Book Review: The Bourne Supremacy

This time last year, I was writing a review for The Bourne Identity, the first in Robert Ludlum’s trilogy. As I discovered while reading that book, the storylines of the book and the movie series are incongruent. Other than being fairly similar in the characterization of the main character, Jason Bourne, the screen writers really took creative liberties with the plot. However, I think there is room for creative liberty, especially given that the movies jumped a few decades forward.

Bourne is basically James Bond and Jack Ryan — he can live (and kick butt) in any decade.

The Bourne Supremacy takes place in the mid 1980s and the plot is primarily set between Hong Kong and mainland China. These details are important. Reading this novel in 1986 when it was published, the East/West tensions of global politics would have been at the forefront of the reader’s mind. Given that I wasn’t born until the 90s, I had to constantly revert to my limited historical knowledge of China to remind myself that the country being written about was not operating in the 1980s as it is now.

While the crux of the previous book was Jason Bourne (née David Webb) recovering his memory, avoiding the fate of a body bag and tenuously falling in love with Canadian economist Marie St. Jacques, this book follows Bourne/Webb and his now wife Marie as they get yanked out of provincial academic life in Maine to hunt down an allegedly dangerous taipan who is threatening to destabilize politics, particularly between the at that time UK-controlled Hong Kong and China.

“Control. Such a simple word. Such an incredible demand.”

The Bourne Supremacy (1986) p. 79

Throughout the story Bourne/Webb constantly battles an identity crisis, often reverting to his assassin-spy background. There are quite a few main characters who are perplexingly portrayed as double-triple-quadruple agents. Not to mention that Ludlum often sprinkled entire sentences in Mandarin without providing a translation. If it sounds confusing, it’s because it is!

What I appreciate about the Bourne series (or at least the two books I’ve read so far) is that the author does not skimp on details or dumb down dialogue. In the past few years, I’ve largely avoided modern literature because many of the books I was reading felt oversimplified in narrative and prose. When I dive into a book, I like to be challenged in my critical thinking skills while enhancing my vocabulary. In both matters The Bourne Supremacy did not disappoint. In fact, I’m already looking forward to the third and final installment of Ludlum’s magnum opus: The Bourne Ultimatum!

This book may be for you if you also like: The Bourne Identity (book); the Jason Bourne movies; China and/or Hong Kong; Matt Damon; James Bond and/or Jack Ryan franchises; The Amazing Race (tv series).


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