Are the Bourne books any good?

I really liked the first Bourne movie, and wanted to like the second one (worst case of SHAKY CAMERA = MORE ACTIONY!!! ever, totally ruined otherwise well choreographed action scenes).

I like the idea of smart, highly trained, highly motivated bad-asses creating practical solutions to accomplish missions. No bond-style gadgets or silly unrealistic solutions.

So, are the books any good? And if not those, perhaps another book or series (or even movies?) that covers that sort of territory?

Ludlum isn’t high art, but he’s generally a fun read. Just don’t expect that you will have any idea of what’s going to happen. Dances with Wolves was a more faithful movie adaptation of the Bourne novels than the Bourne movies are.

Is it faithful in spiirt? Clever, but realistic solutions? Quick, brutal action? Not James Bond wankery type stuff, but plausible, if almost superhuman, spy stuff?

I didn’t see the movie, but the book is more down-to-earth than a typical Bond movie. I agree that Ludlum isn’t high art, but The Bourne Identity is a great book.

In several ways, no, it is not faithful in spirit. But in the specific respect you are inquiring I would say yes. Bourne is not superhuman, nor does he use gadgets. He’s just damned good. I am hesitant to say much more. The single most important plot point in the book is completely missing from the movie, and I wouldn’t want to spoil it.

Ludlum can’t write dialog. I couldn’t read them as “a fun romp.” I wanted to like them, but the idea of Jason Bourne calling anyone “Darling” was just too wrong. Jason Bourne putting up with being called “Darling” may have been worse. I wanted to stuff his girlfriend in a meat freezer and I’m not a trained killer.

No. Ludlum was one of the original “airplane authors”; a book you pick up at the airport newstand, read a couple hundred pages on a transcontinental flight until you can’t keep your eyes open, and then stick in the card pocket of the seat in front of you. You usually forgetted it as you disembark with only a slight pang afterward of wondering how it ended, but honestly, you know more or less how it ends.

Ludlum’s best not bad for what it is, i.e. a formulmatic hackery; I’d rate him as less entertaining than Alistar MacLean or Ian Fleming, and somewhat more fantastical than Frederick Forsythe or Tom Clancy, but he’s a damned sight better writer that the likes of Clive Cussler, though his later books were comperably poor in quality. Don’t be expecting the character nuances and subtle plotting of John Le Carre or Graham Greene. The books are almost nothing like the films, though; the first film essentially pulled the basic premise (a “black project” assassin who has lost his memory) and a few names (even most of them bowdlerized) and then went it’s own way, developing Bourne as a far more intersting and conflicted character. The second film, and presumably the third, are completely independent of the novels.

“Smart, highly trained, highly motivated bad-asses creating practical solutions to accomplish missions,” are the rarity in real life; even authors like Fleming and MacLean (both with combat experience, though neither with the kind of espionage or commando experience they claimed) freely admitted to exaggerating and amplifying the action for dramatic effect. I’d personally recommend MacLean’s earlier stuff like The Guns of Navarone, Ice Station Zebra, Night Without End, and Where Eagles Dare over Ludlum, et al, if that’s your thing.


I find Ludlum rather too wordy and tend to skim his books. But he usually has good plots and good characters.

I assume you mean the movies and not the books, because IMO the books would not have been called “wankery-type stuff.” Or at least no more than any other spy stuff in books.

for a more… unusual take on Ludlum, try The Road to Gandolfo .

I hope I’m not too late to jump in this thread, but Dangerosa nailed it: the dialog between Bourne and Marie is just grit your teeth awful. Marie comes off like some 1950’s June Cleaver twit who happens to have some useful knowledge of international banking. The good thing is that the dialog usually comes in blocks spanning a page or two, and you can simply skip over those as they add nothing to the story other than to reinforce that Bourne and Marie are each others’ “Darlings.” I’ve been wondering if this portrayal of Marie is somewhat shaped by the time in which it was written, 1980, or if Ludlum just can’t write dialog or women’s dialog in particular.

One of the many differences between the book and the movie is that in the book, Bourne is practically crippled by his past. Great expanses of the book are devoted to him emoting over his past. Again, and again, and again we are treated to “I am Cain. I am Delta. I am a bad man.” GET OVER IT! In the movie, we know that Bourne is aware of his past, but he doesn’t seem too troubled by it. He accepts his past and moves on to the task at hand.

That’s *exactly * how my one encounter with a Bourne novel went. It’s probably still in the seatback pocket of that Delta flight from Charlotte…

I was amazed that such a tight, interesting, and exciting series of films was inspired by such poor source material.

I agree with Dangerosa…the dialogue is laugh-out-loud bad.

You may need to read the books again (specifically the first):

You are correct about the difference between the book and the movie, and about Bourne agonizing over who/what he is. But in the book, he is NOT an assassin ! The more he learns about the history (myth) of ‘Bourne’, the more he is shown that he is this ruthless killer. But in the book, ‘Bourne’ is a fictitious assassin created to draw out the real assassin, Carlos. 'Bourne’s entire resume of hits is a lie. So Bourne/Webb does have reason to agonize - everything he learns points to him being this evil person, yet he does not want (nor is) to be this ruthless person.
Perhaps you haven’t seen the latest movie (“Ultimatum”), but in that one the movie Bourne doesn’t quite “accept” his past and wants to find out how it all started.

cormac, didn’t that come in one of the later books, maybe even after Ultimatum? It’s been years since I’ve read them, and my memory is sketchy at best. I could just be confused.

Bourne’s husband/wife relationship in the books was painful to read. I was glad they sorted that out in the beginning of the second movie.

And if you don’t get enough in The Road to Gandolfo, then pick up The Road to Omaha.

I don’t think so - I recall everything from cormac’s spoiler and I’ve only read Identity and Supremacy, so I’m pretty sure that’s at the end of the latter.

Cormac is right. It comes out to the reader about 2/3 of the way through Identity, which is where I happen to be in the book, although I don’t know when Bourne finds out.

[spoiler] Anyway, whether he is or isn’t an actual assassin is sort of irrelevant to my point. My point was just that he spends way too much time thinking about it. My complaint on this point is only with the writing - which I find really tedious.

As far as Bourne “accepting” his past: In the book, I feel like he is practically paralyzed by revelations about who he (thinks he) is. Again, I think this is the writing that gives me a problem. I KNOW that he is having a hard time accepting who he (thinks he) is. But, every time events at the Steppdeckstrasse are brought up, we just know that Ludlum is going to treat us to another page of Bourne’s angst. Conversely, in the movie, Bourne accepts his skills and talents and uses them to accomplish his objectives (I did just see Ultimatum Saturday). He doesn’t spend much time worrying about what he’s done in the past (other than the scene with Nikki where he says something like “I can see the faces of all the people I’ve killed - I just can’t remember their names.”). Maybe its just a difference in the medium - movies don’t give as much opportunity for internal monologue as a book does.[/spoiler]

Aww hell. I’m not much for literary or cinematic analysis. Maybe if they’d just excise the word “Darling” from the book I’d like it a lot better.


[spoiler]"Anyway, whether he is or isn’t an actual assassin is sort of irrelevant to my point. My point was just that he spends way too much time thinking about it. "

To me, this was The conflict/issue of the story ! Treadstone after him, Carlos after him were just the “action”. But to me, grappling with the realization that what little you know about yourself is that you’re a ruthless assassin is QUITE a bit to be thinking about - especially when in your gut, you feel you are a “good” person. So it may have become tedious in the way Ludlum kept coming back to it, but for me it was the most realistic aspect of the story. First the shock at realizing you’ve lost your memory. Then as you start to piece your history back together, to find out you are an assassin with quite a resume. I don’t see how anyone would “get over” this.
If anything, perhaps this was handled a bit more accurately in the movie - Bourne may not have remembered the details, but at some level he knew he was a killer - a choice he’d made at some point along the line. The rest was to find out how he became a zombie.
In the book, however, no such choice was made. The choice was to pretend to be an assassin. [/spoiler]

I think that’s just a good general axiom. If we excise “darling” from literature entirely, a lot of people would be better novelists…and Jane Austen would be a pamphleteer. :stuck_out_tongue:

Thanks for the refresher. While a decent weekend read, certainly these weren’t books that stayed with me.


[spoiler]Certainly the internal struggle between the good person Bourne wants to be, and the ruthless killer he is being led to believe he is is important. But really, how much can you expand on that? Ludlum couldn’t and so he had to keep repeating the same crap over and over.

Also, was Bourne really a good person? We know he went back to save Marie when he didn’t have to, and he apparently won’t kill without a good reason (although I believe Bourne indicates that not killing is more practical than altruistic), but even though there really isn’t a Cain, wasn’t he Delta, wasn’t he in the Medusa program? If he was, then can’t we assume that he actually was a killer in Viet Nam/Cambodia, and certainly not an altar boy?[/spoiler]

rpinrd: “Damn! I can’t belive I’m worrying about a novel that people are willing to dump in a seat back pocket without a second thought.”
Marie St. Jacques (not Kreutz): "Oh my darling. It doesn’t matter if you are worring too much about the book. Oh darling, our undying love will see us through, darling.

How much Austen have you read, or are you just talking completely out of your ass? I read a lot of Austen, and she seldom uses the word “darling” - ten times in her novels, only once in dialog. Three times its a modifier for wish, once a modifier for project and once a modifier for object (as in objective). It describes a favorite child another four times - and is never used romantically.