Sunday, 17 August 2014

The Bourne Ascendancy (Jason Bourne # 12) - Book Review

 Eric Van Lustbader’s Jason Bourne has had a checkered journey, starting off with a de-aged version of himself in The Bourne Legacy (Book#4), a far cry from Ludlum’s portrayal of him as a man who was losing his edge in The Bourne Ultimatum – a hero with no more adventures left inside him, except – may be – on the demands of the publisher.

Bourne, with his world-saving antics and his stubborn refusal to be outshined by any modern assassin, had an exhilarating run in Legacy, but things kept moving along in Bourne’s life and a time came when Lustbader’s own creations began to push him backstage.

No doubt, Lustbader has been brilliant in writing thrillers that are built of layers and layers of intrigue – sometimes hard to follow, with a plethora of characters and plot twists at every turn – but he definitely loved Leonid Arkadin (a hitman arguably Bourne’s equal in The Bourne Sanction (Book#6)) much more than Bourne, just as he replaced Cactus with Deron as Bourne’s supplier of guns, fake documents and gadgets - a rather hostile takeover of Robert Ludlum’s most memorable hero.

This fact somewhat diminished the appreciation of the Bourne series for me, and perhaps for many more readers. After all, why would I want to read about every character in The Bourne Deception (Book#7) being puppeteered by Arkadin while Bourne remains in the shadows? But Bourne being the hero of the series must win, so Arkadin must be upstaged in a respectable way, but not before three books have already elapsed. 

I regained my faith in the series with The Bourne Imperative (Book#10), a brilliant tale of the incomparable (once again, at last) Bourne pitted against a ruthless and powerful nemesis, an assassin of legendary talent (Ilan Halevy, the Babylonian) and a weird replica of himself. It was like revisiting The Bourne Identity. Did this revival of Bourne (for me, again) had something to do with Lustbader going back to the roots of Ludlum’s Bourne, his amnesia? Possibly.

Lustbader’s thrillers have some features which are always present: a plot spanning many countries (with beautiful descriptions of places, people and culture, albeit laced with personal prejudices), the current geopolitical scenario and international problems being drawn upon (Israel-Palestine conflict, Syrian uprising, Mexican drug-cartels, activities of FARC in Columbia, Iranian problem, Mossad and more), stream-of consciousness of every major character, mutual conflicts of ambitious politicians and bureaucrats and their one-upmanship, and Bourne being the pawn who is somehow always drawn into the dragnet. 

The Bourne Ascendancy is not an exception. This time round, Lustbader weaves a plot straddling Syria, Israel, Afghanistan, the US and Singapore. One of the most interesting aspects of the story is a philandering president, a spoof of the Clinton-Lewinsky affair and another ‘nothing-is-what-it-seems’ play with the characters. A weak aspect of the book - in fact, many of his books - is his obdurate attempt to include as many people (of diverse nationalities and loyalties) and terrorist outfits as possible, Bourne thereby getting lost in the maze of Syrians, Taliban and Pakistanis, while the basic theme of the book acquires centre-stage after such a series of prolix events – overstretched and often incredible – that I began to lose patience with the book. 

A major contributor to the tome of this book (it is 451 pages) is Camilla’s story, the Monica Lewinsky-alter ego whose thoughts, emotional conflicts, realizations and epiphanies seemingly turn her into someone even bigger than Bourne himself.

Bourne does emerge victorious, but only after moving at a snail’s pace along a plot that doesn’t turn out as the swashbuckling finale I was expecting. Bourne about to kill the American President at the behest of a terrorist – on pain of a beloved’s death – it all should have been as much of a cliff-hanger as the unlikely Khan-Bourne team out to eliminate the arch-villain in Legacy, or even Ludlum’s fake Jason Bourne (Major Alcott Price in The Bourne Supremacy) planning a hit on a prominent man in China, but it fizzles out, quite like Bourne and Rebecca’s attack on Semid Abdul Qehar’s fortress in The Bourne Dominion

Bourne and Mary - The Bourne Identity

I do like the Rebecca-Bourne love undertones, though. It should have occupied more space. Since the death of Mary, the lonely, inadvertent assassin (or ‘Blacksmith,’ his latest spy-lingo occupation) does need a lovely woman to turn to in the midst of all the guns, blood and gristle.  

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