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James Bond Novel - Saibal Chatterjee - The Sunday Indian
 
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James Bond Novel

 

A rusty spy delivers more spills than thrills
SAIBAL CHATTERJEE | New Delhi, January 24, 2014 13:57
Tags : James Bond Novel |James Bond Novel |
 

Accra-born novelist and screenwriter William Boyd knew James Bond inside out. But when commissioned by the Ian Fleming estate to write a new thriller, he is reported to have read all the stories in chronological order all over again in order to decide how he would approach the task of bringing the M16 secret agent back to life.

Boyd is also thoroughly acquainted with Africa, a continent where he spent his formative years. So, it is not surprising at all that his shot at extending the adventures of the world’s best-known fictional secret spy ends up in that part of the world, away from the Cold War that provided the narrative underpinning of Fleming’s bestsellers and the hugely successful movies that have enjoyed currency for over half a century.

Bond is sent by M to an imagined West African country called Zanzarim, which is inhabited by two dozen tribes. Two of the tribes are at loggerheads and the land is ravaged by civil war. A dispute over oil reserves discovered oil in the country’s delta region has led to the creation of a breakaway nation called the Democratic Republic of Dahum.

Bond’s mission is to infiltrate the rebel militia and neutralize it. His primary target is Brigadier Solomon “The Scorpion” Adeka, the African Napoleon, a soldier responsible for Dahum’s astonishing resilience – “A military prodigy who was somehow contriving to inflict defeat upon defeat on an army ten times the size of his”.

The action that takes place there, and then in other parts of the world, including Washington DC, does not quite possess the crackling energy and pace of the James Bond movies.

Boyd avowedly modeled the invincible hero on the character created by Ian Fleming rather than on the figures that the movies projected. As a result, Boyd’s Bond comes across more as a dry civil servant than as MI6’s dynamic go-to man.

He doesn’t wield the weapons that Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig have popularized and does not drive the cars of their choice. Neither does he drink the movie Bond’s fabled martinis, settling for more sedate spirits like whiskey (with soda), beer and brandy.
That is not crime surely, but a James Bond without the explosive, edge-of-the-seat encounters is a very drab James Bond indeed. So, is William Boyd’s Solo not up to scratch? Far from it.

The book has a dense enough plot to keep the reader interested in the twists and turns that constitute this adventure set in 1969, all of six years after Fleming’s final novel was set.

Bond is older, wiser and more mature. The story opens after the spy with a licence to kill has celebrated his 45th birthday. But he still hasn’t lost his generic bon vivant – a glad eye, an inclination to jump into bed with anything in skirts, panache for expensive cars, and a taste for good cuisine.   
   
Boyd taps his knowledge of Africa – he was raised in Ghana and Nigeria – to good effect and creates the setting pretty vividly. Unfortunately, neither the hero nor the principal antagonist has the gritty toughness that makes the better Bond tales irresistible.

It certainly isn’t a pretty spectacle to catch James Bond fretting over his hairdo. “Bond combed his hair, smoothing back the forelock that kept falling forward out of position, as if it had a life of its own. Maybe he should change his hairstyle, he wondered, idly, like that television presenter – what was his name? – and comb his hair forward in a short fringe, not bother with a parting at all…,” goes the narrative.

A more human, everyday man might make for a good provincial private eye, but an international, peripatetic secret agent? Strategizing over how to comb his hair or what he should have for breakfast or even ogling at provocatively attired women ill behoves a gentleman whose job is to keep order in the world at large!

Solo has two key villains. One is millionaire Hulbert Linck. The other, the principal antagonist of the novel, is Kobus Breed, a Rhodesian mercenary with a disfigured face and a perpetually weeping eye.

The ingredients for a classic confrontation are all there in Solo. If they do not come together as effectively as they should have it is primarily because the psychopathic Breed, despite the reprehensible ways in which he fishes in troubled waters, does not exactly breed the fear and foreboding in the hearts of the readers. He is singularly bereft of charisma.

Pretty much the same could be said of Bond himself. He neither shakes nor stirs the reader. Be that as it may, Solo is an agreeable read, if only to understand how brilliant Fleming’s unabashedly escapist tales were.

Author : William Boyd
Publisher : Random House
EDITION: Paperback
ISBN: 978-0-224-09748-2
PAGES: 322
PRICE: Rs 599

Author: William Boyd

Edition: Paperback

ISBN: 978-0-224-09748-2

Pages: 322

Price: Rs. 599

Publisher: Random House


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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017