Monday, February 01, 2010

Book: The Bourne Identity

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.


Tammie said...

HA HA HA HA..this review cracked me up!

whenever im reading an older book that's a bit dated technologically speaking, i always have a hard time with it. like, if someone is trapped somewhere, my first thought is "why doesnt he just call for help on his phone" oh wait, he has no cell phone. duh or if someone needs to research something and they go to the LIBRARY im always like, "why dont they just google it?" yeah, no google

your description of the covers of man books is spot on.

jays been trying to convince me to rent the movies, i may have to give them a shot since he sits through a lot of my stuff.

also, does Terri watch 24? given her taste in books and movies, i think it would be right up her alley. guns, explosions, lots of people looking serious, etc...

Daphne said...

Tammie: I know, right? What did we do before Google? I remember going to the library and being baffled at how you look stuff up... usually I just gave up. So tedious!!

The movies were better than your average man movies.

Terri says she used to love 24, but hasn't tuned in for awhile...

Tammie said...

Jay here. Tammie had me read this. Too funny. I can imagine Robert Ludlum, " He cradled his car phone to his ear two handed and trembled with fear..."

Daphne said...

Jay: I know, so funny! Do you remember "car phones"... the kind with a cord? That rich people had? Lordy.

Carl V. said...

Well, you are a braver soul than I. As much as I love the films I'm not sure I could tackle the books, knowing how different they are, especially as the books continue, and how long they are! Give me a shorter Ian Fleming any time. :)

Daphne said...

Carl: ha, that's funny. I have no idea what's in the other two books, but I did like this one enough to finish it... and at almost 600 pages, I guess that says something!

Stefanie said...

Oh Daphne, this was hilarious! It is funny about how much technology has infiltrated our lives over the last 10-15 years and how easily we forget what it was like. Finding a payphone these days is pretty darn difficult.

Tammie said...

a few months back the boy had to do a research paper for science and only one resource could be a website, the rest had to be actual books so we had to trek to the library. honestly, it took 2 hours trying to find the info we needed. i know i could have found all i needed at home within 5 minutes.

my dad had a car phone for his business (or so he said) when i was a teenager. i HATED that thing. anytime i went anywhere i had to lug it with me. of course all my friends thought it was cool but i wasnt allowed to let them use it because the charges were too expensive. i dont think there were cell phone plans the way there is today, i think he got charged per call.

also, you may hate me for this, but i secretly hope you dislike 95%of the books you read because i love reading your reviews of less than stellar books.

Daphne said...

I can see *why* you wouldn't want to write your whole research paper from the web -- it's hard to attribute sources and such. But still. The library is a great thing, but ack, so hard to look stuff up!!

I think it is so funny that you want me to read crappy books. Well, apparently I have a talent for it, so I will be reading more crappy books in the future. :)

Liz said...

Loved your remark about lack of cell phones. I was just thinking the other day about books (especially mysteries) before cell phones and texting had come into play, and how different some of those books are from the ones today. I guess I was just ruminating about plotting and how technology and technological advances are so much a part of the plot these days. Very funny.

Unlike you, I love thrillers, and mysteries too. (I also love all kinds of other books, but I do love my thrillers.) I think you should try some more! For a great, fast-paced thriller (though admittedly graphic and violent) check out "They Never Die Quietyly" by D.M. Annechino. Quite chilling -- it's about a female homicide detective who's heading a task force investigating serial killings in San Diego. You'll be grabbed from the first page and then you'll just have to keep going.

Liz said...

I forgot to add that I went through a Ludlum phase several years ago; listened to a bunch on tape. Then -- I just stopped. Don't even know why.

And the comment about Ludlum cradling the cell phone made me laugh.

Daphne said...

Liz: I wish I loved thrillers and mysteries more -- whole new genres to explore! I do like them occasionally (and I did like Bourne, mostly). I'll check out the Annechino. Perhaps disturbingly, I like them best when they are extra harsh. I'll check it out!

~ The Jolly Bee ~ said...

Have you read Sue Grafton? She does that alphabet mystery series. Anyhow, I think she started the series in the 1980s and now, 20+ years later, she's stuck in the eighties. In one novel, she had to explain this -- and why her main character did not have a cell phone at her disposal.

Daphne said...

Bee: no, I haven't read her, but I know some people really like her books. That's funny that she's stuck in the 80s. I'm really glad I'm not stuck in the 80s, although sometimes I see the kids fashion and I feel like I am!