An amnesiac action hero who battles a mystifying web of enemies, Jason Bourne has outlived his author. David Samuels considers the enduring appeal of the kicking, punching, paranoiac babe in the woods.
David Samuels in The National:
The news that there is yet another new novel out featuring the amnesiac action hero Jason Bourne is not all that surprising, despite the fact that Bourne’s creator, Robert Ludlum, is dead. Since Ludlum’s demise in 2001, his hero has appeared in four new books, which is one more Bourne novel than Ludlum wrote during his lifetime. Appearing at the rate of nearly one per year, the new Bourne adventures, written by Eric Van Lustbader, are an attempt to capitalise both on the popular action movies starring Matt Damon and on the uneasily repressed paranoia that has suffused American popular culture since the September 11 terror attacks.
With over 290 million copies of his own novels in print, Ludlum can rightly be seen as the godfather of the paranoid style in American paramilitary entertainment. Whatever literary qualities his work may be lacking – beginning with unsteady sentences that can leave the reader wondering if the author is drunk – Ludlum was a skilled orchestrator of dramatic action scenes in which the forgetful but physically able hero is united with his surroundings in the all-embracing vision of a true paranoiac. Ludlum’s thrillers are the low-culture equivalent of Thomas Pynchon’s crack-brained high-end fictions, in which comic book characters inhabit a deterministic universe controlled by unseen hands. But where Pynchon’s plots are backdrops for the play of the author’s preoccupations with tarot cards, zeppelins and other Lewis Carroll-like amusements, Ludlum’s stories are games of chicken in which the author fights to keep a stiff upper lip in the face of characters who seem forever in danger of leaping free from the normal confines of the airport thriller and comporting themselves like ultra-violent versions of the singing, dancing characters in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg – declaiming odd lines of dialogue while kicking each other in the face and shooting flare guns in the air.