“The Bourne Identity” by Robert Ludlum

"The Bourne Identity" by Robert Ludlum — Kimia Wood — Bourne A man washes up in the Mediterranean Sea, riddled with bullets and more dead than alive. Several months of care on a tiny fishing island restore him to health, but not to himself – he can’t remember who he is.

Once he steps off the island, a world of danger and secrets rears up, threatening to swallow him unless his “gut-instincts” from who he was can keep him alive long enough to figure it out.

Full of shoot-outs, bodies, and secrets peeling back like onion skins, this book is an action-packed read – for the discerning.

The man who becomes known as Bourne is an interesting character – especially at the beginning. The doctor who nursed him back to life urged him to let his mind restore itself – not to fight for his memories back, but to let images and names trigger new connections in his brain.

As the doctor says, there are “no rules” for amnesia — but Bourne’s amnesia does follow a consistent pattern. Images will come to him – faces unconnected to names, words unconnected with places or things – and he must act instinctively to try to pin these recollections to the real world. I haven’t spent the research to see if this is typical, or medically sound, but it holds up internally, which is what matters.

Bourne’s struggle to discover himself is greatly complicated when people start shooting him and chasing him. The more he peels back layers of the truth, the deeper the conspiracy seems to run. Who is he? Who are they? Is he the good guy – or are they?

Bourne is a man of conflicted morality. While he essentially kidnaps a woman to facilitate his escape, he has an underlying decency that helps the audience stay with him and root for him. As the evidence unwinds, pointing to a past as a hired killer, he panics – revolted that he might have been such a person.

None of the characters is a saint. The beginning, especially, had much more sex than I wanted (included an interrupted rape), and Mr. Ludlum is hardly subtle (although I didn’t notice anything graphic — truth be told, I skipped a few paragraphs). Profanity and cursing are also well mixed in, making this not a book I can blanket-ly recommend.

If you have a mind that lets you ignore those things, however, The Bourne Identity is packed with suspense, mystery, shoot-outs, hand-to-hand fights, tightrope-conversations with antagonists, scooting around exotic locations in Europe (hopping from dingy hotel to dingy hotel, even though you’ve got half a million francs in your back pocket) — in short, it was everything Operation Zulu wanted to be when it grew up, except Bourne Identity has an actual pay-off for all the tension and anxiety. It’s like the Mission Impossible TV series turned up to eleven.

Having said that, I must admit that the ending wasn’t all I could have hoped. It’s almost as though Mr. Ludlum knew he was going to write two more books, and so couldn’t bear to wrap everything up with little bows.

One other complaint: I found the fight scenes kinda hard to follow. Either I’m so ignorant about real-life combat I couldn’t understand the descriptions, or Mr. Ludlum is so focused on giving exact stage directions for each action that it’s easy to get lost. Either way, it was usually a chaotic sea of left limbs and right limbs, and trying to figure out how each limb got to where he said it did.

Bottom line: Bourne gets beat up, then beats up the other people, then gets beat up again – all while suffering mental distress.

The Bourne Identity was an interesting psychological thriller, following the man desperate to know the truth at all costs, and the woman who loves him. Some day, I may watch the movie to see if I like it better…although I’ve heard they’re pretty much different stories.

If your conscience and constitution are strong enough, you might enjoy this tale of international spies, assassins, and CIA secrets.


The Bourne Identity is the first book in the Bourne Trilogy, which also includes The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum (which I have not read). It is available on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble, and at the Book Depository (free delivery worldwide).

Cover image is from the Wikipedia page.

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  1. Pingback: "The Jansen Directive" by Robert Ludlum - Kimia Wood

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