Book Review: The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum

The Bourne Identity Ludlum


Genre: Spy Thriller

Publishing Info: 2004 by Orion Books Ltd. (originally published in 1980 by Grafton Books)

Pages: 566

Star Rating: 3.5/5


Back Cover Summary:

He has no past. And he may not have a future.
All he knows is that he was fished out of the Mediterranean, his body riddled with bullets. Evidence shows that plastic surgery has altered his face. Implanted beneath the skin on his hip is a frame of microfilm. And on the film is a number which leads to a bank account in Zurich, the name Jason Bourne . . . and four million dollars.

Suddenly Bourne is the target of assassins, and at the heart of a deadly puzzle. In a world of murderous conspirators, he’s fighting for survival as he tries to uncover the layers of his buried past. No one can help him – except the one woman who once wanted to escape him.


As a big fan of the Jason Bourne film trilogy starring Matt Damon (let’s pretend the other two didn’t happen), I was excited to read the original text for the first time. However, it quickly becomes apparent that the two can be easily separated for material, the reasons for which become clearer the further you proceed into the novel. The openings of both are the same: a man is found in the middle of the sea by a fishing boat, a man who has no memory of who he is and how he got into that situation. Though the novel and film are thematically similar, the plots deviate hugely, which is to be expected when adapting a 500+ page novel into a 2 hour feature film.

The novel is essentially divided into three parts, with each part possessing its own characteristics. Whilst the first part, with the mystery surrounding Bourne’s identity and fairly exciting action sequences, and the third part, that cumulates in an intense meeting with the protagonist, the middle segment falls flat slightly. When a thriller novel is longer than most, the time when the stakes are not at their highest possible increases. Part two suffers from a repetitive spell that goes on for a fairly lengthy period. The readers’ instincts for a novel like this are to catch on to every little detail but a lot of these become irrelevant by the conclusion. There is an over-abundance of characters that Bourne comes into contact with and Ludlum uses many solely to develop the plot, which made me care less as to their fates. This is something that the 2002 film adaptation has over this text, streamlining the many characters into a few well-rounded individuals.

This is the only major criticism I have of this generally well-constructed narrative. The action sequences are quite gritty and the tendency Ludlum has to over describe everything is a major plus point here. It feels like the audience are reading the surroundings in as much as detail as someone with the training of Bourne. This effect isn’t reserved for the intense action sequences either. The author also does well to convey the confusion and emotional states of someone who is both intrigued and scared by what he will discover about his past. The repetition of italicised phrases become as embedded in the audience’s minds as that of the protagonist, the meanings to which become revealed in a satisfying way in the final sections.

As a whole I would definitely recommend this book as it is a real page turner, excepting a few sections in the middle. If any readers of this were to read this having already seen the film adaptation, I would suggest that you put all expectations of how the plot develops to the back of the mind. Just sit back and enjoy the journey that Ludlum and Bourne take you on.


  1. I agree highly with your comment about the film adaptation. The Jason Bourne in the books is so far from the Matt Damon character on screen. Even the plot of the first book is much different. Great book. I wish I could find my copy so I could dive in again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am definitely interested as to how the literary Bourne saga continues compared to the film adaptations, though I have heard mixed things about the rest of the series. This book has definitely set a high bar for the follow-ups.

      Liked by 1 person

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