Monday, 12 April 2010

The Bourne Identity - and how words can create the feeling of being out of control

It's a while since I posted on any books, though I have just started A Short History Of Nearly Everything, which is bascially the most important discoveries/theories in science wonderfully explained and told in lots of brilliantly amusing asides about eccentric or exceptional human beings.

On a different note I have been meaning to post about 1980 novel The Bourne Identity. Here are some quick points about the kind of fiction the thriller delves into, and ways I noticed the brilliant use of language:
  • Plot: To me, the idea of this thriller is instantly fascinating - a black ops-trained soldier with amnesia having to investigate himself while protecting himself from unknown killers.
  • Mystery & character: The opening chapters are curious, as the unnamed “patient” recovers from his wounds, and begins to suspect his involvement in something violent. Who was he? And where has he got his skills in deception, combat and his (vital) self-protective instinct, which helps him see (sometimes desperate) ways out of the various situations he gets into? Wouldn’t it be better for others if he didn’t keep impacting their lives and causing them danger? What about the money he finds in a Swiss bank account belonging to him? These sort of questions give “Bourne” a huge guilt complex, and a strand which runs throughout is the danger of him flipping and ending it all in one more suicidal mission.
  • Differences to the films: Writer Robert Ludlum connects “Bourne” with an objective that at times becomes his obsession: he is “Cain” an incredibly last-ditch effort by various CIA groups to bring to an end one man’s stranglehold on Europe. We learn why Bourne has been living a dangerous life mixed with assassination – his part in a larger game-plan… wildly different to his purpose in the films, and giving a new meaning to the “mark of Cain”.
  • Creating emotional and physical chaos in language: Ludlum throughout seems to be at his best in those rare moments when he draws us into the mind of the man known as Bourne, who often tries to keep people shut out and is described simply doing things. But in the midst of chaos or personal confusion we hear his internal voice: "For God's sake. I don't know you! I don't know me! Help me! Please, help me!" (p.50) Or his view is melded with the action, as he is gunned for, cornered, seeing no way out. 
Take this section, showing both Bourne’s heightened ‘war-zone’ senses and his madness, as the situation becomes merged with a conflict from the past, in the Vietnam province of “unremembered Tam Quan” (p.554).
“Bourne rose to his feet, his back pressing against the wall, with flare in his left hand, the exploding weapon in his right. He plunged down into the carpeted underbrush, kicking the door in front of him open, shattering silver frames and trophies that flew off tables and shelves into the air. Into the trees. He stopped; there was no-one in that quiet, sound-proof elegant room. No-one in the jungle path.

He spun around and lurched back into the hall, puncturing the walls with a prolonged burst of gun-fire. No-one.

The door at the end of the narrow, dark corridor. Beyond was the room where Cain was born. Where Cain would die, but not alone.” (p.556)
Surroundings become scenery as on a set, tools which can be “punctured” with bullets, unimportant. Bourne is on a mission. Fierce intention drives him. He will die, but so will his enemy – Cain will not die alone. And this will bring everything to an end. This mahogany jungle will witness a resolution to the war began by men in suits in the ‘elegance’ of organised and secure offices. This chaos is erupting into the world where it was unleashed. Moments like this mix hyper-reality (the gun in the left hand, the doors opening, the detail of the rooms) with the surreal of Bourne’s imagination – and they are the payoff from the long build-up. Will Cain ever escape this world of tension, and constant danger? Who else will bear his mark, his mark of death, and no guarantee of safety wherever he goes?

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