Tuesday, October 13, 2009

New Bond vs Real Bond

As the last post indicated, I have completed my 52 books for the year. Of greater relevance, to this post at least, is that the penultimate book was the final original James Bond novel, while the last was the new Bond novel by Sebastian Faulks.

So, how did it stack up?

Well, for about two-thirds of the novel, it actually holds up very well. The plot feels like something Fleming would have used, Bond feels about right, and all the requisite elements are in place. Although it never felt quite right - in the first chapters, he seemed to be trying just a bit too hard to mark this as a 'Bond' novel, and throughout the novel didn't have quite the same feel - I guess the difference between the Martini being shaken, and it being stirred. There was a certain world-weary bitterness about the Fleming Bonds that wasn't really in evidence here. Oh, and he didn't manage to capture the casual sexism of Fleming's work. (Normally, that would be a good thing, of course. However, when trying to emulate a style, it's a liability.)

However, where it was good, it was very good. Fleming was an outstanding travel writer, and Faulks managed to emulate that very well. He seemed to go on just a little long, but it was a good effort. And, as I said, up until about two-thirds of the way through the novel it felt about right.

Then it all came crashing down. You know the plot: Bond gets captured, the villain explains his insane scheme for world domination, Bond somehow foils him, the end.

Except, that's the plot of the many Bond movies. Most of the novels are more inventive than that. (And, annoyingly, it seems that there's a trend there when people seek to emulate the old-school - they emulate everything about it, except where the old-school was actually being cutting-edge and inventive.)

So, "Devil May Care" suddenly becomes "Bond by numbers", making it extremely predictable. It also breaks several stylist elements of the Fleming novels (notably, those novels almost never move away from Bond as the focus character; certainly never to other 'heroic' characters). Then there are the continuity errors, which are barely noticeable... unless you've just finished reading the other novels.

Oh, and then there's the denouement. It seems Faulks didn't quite know how to end his novel, so he stole a bit from here, a bit from there, put it all together, and it almost works. But the big problem is not the plot here, although that's annoyingly routine, but rather the style. One of the best things about the Bond novels is that they generally start quite fast, then they really get going, Bond saves the day... and then they end. They don't linger on for three more chapters, as this one does.

It's a pity. As I said, the first two-thirds of the novel is really good, and very close to the intended feel. It just falls apart rather spectacularly.

(Funnily enough, two days ago, I was about to write a post much like this one, but decided to hold off until I was finally done. That draft ended with the request: more of this please. Now, I'm less keen; I think perhaps it's best to leave the Bond novels to stand alone.)

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