Wednesday, 9 January 2008

The Bourne Identity

One disappointing experience with an author can put you off for a long time, perhaps forever. Many years ago, my late father enjoyed an early thriller by Robert Ludlum, but when I tried it, I didn’t get beyond the first twenty pages or so and I was never tempted to try Ludlum again. But of course, it’s a mistake to be deterred too easily. I worry sometimes that if a reader didn’t enjoy an early book of mine, they will give up on me permanently, when all the time I’m trying (hard!) to get better.

Did I miss out by giving up so quickly? Well, Ludlum’s sales were in no way adversely affected by my lack of interest. By the time he died in 2001, he’d sold upwards of 200 million copies (estimates seem to vary; perhaps figures become meaningless by the time you reach that level) and I gather that more than a dozen ‘Robert Ludlum’ novels have appeared since then, apparently thanks to the efforts of various writers chosen by Ludlum’s estate to keep the torch burning.

At long last, I’ve been induced by the generally excellent reviews to sample the Bourne movie series starring Matt Damon and based on Ludlum’s most celebrated character, an amnesiac CIA man. And I thoroughly enjoyed The Bourne Identity – certainly enough to try the next in the series, and perhaps the books on which they were (very loosely, I guess) based.

Although I didn’t care for that one Ludlum book I tried so long ago, I do admire the thriller writer’s art, even when it’s practised by authors with relatively few literary pretensions, like Ludlum. The film tells a gripping story and there is plenty of focus on the character’s dilemma, as he tries to work out who he is, and how to survive the seemingly overwhelming forces stacked up against him, as well as on incident (the car chase is terrific, the love interest neatly handled.) First class light entertainment. I’m looking forward to watching the sequel soon.

There’s a real difference between thrillers and detective novels, by the way, though it’s not easy to define in a sentence. One of the best accounts of the distinction came from someone skilled at writing both, the late Michael Gilbert, in an essay called ‘The Moment of Violence’. It’s included in a book of essays that he edited called Crime in Good Company, and it remains full of insight, fifty years after it was written.


Anonymous said...

I've never read Ludlum but I enjoyed the films tremendously. There's a lot to be said for a good, solidly written thriller read that can whisk you away from mundane life - I'd rather read something like that than a ponderous book with literary pretentions. I think Robert Harriss' Fatherland fits into that category. Also, the Ripley novels - although I'm not sure what category they fall under!

Martin Edwards said...

I haven't read 'Fatherland', but I thought Harris's 'Enigma' was excellent, and the film not bad either - must have been a difficult book to adapt for the screen. I'd describe Highsmith's Ripley books as psychological suspense and of course she is a much better literary stylist than Ludlum. Again, the two relatively recent Ripley films I very much enjoyed.

Maxine Clarke said...

I once started a Ludlum book, years ago, but couldn't get on with it so stopped. We have enjoyed the movies on DVD, tough -- indeed I bought the Bourne trilogy (while still a trilogy) in omnibus edition at reduced price a year or two ago with a vague impluse that I might give him another try and/or that Cathy (my eldest daughter) might like to read him. So far, no takers among us.
I recall reading quite a few books by Richard Condon at that time, and enjoying those very much. The Manchurian Candidate is of course the one that sticks in the mind, but I read and enjoyed others. I enjoyed the old Laurence Harvey/Frank Sinatra movie, with Angela Lansbury playing against type. However, I recently watched the remake and hated it passionately -- mainly because the evil character was Meryl Streep being Hillary Clinton, and I found that tasteless and misogynistic. The earlier film was more of a straight thriller and all the better for it.

I have read quite a few of Robert Harris and always been mildly disappointed, though Enigma is my favourite and the film, though not sticking exactly to the book, is very good I agree. We've watched that as a family a couple of times on DVD.

Sorry to go on, nearly finished-- I don't usually read books in the genre of Ludlum/Condon these years, but recently I read one that I reviewed for Euro Crime, The Accident Man by Tom Cain, which is that "Diana's crash wasn't an accident" book. Although I have negative interest in the subject matter, the book was quite a good read, in fact very exciting, until the poor (sub-James Bond) final few chapters.