Monday, July 30, 2007

Rapt in each other's company

Richard Sandomir has a rather hilarious article in the Times today about the literary afterlife of Robert Ludlum:
The writers met at Mr. Morrison’s annual Christmas party in 1980, the year in which “The Bourne Identity,” and Mr. Lustbader’s “The Ninja,” were published. Mr. Lustbader said that they sat rapt in each other’s company in a corner at the party.

“We talked for hours about characters and story arcs and how to fashion a book in three acts, where one act outdoes the next one. We talked about being the only thriller writers who knew anything about characters and wrote about characters in our books.”

Mr. Weiner suggested to Mr. Lustbader that he write a Bourne novel, but he didn’t take the offer seriously until the plot for “The Bourne Legacy” (St. Martin’s Press) came to him while showering. He admired Bourne and believed that he understood what motivated him; he agreed to a deal with the estate in which he had no obligation to copy Mr. Ludlum’s italicized style, although his pacing and plotting are eerily similar to Mr. Ludlum’s. “The Bourne Legacy” has sold 272,000 hardcover and paperback copies, Nielsen BookScan reported.

“I wanted to preserve the essence of Bourne and his sense of honor,” Mr. Lustbader said. He refreshed Bourne by killing off characters who were central to Mr. Ludlum’s creation and made him ageless, which conforms to the possibility of the Bourne films continuing. James Bond, after all, doesn’t turn into an on-screen geezer; he gets replaced by a younger actor.

Mr. Ludlum sent Bourne into action three times between 1980 and 1990.

“He never intended Bourne to be a series,” Mr. Lustbader added, “so he gave Bourne a wife, Marie, and kids, and made him older. But you can’t have that with continuing characters. So with the O.K. from the estate, I wanted to kill off Marie by natural causes and have the kids shipped to her family in Canada. He needed to start the next chapter of his life.”

Mr. Lustbader’s “The Bourne Betrayal,” has sold 86,000 copies through July 20, and is currently No. 8 on the New York Times hardcover best-seller list.

I think I read one of these posthumous books (a rash airport purchase), though I couldn't tell you which; I wouldn't recommend it. This thing Lustbader's describing about "continuing characters" is exactly what I most disapprove of, it is always a bad thing when the hero doesn't age with the times, you end up with increasingly thinned-out characters because of the ways that even insignificant personal characteristics have a lot to do with the time and place a person grew up in--but I've got a real soft spot for the novels of Robert Ludlum (the Bourne ones are much the best), ever since they were pressed upon me by my dearly beloved high-school boyfriend.

Bonus link: Christopher Hitchens on the two sub-literary games he used to play with Salman Rushdie. The second involves reciting lines from Bob Dylan as if they are blank verse:
The first, not that you asked, was to re-title Shakespeare plays as if they had been written by Robert Ludlum. (Rushdie, who invented the game, came up with The Elsinore Vacillation, The Dunsinane Reforestation, The Kerchief Implication, and The Rialto Sanction.)

[ED.: A correction--thanks to the reader who sent this in! From Carol Blue's profile of Salman Rushdie, in the New Yorker issue of 13 May 1996: "Rushdie excels at what might be termed Shakespeare trivia. Once, in the course of a literary word game, he was challenged to rename a Shakespeare play as if it had been written by Robert Ludlum. He was asked, first, to retitle "Hamlet" in the style of the author of "The Bourne Ultimatum" and "The Scarlatti Inheritance." With no advance notice and almost no hesitation, he said, "The Elsinore Vacillation." A palpable hit but, the other participants thought, sheer luck. Bet you can't do it twice. What about "Macbeth"? "The Dunsinane Deforestation." More meditated offerings included "The Rialto Forfeit," "The Capulet Infatuation," "The Kerchief Implication," and "The Solstice Entrancement."" Blue is Hitchens' wife; they are clearly describing the same incident... It's like the stories about Samuel Johnson, you get these intriguingly oblique-to-one-another accounts by different people because he was so famous in later life for conversation that many listeners documented what he had to say in their journals afterwards; sometimes you can deduce him saying what was surely the same thing, only one listener forgets or did not understand the punchline...]


  1. Hi, I just wanted to say that I stumbled upon your blog due to the mention of Mieville a few posts back. Always nice to find a new interesting blog. (For my part, I thought Lustbader's ninja series (whatever it was called) became embarrassingly goofy by the third book...)

  2. Yes, very goofy, eh?!?

    A book I associate with that era of thrillers that I thought was kind of GREAT, though, was that Trevanian book SHIBUMI!