Thursday, June 12, 2008

Bondishness

My verdict on Devil May Care, Sebastian Faulks channeling Ian Fleming for the latest Bond installment? Not bad, but seriously undermotivated....

I have not read Fleming for a long time, but I still think that the best of his novels are amazingly good, short and coiled and full of springy momentum: there's a real energy to them. I am a great admirer of Faulks's books, too; I think that Engleby and Charlotte Gray are my two favorites, but I like all of 'em a lot. The magic, however, is not there this time round...

It's partly, I think, that Faulks hews so close to Fleming's line that it feels like pastiche. (I agree with pretty much everything that this reviewer says.) And it raises the question of whether one really wants to read Bond pastiche, especially with the implicit racism/xenophobia that's an inevitable part of this kind of novel (I am not a monster of political correctness, I will unscrupulously reread older fiction steeped in now-suspect attitudes, but it seems to me somewhat odd that Faulks really felt like sitting down and writing this stuff!):
As the plane began its descent, Bond looked out of the window and lit a cigarette. Away to his left, he could see the tops of the Elburz mountains and, beyond them, a faint blue smudge that must be the southern waters of the Caspian Sea. Work had never previously taken him to the Middle East, and for this he was thankful. He regarded the lands between Cyprus and India as the thieving centre of the world. He'd visited Egypt as a child, when he was too young to remember, and had once spent a few days' leave in Beirut, but had found it little more than a smugglers' den--of diamonds from Sierra Leone, arms from Arabia and gold from Aleppo. It was true that the Lebanese women had been far more modern in their attitudes than he'd expected, but he'd been pleased to get back to London
In short, as I say, not bad, but you can do much better in this vein (and really the trouble it is not funny enough, it is butter-wouldn't-melt rather than properly tongue-in-cheek).

I am thinking I might reread some Fleming, but I would also steer the Abondoned reader towards the absolutely and altogether excellent and amusing and delightful The Atrocity Archives and The Jennifer Morgue--only the second is explicitly Bondian, but they both offer a great fix for the spy-deprived--by Charles Stross, who was nicely profiled/interviewed in the Guardian earlier this week. Or towards Kevin Wignall or Peter Temple, if you want top-quality international suspense fiction of a more serious kind. Or, indeed, towards Lee Child, who seems to me to be writing books that are more imaginatively in the spirit of the best of Bondishness than anything more literally Bonded.

(I have not read Charlie Higson, but I must confess that I am curious, I must get hold of those books and see whether I like 'em. In fact despite all of this cavilling I quite enjoyed Faulks/Fleming and have made a mental note to procure at the library the Fleming novel which was always my favorite, though it is uncharacteristic of the Bond oeuvre as a whole: The Spy Who Loved Me! Because really in the universe of Light Reading, about 60% of all novels have female first-person narrators....)

(Thanks to Gautam for making sure the book arrived in my hands at the earliest possible moment.)

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