zurich, Paris, US
Genre: Espionage fiction
Source: I purchased this book.