by Robert Ludlum
I blame Doug Liman. The bastard made two films of such spectacular excellence (Swingers and Go) that I was willing to go and see his third, The Bourne Identity despite the major alarm bells set off by it's a) being an undistinguished mainstream action thriller of the sort that usually bore me comprehensively shitless, and b) starring Matt Damon. Still, I went along, and it was, you know, okay. The plot zipped along energetically, there were some effective action scenes, the whole thing had a commendable sense of cool, and most refreshingly for such a movie there were likeable, charming and reasonably well-rounded characters. Even if one of them was played by Matt Damon.
But that's not what we're talking about here. We're talking about something far more disturbing. We're talking about the book.
So, there I was in Australia. If you've ever spent any amount of time travelling in a sorry-ass skint stylee, you'll know that books amongst backpackers are like cigarettes in prison. I was therefore pretty pleased with myself then when I managed to score not one but three of Robert Ludlum's Bourne novels to see me through the three-day non-stop train journey from Perth back to Melbourne. That ought to keep me busy, I thought. Look, I liked the movie, OK? I thought the books would be much the same. I was envisaging a nice binge on lightweight but compelling intrigue-packed narrative. Maybe something a little like Ian Fleming. Anyway, I was feeling pretty good about it.
Oh sweet Jesus.
Somewhere around Bendigo, with about two-and-a-half train days still ahead of me, I started to realise I had made a really, really horrible mistake. I'm not going to go into great detail, but suffice to say that staring out a window at 3000 miles of the utterly blank, flat and featureless Nullarbor plain seemed like a much better option. Now, I grew up reading american comic books, so I figure I have a pretty high tolerance level for bad writing. I made it through 12 issues of Tom Defalco's Lost Gods, for fucks sake. (Note for our less literate readers: if you have no idea who Tom Defalco is, or what the 'lost gods' might be, THANK YOUR LUCKY FUCKING STARS.) but this was like nothing I'd ever experienced before. A book so bad as to be actually unreadable. And this is (apparently) a global bestseller! That paradox alone left me feeling confused and more than a little frightened for a long time after. And I don't even want to go into Ludlum's approach to sexual politics, except to say that if you are a woman and you ever happen to find yourself asked out to dinner by Robert Ludlum I strongly advise you not to go.