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Book: The Bourne Identity

February 1, 2010
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A little background information before we jump into the review:

I do not generally read thrillers. There are a few exceptions: I love the Pendergast novels (by Lincoln & Child), and… um, well that’s all I can think of. And the reason I like those is because the main character is so quirky and compelling, and because there is usually an element of the supernatural involved at some point. I also don’t really like thriller movies, but Terri convinced me that I would enjoy The Bourne Identity when it was released, and I did like all three of those. There’s a certain category of thriller book and movie which Terri loves, which I refer to as “Man Movies” or “Man Books.” They’re the equivalent of romantic comedies or chick-lit books. Usually the cover features very strong fonts, and an explosion, and people looking serious, and maybe a woman with a gun. You know the type (see: featured cover above). Anyway, The Bourne Identity was definitely a Man Book, but it was maybe Man Book Lite.

However, Terri said I would enjoy this book, and my library doesn’t have it for some reason, and I was at the airport and they had a really bad selection of books but they had this one, so that’s why I ended up reading this.

If you’ve seen the movie, you know the premise (although how it plays out differs in the movies). A man wakes up in a foreign country, severely injured, with no idea who he is or where he is or what happened to him. Complete amnesia. But he very quickly realizes that he has skills no ordinary person should have: he’s great with a gun, extremely resourceful, a master of disguises, has no problem killing when necessary, and seems to have a sixth sense about who’s trying to kill him. Why they are trying to kill him becomes the real question.

I have no idea how to review a thriller, because it followed what I assume to be the pretty standard format: set up premise, insert lots of guns and bad guys, race around trying to outsmart said bad guys, shoot a lot of people, involve espionage in some way, throw in a deep undercover US government operation, maybe a beautiful woman, and a nemesis. Voila: the thriller.

Anyway, I’d like to point out that this was a REALLY LONG BOOK. It was almost 600 pages. So I liked it enough to keep reading, although towards the end I was definitely skimming. I really enjoyed the first parts, when he was discovering all these really cool spy skills, and travelling all over France and Switzerland, and the part about the Swiss bank was fun. By the time he met Marie (the beautiful woman), he was starting to piece together bits of his past… but he is never quite sure exactly who or what he is. That’s the big mystery. And we aren’t sure either (which is fun).

By the last third, I was really ready for him to find his nemesis and get it over with. Of course we know it’s a trilogy, so things aren’t quite resolved, but good enough. Frankly by that point I didn’t really care, I was so tired of reading this book. I doubt I’ll read the next two unless I’m stranded at the airport again, or if I really need a change of pace. I did enjoy it, but it’s just not my thing.

However, the thing that really struck me was the Lack Of Cell Phones. After a little while I realized that he was always racing to the pay phone and fumbling for coins. Wha? I checked the pub date: 1980. Aha! From then on, it became very amusing to notice the dated bits. The cell phone thing was a big one. How did the people in thriller book ever manage before cell phones? They are always looking for parking places (or smashing cars, making a parking space) and dealing with out-of-order pay phones, or renting hotel rooms just to use the phone, or waiting impatiently by the phone, or setting up elaborate “I’ll call you at 7:17 pm SHARP” phone-relay systems. I imagine the entire world of espionage was revolutionized by the cell phone.

The other thing that cracked me up was the “glowing green screen of the wall of computer monitors.” Remember when all your monitor had was blinking glowing green text? And what a huge deal it was when color monitors appeared, even in rudimentary form? Anyway, there was a serious lack of technology in this book, which strangely I think helped me enjoy it more, since I wasn’t glazing over with talk of nano-this and mega-that.

Also, the HUGE SUM OF MONEY he recovered from the Swiss bank was FOUR MILLION DOLLARS!! Ok, ok, I know, if I had four million dollars that would be a pretty big deal. But I guess thirty years ago, four million dollars was more… it was enough to set you up in style FOR LIFE. Or something. I can’t really make the comparison. Wait… the handy-dandy inflation calculator says that 4 million bucks in 1980 would be over 10 million dollars now. So, okay. I guess that’s a pretty good chunk of change. But the way they were talking about it was as if he’d somehow managed to get a billion dollars or something.

So, it was enjoyable, and the most enjoyable parts were chuckling at the technological advances we’ve made in the past 30 years. However, it was really long, and had way too much international government blah blah blah undercover blah blah blah disguises blah blah blah. I liked the main character a lot, and I loved the premise, and the first half or so of the book was really fun.

Maybe I’ll try the next one… next year. Or something.

Coincidentally, the night I finished up the book, the movie was playing on TV. I had it on in the background just for a bit of comparison… seriously, that whole movie is BASED on cell phones.

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