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The Bourne Supremacy - Robert Ludlum
Member Name: SWSt
The Bourne Supremacy - Robert Ludlum
Advantages: Strong, well-developed characters in exciting, but realistic situations
Disadvantages: Size and complexity of the book will put some people off
Sometimes, reading a book when you have already seen the film (or vice versa) can be anti-climactic. Since you know the key plot revelations and set pieces, you spend the whole book anticipating certain developments, rather than concentrating on the bit you are actually on. With The Bourne Supremacy, I didn't know what to expect and so began every chapter with a sense of interest and curiosity, wondering what was about to unfold.
The essential plotline can be simply told. A lethal assassin, calling himself Jason Bourne, commits a series of murders in Hong Kong. Meanwhile the real Jason Bourne (now working as a college lecturer) returns home to find his wife kidnapped and is told the only way to get her back is to track down and capture the imposter.
It might be possible to summarise the overarching plot quickly, but the fine details of how events unfold are incredibly complex. Author Robert Ludlum unleashes a labyrinthine plot involving all sorts of shady government agencies, double-crossings, former allies turned enemies and former enemies turned ally. The plot twists and turns like an eel caught on a fishing line and, just when you think you have worked out where everything is heading, Ludlum pitches in another curve ball to throw you off-balance.
Yet, despite the many convoluted twists, you always have at least a general idea of what is going on, who is on which side and why characters are behaving in the way that they are. Ludlum marshals his characters and plotlines very skilfully, weaving them all together to blend a deep, satisfying and, yes, at times, mildly baffling plot. Where there is confusion and bewilderment, this is actually a positive thing, not a negative. It's not the bad type of confusion you get with poorly written or badly plotted book; it's that positive confusion where you don't know what is going on because Bourne hasn't unravelled the mystery yet. Any confusion is tinged with the sense of anticipation that eventually everything will become clear, and that the more pieces of the jigsaw are uncovered, the clearer the picture will become.
This gives the book a constant momentum which sees it rarely pause for breath. As with all the best thrillers, it races from one crisis or plot development to the next, allowing the reader enough time to understand what is going on and how events slot together, but never pausing for so long that the reader gets bored.
It also helps that there is a strong sense of continuity between the first and second books. The Bourne Supremacy feels like a genuine sequel, rather than just a second book featuring the same characters. Based on what you already know abut them, characters act as you would expect when faced with particular situations. Each of the returning characters has been changed as a result of their experiences in The Bourne Identity and those changes feel genuine and realistic. Marie, for example, has learned some of Bourne's basic survival skills so that she can now run and hide from pursuers; Bourne has learned to trust at least some people and not view everything in terms of mission objectives or targets. It's this progression of characters which helps them to feel very human, which in turn, helps the reader to identify with them. Each individual is shaped by the events they witness, even as they try to shape the events.
In book form, Ludlum obviously has far more time to develop characters, explore the often complex and contradictory relationships between them and make the fractured nature of Bourne's psyche far more obvious to the reader. This has a significant emotional impact as you invest a great deal more in the characters, wanting to see them survive or die, depending on how you feel about them.
Hand in hand with the strong plot and character development is an excellent sense of atmosphere and tension. I know very little about the book's setting, nor about the situations he describe, but they all feel utterly plausible. Within the context of the book, he creates a very real and very believable universe which both supports and drives forward the main plot.
Ludlum uses setting and atmosphere to good effect, building in regular set pieces to keep the excitement levels high, whilst balancing these with plot developments. Barely a chapter goes by without someone trying to kill Bourne, or him having to try and escape from a particularly nasty situation; yet this never becomes tiresome because each escape reveals another vital clue which takes him one step closer to his objective. Ludlum's careful balancing of plot with action makes the Bourne books just as much fun as their celluloid counterparts, albeit for different reasons.
There are plenty of people who will not get on with The Bourne Supremacy. There will be those who are put off by the book's monstrous size (almost 700 pages in the paperback version) and will never as far as starting to read it. There will be those who do start reading but will be dismayed to find that the book is not simply the film written down. Finally, there will be those simply find the complexities of the plot too much of a struggle. There will be many readers who fall by the wayside with this one for all sorts of reasons.
If you can overcome these three hurdles, you will find a gripping, well-written and convoluted tale that has a real sense of both plot and character development. Get to grips with those and you will soon find yourself immersed in Jason Bourne's shady and deadly world and devour this book eagerly, despite its humongous size.
The Bourne Supremacy
Orion, New Edition, 2004
© Copyright SWSt 2010
Summary: Shares only its name with the film, but is just as good, if not better.