Book review – The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum

I was going to augment the review below with various expanded thoughts about the relationship of The Bourne Identity to socialism and various other wider themes that I try (and fail) to talk about when I am not reading books or working! I have ended up cutting the extra stuff out of this review. My excuse? I’m behind on my blogging, have various other posts to do and will add a related post later. Honest 🙂

Oh, and Happy Easter by the way.

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The Bourne Identity took me longer to read than most of the books I’ve read since starting the blog. This was obviously going to be the case due to it actually being quite a long book. In my slightly childish metric system: the pages are thin and the text is small. Given that the book is still quite bulky in your hand I’d say it was quite long. N.B: I just realised that I managed to automatically use “the old fashioned way”  to make that estimate i.e. without resorting to Google (other search engines like do exist and don’t steal your data.) I could have spent at least 10 minutes finding average adult fiction book lengths and comparing the listed word counts, but I didn’t, I waffled at you lot for all that time instead. Aren’t you lucky??? (don’t answer that.)

The book itself

The book itself (yes we are finally starting the review right now!) started with a fast paced, catastrophic event that looses Jason Borne his memory; as well as quite a bit of blood, and lets face it, general bodily integrity is taken down a peg or two as well! The pace does not let up and that is one of the major successes of the book. Even when there is no running, shooting or other over exertions, the book masterfully keeps up the pace by switching to Bourne’s internal dialogue. There is a high percentage of internal dialogue in the book and I found this to be a very effective and innovative way to tell the story. Internal dialogue is not always bound by time, it doesn’t always convey story line, but it provides a great way to expand the story. Pace is maintained because Jason doesn’t know many things that he should, so his internal dialogue is always questioning itself. This book is a portrait of a brain mending itself and re-finding lost pathways. Jason Bourne’s head is a very interesting place to be and in terms of pace it echoes my experience that life if very rarely quite.

The good

Robert Ludlum has produced a brilliantly realised spy novel that is set in a very realistic world. I soon felt that it is relatively normal to jet around between countries and to be honest, there is no need to worry too much about airport security, its pretty easy to get through! Fight scenes are very well written and they are satisfyingly sparse. The book could have become a bloodbath, but there really isn’t that much. There is a lot of action, a lot of shooting, a lot of preparation and planning and manoeuvring… But, not that much actual fighting. This works because it is actually very realistic (I was previously a spy in the 80’s, so I know!) The gritty, bloody, painful depths of the novel are maintained by Bourne hearing news reports, or from someone suffering the effect of an injury over an extended period. In mentioning this realism, it was good to see wounds that Bourne sustained did continue to affect him, and only when he was fully in the zone did some of these afflictions fall away.

If I bring the review back around to the environment in which the story is set, there were quite a few times when the story was obviously dated:-

  • A lot of communications are completed via odd things called public telephones.
  • There are central telephone exchanges with many phones and staff to set calls up for clients.
  • Someone uses Concord

The list goes on. The first one I read jolted me out of the story as I stupidly hadn’t expected it. As the book unfolded I actually found the dated ways of doing things added to the immersion in the story. I think as I write this review, how would Bourne operate now? With the internet and text and all of the advances of the modern world? And, lets face it, the retrograde step that we now don’t have concord! A contemporary Bourne novel would be a lot different and I think it would loose something too?

The Bad

I only have one bad thing to say about The Bourne Identity. There are a couple of times where I was screaming at the characters to realise something achingly obvious that they didn’t get. These were few and far between, but were unfortunately quite fundamental to the plot. The problem was partly of Robert Ludlum’s making in that the quality of plot, sub plot and the intricacy of the tangled web created was fantastic. There was a sharp contrast in places that just didn’t sit right. For example:

everything points to borne being an assassin for ages before they work it out. Conversely, the same person in the story who has this mental block (Marie) is able to extrapolate very subtle realities like “Jason is a secret agent made out to be an assassin to catch an assassin”!!

I suppose that I was drawn in by it i.e. I was mentally shouting that they shouldn’t be missing this. But I would have preferred it if the intellect of the characters was constant. It would have changed small parts of the story, but not greatly.

3 of the cleverest spies in the world don’t realise that a good set of finger prints on a broken glass could have been planted, even though the whole of the rest of the house had been cleaned down.

All I can say is they deserve what they get!


Robert Ludlum did an exceptional job in this book. This is the only one of his books that I have read of the many he has written; I can only say that I am impressed with what I found and would like to read more. Unfortunately I don’t think I own any more, so that will have to wait (in case your new to my blog, see The Rules for details.)

The Bourne Identity is a good, strong, well written spy novel. It has the novel (!!) amnesia angle which provides a strong story hook. If you, like me, have (had) it languishing on a shelf, then read it now. If you don’t, I am sure that almost every charity shop in the land will have a copy (that might be a slight exaggeration?)

Rating 9/10

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