A literary mediation by Jacques Stewart
One has to pick the right moment to say goodbye.
Also, the proper goodbye to say, be it to a beloved pet in a ditch-bound binbag, to a less-beloved relative going alongside it (bag one, get one free, too tempting to ignore), to one’s children scattering to University and to one’s money disappearing with them. Goodbye is not the hardest word to say; the hardest word to say is “specificity”. Goodbye is a hard thing to mean, if you misjudge what you inflict with it. At one end, it shorthands “Oblige Me By Fornicating Off and Dying in Pain, Immediately”, in the Goodbye, Mr Bond sense, the opposite of the oily dollop within Goodbye, Mr Chips (unless I’ve misunderstood both). Between, betwixt and around those gambol:-
– the casual b’byes one uses with “friends” (whatever they are), with re-helloing imminent, although I tend to be in the Goodbye, Mr Bond bracket as articulated above;
– ending a ‘phone call, although I tend to be in the Goodbye, Mr Bond bracket as articulated above;
– the apology at the end of a relationship, having failed to worm one’s way out by all other means including “some” poison and “some” knives, although I tend to be blah blah blah…;
– the celebratory goodbye as one watches a mighty Longship burn in the bay; and
– the equally final type when you spot one of your sprogs aboard it, screaming and a-smoulder, increasingly combustible. Although I tend to be in the Goodbye, Mr Bond etc…
So many varieties of pip-pip and tatty-bye that it can be difficult to get it just so. An excoriating message insinuating demonic sexual threat surely fails when expressing bereavement sympathy, but might be appropriate if e-mailed on your last day at work, and only definitely appropriate if you were making shovels rather than having resigned the Papacy. Last impressions count as much as first, and context is all for a final farewell. Rare the chance to repeat, to repair. In Octopussy and The Living Daylights, there are four goes at it. Botched jobs, given all the alleged “James Bond” since.
I’m not advocating – it’d be drivel – that these stories were (all) written as a parting of the ways. They were published to ensure a parting of us from the money and just happen to be in the last Bond cobbled together, leaving a residue of half-plots and character names scribbled onto a Chesterfields carton. Not even Glidrose / IFP could scrape such crumbs together as a viable publication (although they did emit Carte Blanche, so beware). The real farewell was The Man with the Golden Gun and we didn’t get a chance to say goodbye and nor did Ian Fleming, once the sky fell and his heart burst (…again). These tales are letters accompanying the Will, giving the beneficiaries four paths for James Bond, four ways to invest a legacy. That literary Bond has (largely) travelled only one road, the road least stony and paved towards easy cash by a series of fair-to-middling-to-dreadful films, opens up speculating how it would have been if the other options had been preferred, giving Octopussy and etc… substance to masticate. Artificial exercise, but unless you’re only joining in now (odd place to start, O fruitlet), be reassured that this isn’t “proper”. At least the conceit raises the book beyond a barrel-scraping grab-bag of greed, so embrace my “positivity”.
One of these stories promises – or doesn’t deny – “more adventures to come”, and it’s the least interesting one. The others demonstrate 007 had run his race, be it “Bond meeting his maker” (literally), Bond content to be dismissed or Fleming sending 007 shopping for socks. Given opportunity to nail the lid down, given none-too-subtle instruction in at least two of these tales that the game was up, either through bitterness or defeat or lack of ideas, guess which path they picked. It’s not hard; there are more “James Bond” stories written by others than there are James Bond stories written by Ian Fleming. The theme of the later Flemings – acquisition without suffering is sinister – is ignored by mendaciously blatting out “James Bond” continuations and, by deed and practice, such awful behaviour is endorsed. It’d be an idea for those responsible to read the books to establish their values above their value, instead of projectile vomiting more our way, one’s money spewed right back. Nos culpae.
The cash-cow could have been slaughtered in its prime; juicy, satisfying and a sacrifice at the optimum moment. Instead, on it lumberlimps, legs gone, the milk long sour and cheesy, the limbs leathery and cruelly prodded into excreting worm-ridden, maggoty pats. [It’s a pooh-pooh metaphor]. Is it fun to watch a once noble creature suffer miserably, crippled by BSE (Bond’s Senseless Extension) and extending its undeserved pain to us all? Is it right to encourage this?
What followed was ghoulish. Ouija-mes Bond delivering garbled messages from beyond the grave and, as with all mediumistic piffle, open to interpretations potentially plausible but probably a trick (Higson, Amis, Wood, Pearson, select Gardners), or bewilderingly drab and hardly worth the drama (Faulks, Boyd, far too many Gardners) or terrifying, soul-slaughtering and causing many a sleepless night (Deaver, Benson, Cole). With this final flourish of Fleming presenting a chance for oblivion oh-so-moist unto the palate, it’s thin to argue that any decision to continue was artistic. James Bond was not an unfinished symphony; the orchestra had packed up and, in one of these tales, he confirms this by shooting at them. Taken as a whole, Octopussy and etc… wasn’t steering “James Bond” in the direction into which it was wrenched in the pursuit of pounds. Cretins / optimists / people blinkered to what a piss-awful world it is / publishers desperate for dollar, might assert that each goodbye brings opportunity for a fresh hello. To such persons I say they are cretins / they are cretins / they are cretins / they are cretins and will eventually introduce us to the creative writings of a Raymond Benson, making them cretins of a particularly inconsiderate malevolence.
Saying goodbye presents opportunity to reflect. Admittedly, my daily courtesy to acquaintances musters less than a gnat’s cough of contemplation about the farewell, or the acquaintances. This sort of goodbye, the potentially permanent, may give those blissed in stupidity the chance to look forward to what comes next. Look forward to what? An explicit attempt to write as Ian Fleming. Overdenied, protesteth-too-much attempts to write like Ian Fleming. Baffling attempts to write like writing. Diminishing and diminished returns, all. Normal people might look back at what is lost. Might as well draw this specious experiment to a pause by drawing upon the 007th Chapters to establish what has gone and what might never be recaptured. Some of these are no great loss to a more enlightened populace, and more harm might be done by contriving to reawaken them “to bring Bond and his attitudes into the 70s! / 80s! / 90s! / new century! / back to 1968! / and 1934! / 8 B.C., where they belong!” than leaving them, and us, alone.
Casino Royale – High living, harsh thinking, much drinking. The incidental secret agent. For its time, daring undertones of heterosexuality.
Live and Let Die – A relentless assault on the senses. Particularly taste.
Moonraker – War’s over, so what can bored British gentlemen do? Weaponise the class system, that’s what.
Diamonds are Forever – Land of the brave, and the home of the freak.
From Russia, with Love – Assassination. Of character.
Dr No – Paternalism, environmentalism, colonialism, hyperrealism, tourism, counterculturalism, eudaemonism, colloquialism, alcoholism, supernaturalism, athleticism, nascent embolism.
Goldfinger – A bilious, spittle-flecked hatred of everything “other”, presumably as a “joke” and a warning about what happens when a creation starts to take precedence over a creator. Heeded? Exhibit A: Internet discussion boards and the persona one adopts.
For Your Eyes Only – Five different types of relationship joined by commonality of vitriol, failure and pain. All inhuman life is here. Mahvellous.
Thunderball – Strained and embarrassing comedy nonsense juxtaposed with absurd ultra mega-threat picking at a contemporary concern. We could make a film series out of that. As far as –isms go, query “plagiar-”?
The Spy who Loved Me – The underacknowledged variety of the author. N.B. variety doesn’t necessarily mean “good”. The James Bond films demonstrate variety and at least a dozen are an utter waste of even your life.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – Malevolent snobbery.
You Only Live Twice – Malevolent shrubbery.
The Man with the Golden Gun – Amateurism, eremitism, pococurantism, counter-imperialism, ostracism, dilettantism, alcoholism (again), homoeroticism, antagonism, all thwarted by aldosteronism.
Octopussy and The Living Daylights – No good about goodbye. Could give up. Fail to.
Unwarrantable seriousness for a midge: prior to this exercise, had you asked – had you dared – what I expected as core LitBond, I might have mentioned some of those. Or did I just know what I wanted to find and interpret it falsely, bend it to make a redundant point that due to intervening legislation outlawing discrimination on the basis of race, gender, disability and sexual orientation – the Four Horsemen of Ian Fleming – the continuations could come nowhere near this. Not seeing much of The Facts of Death in that list, save perhaps for the Thunderball one and that’s not wholly surprising given its quasi-novelisation nature. Do we get any of those things in the well-scrubbed “adventures” of Never Send Flowers or DoubleShot or their ilk? And yet the new books appear with tedious inevitability and “James Bond” stamped on them (if not in them). Absent the above, if those are potential touchstones of LitBond, is there much to distinguish non-Fleming “James Bond” from other adventure tales? Admittedly, if you were to write anything with those characteristics, you might not be published. Arrested, maybe. I’ll send a cake, although I do charge top-dollar for conjugal visits.
It’s often stated as an excuse for their attitudes that the Flemings were “of their time”. It shouldn’t be excused; it should be celebrated. What does High Time to Kill tell us of 1999, or Role of Honour of 1984 other than “micros” came in suitcases? Naff all, both. They neither rehearse the attitudes of the Flemings nor tie themselves closely to those of their own eras (if there were any), tumbling disconnected in a vacuum of bland. The ersatz efforts of Messrs. Faulks and Boyd put Bond back in his time, but one flecked through with 21st Century small-l liberal revisionism of the 1960s, at best knowing and ironic reproduction furniture rather than the echt Louis XV.
This isn’t suggesting that anything not written by Ian Fleming is terrible. Most books in human history were not written by Ian Fleming, and three are better (The Code of the Woosters, A Tale of Two Cities and William Shatner’s Tek Vengeance. That’s it). Some continuations are good books, but sullied by association with 007 (e.g. Solo). Some are decent James Bond, if that list has potential, but awful books (e.g. Devil May Care). Some are just awful (e.g. oh, you decide).
Not one of them is necessary.
Not suggesting they’ve dragged it down – much… – but equally not suggesting they’ve moved it along in a memorable or meaningful way. Either indicates total failure of impact. What is the cultural purpose of a continuation Bond? What purpose within the confines of “007”? When it comes to wishlisting a Bond film, it’s invariably a demand for the fishbones of Fleming – the Garden of Death, say, or smoking, misogyny and sweet tang of rape (internet people will have their little ways) – rather than the full body of anything “following”. Rare is the claim that Bond Twenty-N cannot be a proper 007 film unless it’s Death is Forever or if it comes without that hotel bedroom scene from [any Gardner, every Gardner] or the sex grim from Never Dream of Dying or what it really needs is that bit in Carte Blanche where… where… oh, I’ve forgotten… otherwise I WON’T WATCH IT. As unnecessary extensions, these monstrous carbuncles on the face of a much loved and elegant friend haven’t made impact even with us, never mind real people, so what’s the bleedin’ point other than cashing-in? Fine, the films have helped Fleming take “priority” in public awareness of written Bond but as they are (mostly) feeble as adaptations, the Flemings must have proved themselves to have other “qualities” to still be uppermost in the mind over fifty years on. The continuations pleading to be filmed – they know who they are – have been ignored, apparently on the basis that Eon are well-capable of producing their own mediocrities (they are). There’s a plausible argument that the films have picked at Mr Gardner’s stuff for years, a compliment repaid by the Bensons, but it amplifies that only a select few noticed or cared because the continuations haven’t achieved indelibility within “Bond”, and also that Eon are out of ideas. Upon which – SPECTRE, eh? Haven’t we done that?
Ian Fleming created not just a cultural icon but, given the way 007 pervades as a reference for so much, influenced a culture. It is, notably, “Ian Fleming’s James Bond” in the films, in much the same ways as it’s “Tom Clancy’s Op Centre” albeit written by algorithm. Mr Gardner was a fine writer – The Secret Generations is splendid, do read it – but faced with continuing a series of such influence, “continuing” suggesting seamless and similar effect and impact, could he? Really? At least he had the good grace to forget James Bond after half-a-dozen goes and thereafter present the duller Captain Boldman and although the books still said “James Bond”, it’s not dissimilar to calling something “The Bourne Legacy” and not having Jason Bourne in it. “Captain Boldman still operates in 007’s highly-charged world of adventure!”, it didn’t say. A world of hotel rooms, windcheaters, rope-soled moccasins, relentless treachery and much too SAAB-y for my liking, but some took to it.
Could anyone actually “continue” this? Consider that list above. It snuffed out when its creator did. Purporting to be James Bond and legally justified in so claiming, without the “official” hand on the tiller, aren’t they all of them Never Say Never Again? And again? And a-bloody-gain? The current trend to have “literary” writers du jour – and Mr Deaver – inflicting pre-packaged significance of their “names” onto it but adding sod-all else except “Some more James Bond; buy it, you saps” – amplifies that insofar as artistic relevance goes, literary Bond can’t of itself be impactful without stapling onto it reputations built elsewhere. We are left exposed to these cynical gimmicks that sell well enough but achieve bugger all for 007. Is “James Bond” capable of selling without a famous name elbowing him out of view? If not, why not? Is it because (oh, heresy) It. Is. Done. And. Cannot. Lawfully / Morally / Decently / Credibly. Be. Done. Again?
Was there a great untold Bond story left on 12 August 1964? If so, have any of the thirty-something subsequent attempts ectually hit on it? Truly? There was nothing left and, so this argument goes, Octopussy and etc. shows it. The likes of Solo are slumming, drawing the attention of the Great Unwashed to the artiste’s better works, like having an unexpected Nigel Hawthorne in Demolition Man or John Malkovich in (dear God) Con Air, or Daniel Craig in James Bond films. Albeit Fleming wasn’t writing for altruistic reasons – and definitely not for the good of his health – one suspects the key most worn away in producing these new ventures is not “E” nor Alt Gr (whatever that does), but SHIFT 3. Or SHIFT 4, should the dollar be stronger.
The next stage of this experiment shall approach the continuations, warily. If they don’t do [much of] what Fleming flung, what it is they do do? [Doo-doo? Another pooh-pooh metaphor? Let’s see. You could guess my attitude but golden sweetcorn might peek through. Am I stretching this imagery too far? Come now, it’s by reference to the… the mechanisation of written James Bond, the essence of taking things beyond their acceptable limit. Stop whining.].
I suspect this next comment won’t date: we get a new “James Bond” novel next year. Feel free to interpret my next comment as commensurate with the habitual meaning behind my farewells.
“Goodbye, Mr Bond”.
The Sixth 007th Paragraphs – 007 in New York: “It was around ten o’clock on a blue and golden morning…”
Those of you playing along could wonder why I haven’t picked this up at paragraph 36, for consistency with the For Your Eyes Only “one” and honouring the robustness of this process. Those of you who aren’t (and why on Earth not?) could still observe that in the editions of Octopussy and etc… that have “007 in New York” in them, it’s rarely first on the slab. To all of you persons, I reply: a ) shut your collective cakehole and b ) the story only has ten paragraphs, albeit two are insanely long, and another couple are cookery.
The “apology” goodbye, then. In “Thrilling Cities”, Fleming denigrated New York, although it was last on his itinerary and the old flopper was knackered. He laments the city losing its heart (an irony cruel to point out, but I am cruel, so put on that big old coping face of yours and embrace the day). This is a man who apologises for endorsing journalists’ sideswipes about corruption in New York, and for expressing sadness about America being “temporarily in poor health”, but doesn’t apologise for “All women love semi-rape” or every stinking word of Goldfinger. Hm. Although he does bang on about “the vast economic power held by women” and the deleterious effect on the family unit, so contrition was appropriate, albeit it’s weird to denigrate “escapism and flight from reality” given what he churned out and what it became. I wonder what he would think of Ms Broccoli’s multi-billion dollar vodka adverts promising escapism and flight from reality? Possibly not a vast amount, given the outcome of this story is that women are so hopeless a chap can’t even go to the shops without them causing particularly stupid trouble.
The homily in Thrilling Cities about the “abdication of free will to the chemical companies” – taken to extremes could be the foundation for a Bond story, perhaps? Was Mr Faulks indeed writing “as” Ian Fleming by embracing this in Devil May Care? Misunderstood book, or just coincidence? Ends with a wander around hotels, restaurants and name-dropping, including that of Stirling Moss, who I understand might appear in next year’s Only-In-It-For-The-Art runoff from Mr Horowitz. Still, I suppose it may have been a surprise to the contemporary reader that New York, with its potential for excitement, good living and bizarre sales taxes, was perceived as faded, rude and instilled “deep malaise” into an author otherwise total giddy sunshine by this stage of his life.
Whereas others might use petrol-station flowers or interpretive dance, Ian Fleming apologises through the medium of James Bond, and throws in a recipe for something eggy as a bonus. Still, insofar as things losing their heart go, putting James Bond – unstoppable super-agent and lethal sophisticate – in New York and having him draw up a shopping list indicates listlessness of the highest order. Fleming’s run out of things for Bond to do; 007 contemplates buying socks. It’s all go, round here. Such excitement in the city that never sleeps or, in my experience, in which it never stops raining. James Bond doesn’t do shopping. Shopping is vulgar. It is done for him. What’s May for, other than weak comedy? I have no need to see James Bond buying petrol or using a loyalty card or attacking a self-service till with a machete (although, y’know, if they have to make changes to Bond 24’s script because real villains have leaked it, it might be a popular scene). Having him think about toothbrushes is plebeian, if funny. Those who whine that the recent films have drabbed-up James Bond should steer clear. As apologies go, this is “not much of an”. Backhanded at best – New York has such malaise that it even renders James Bahnd a plodding dullard? Bit unfair. New York can be jolly, despite the smell, and there’s a splendid Cuban restaurant near Washington Square where they hand-roll cigars and ply one with mojitos and beyond that I don’t remember other than waking up in queens (decide whether a capital Q is significant).
“It was around ten o’clock on a blue and golden morning…” Joining the “action” in the thrombosis queue to get into the bleedin’ USA – know that feeling – things get lively straightaway with a paragraph lasting three pages. Little happens, but it’s the one place you don’t want to draw attention unless you gain glee from taking forced rectal hydration (you might; not judging) or administering it (am judging; you’re a pooh). The apology is questionable in describing this Gehanna and its “stupid” trolleys, “unnecessary” central heating and other laborious processes devised to annoy. The eventual twist – that there is no reptile house at the zoo – would seem to come loaded with the observation that it is unnecessary because the city is one big one. However, Bond keeps these thoughts to himself. Experience dictates that shouting that it’s inexcusably crap gets you ape-handled to the back of the queue and your green landing card falsified to declare that between 1933 and 1945 you were involved in persecutions “associated with” Nazi Germany despite being born within a habitually persecuted demographic, and forty years too late. Still, easier to argue one’s way out than from a chokehold.
A.k.a BOAC’s “English Country House Breakfast”.
The early books glamorised international travel, showing an austerity-bound readership what they were missing, the grotty Morlocks. With further reflections to come on hotels closed and standards slipped, there’s an elegiac air to this trifle, albeit failing to recognise that it’s the appeal and success of James Bond that have – in part – opened up desire for these opportunities to Bs and Cs and thereby lengthened the queues at the airport and dragged everything down to their standards.
Bond is entering the USA under a pseudonym, “David Barlow”, which given the domesticity of the under-drama and the banality of Bond’s thinking, I’ll take as a reference to a contemporaneous character in Coronation Street. The criticism that the CIA won’t find out about him for 24 hours doesn’t look too “apologetic”. He appears to have previously used the chauffeur company in his own name, which might not be wise, but then his reflections in a Carey Cadillac are of other things. Razors and socks and gripping “spy” stuff like that. One thing worth knowing is that James Bond’s passport number is 391354 which, if you add the separate numerals together, comes to 25, the numerals then added comes to 7. As in Double-0. Fancy. A foretelling of when IFP recruit Dan Brown to spew a Bond. “They” could do worse. “They” already have.
The dirty bit of inter-agency sabotage, a Profumo undertone, that Bond is to engineer reminds one of the murkiness of, say, Risico and tends to emphasise that the books were grubbier about the relationship with the USA than the films have been, a couple of recent exceptions apart. What chimes more sourly is the notion that “M looked after his own”, which doesn’t ring true when it comes to how he has treated Bond since his rehabilitation from a right old Klebbing. This business about the Reptile House, and the eventual twist, also tend to undermine 007; has he not checked? How competent is he? Head all-a-whirl with retail therapy and hotel rooms, it’s “not very”.
“Here was the guts of New York, the living entrails.” Visceral, but praise? Hmm. Flattery – and, it would appear, the Battery – will get you nowhere. I’ll ignore the crack about “Harlem, where you now needed a passport and two detectives” because it’s exceptionally dodgy. Why, Ian? Why there, as opposed to anywhere else? What are you trying to tell us? Isn’t it the funny people zoo of Live and Let Die any more? Tsk; standards, eh? And what’s this about Bond having once had a small apartment in New York? When was that – presumably after the city kept taking him by surprise in the second and fourth books, otherwise that would be very weird. That’s right, apologise by sneering at the quality of the shops. Whatever they’re selling, I’m not buying much “sorry” here.
“Solange (appropriately employed in their indoor games department)…” Mind boggles. Perhaps it is Boggle. Can’t help feeling, with the griping about “dank toast”, the quality of Gillette products and the desire to have a comfy corner in which to read the paper over lunch, that Bond’s becoming an old fart. All he’s done since landing is moan. Put an Izod golf sock in it, you miserable measle. It’s not like it was in your day, is it, before the “expense-account aristocracy” (OK, so what’s Bond then? Apart from a hypocrite) bruised everything by having the temerity to want to eat and “because they didn’t know good from bad, deflating the food”. This from a man who thought an avocado was pudding, once ate asparagus with sauce Bearnaise rather than mousseline and confuses “Scotch” (a drink) with “Scottish” (a nationality). Moral turpitude that should have meant his landing card was shredded.
This food snobbery – like most snobbery – is hollow; what he demands of the Edwardian Room at the Plaza is scrambled eggs, public school high-tea food. Having previously given the recipe to the hotel – Felix Leiter “knew” the “head” waiter (bet he did) – we’re now treated. For four “individualists” (?) you need copper dishes and arteries the width of Fifth Avenue and, if this was the basis of his diet, it wasn’t smokes or drinks that got Fleming; it was eggs. If he’s feeding Bond this, it’s another signal that the creator wants him dead and, by sharing the recipe, you too. That’s not cruel: he’s sparing you reading Brokenclaw and thereafter begging for death’s infinite kiss. Look, I don’t mind if I sit in the middle of the room or to the side or next to the bogs, as long as it’s well away from this weirdo. Pink champagne at lunchtime? There is no appropriate time nor use for pink champagne, unless you need the dog dewormed.
On he bleats about the food – the Americans just don’t do it right, do they? You can’t get Marmite and a finger of Fudge, unless you know Felix Leiter. You will let us know when there’s something you like, yeah? This nag flogged to death, time to saddle-up another high horse, one that’s cantered in from Thrilling Cities: “Were the Americans becoming too hygienic in general…?” This stuff about Solange gargling with TCP (ouch) is made to sound odd, but considering this is James Bond and where he’s been – pussy, galore – and that he reeks of eggs, pink champagne and bitterness, it’s odder still she’s not in a hazmat suit, or protective custody. He wants to take Solange to watch porn. She can do so, so much better. Quite a catch, isn’t he? What a grotty little man.
Shopping, brand-snobbery, Manhattan, restaurants, porn and violence: British Psycho.
“And that bar, again still undiscovered, which Felix Leiter had told him was the rendezvous for sadists and masochists of both sexes”. Felix dropping a big hint here, old boy. No? Oh, the pain of the unrequited. I bet Leiter would forgo the TCP for a share of your “incomparable toothbrush”. “It would be fun to go and have a look”, as with transvestite bars Bond has known across Europe. Couple of things here. Firstly – what? Secondly – Fleming is look, don’t tell. Very rarely does he describe the throes of congress. Bond isn’t about that – the thrill is in the chase, not the prize. This might be why Bond is attracted to Tracy; the incredible effort to catch her, but not contemplating what success would look like. Claims by at least one continuationist that Fleming would be more graphic were he writing now, justifying their salaciousness, I don’t buy. He tried graphic in The Spy who Loved Me, and it was embarrassing and disconcerting. Sensuality, certainly, lots of it. Sexuality? On several levels, much less defined.
“…then home for more love and TCP.” If that evening had come off as planned, 007, you couldn’t legitimately claim surprise if it had been industrial bleach.
Any apology I could give for my truculence about the continuation novels is inspired by the apologetic tone of 007 in New York.
The Seventh 007th Paragraphs – The Property of a Lady: “Dr Fanshawe was aghast…”
Let’s say paragraphs 36 to 42. It matters not. This inconsequential tale sets up the possibility of Bond continuing and insofar as its underwhelming incidents represent a template, its mediocre ramble is one rigorously adhered to over the years. Query whether that was worth aiming for. This, then, is the goodbye that promises the adequacy of the returns we’ve been served. The Property of Lady, j’accuse.
We’ve just had Bond sum up Dr Fanshawe as having homosexual “tendencies” (whatever they are), because he sports a cravat. The BrosnanBond adopts a sports-casual cravat in that car “chase” ten dull minutes into GoldenEye so… draw your own conclusions. In crayon, and bile. What’s interesting is the attitude of M, and Bond, in the presence of a civilian. We don’t see this often: perhaps at Blades but otherwise theirs is a world as closeted as the one Bond’s prejudices construct for Dr Fanshawe . It’s disconcerting to see M and Bond being ostensibly contrite, pleasant even, when faced not with a subordinate / lunatic, but an ordinary person, albeit one who expostulates in their presence. Perhaps that’s why he needs the cravat. It’s such a persistent stain.
However, their contempt for Fanshawe and his values is tangible. M, patronising the man horrifically despite sharing observations with him about “hunks” (that’s what it says) characterises Fanshawe’s expertise as “leisure” and ignobly raises his military status as if that’s somehow intrinsically worthier than the other’s; Bond can barely wait to get the man out of the room, and addresses him as if he’s not there and with a total lack of interest about “wherever you’re going”. What horrid, sneering, schoolboy bastards. They’re our heroes. Nos cuplae, encore.
Moment of amusement in the reference to the “stolen Goya”. Story published in 1963… hmm. I suppose something had to survive Crab Key although, dwelling on that, shouldn’t that have been a nuclear explosion that destroyed it? Get the impression that’s the plot and the excuse for watching Ursula Andress get soaped down very, very, very many times. Forgive me expostulating.
“It will be pleasant to walk across the park.” Given what Bond suspects of the man’s proclivities, it is surprising Fleming hasn’t told us what Fanshawe might get up to in the bushes, or the loos.
“M had taken a bulky file, stamped with a top secret red star…” If it were so top secret, how would one know its colour or shape, or of its existence at all? Hopeless place is full of leaks. As we’re about to find out, just as we’re about to find out M’s eyes are blue. I thought they were grey, as in damnably-clear-and? Anyway, hang the detail, this is a dozy lollop of a tale in which Fleming’s egg-obsession reaches absurd levels and we are lectured about something of passing authorial interest at the time and he’s played this trick before; few too many times for sustainable interest. Still, some of the others try it too. Based on publication date, what is Win, Lose or Die (apart from a nonsensical title) other than “John’s been watching Top Gun”? Never Send Flowers other than “John’s been watching The Silence of the Lambs”? Carte Blanche other than* “Jeffrey’s been reading loads of Jeffrey Deaver but very little James Bond”?
(*tell a lie, it’s also “Jeffrey owes me my money back”).
A classic Fleming sweep through the biography of the treacherous Ms. Freudenstein, skirting over the plausibility of the Purple Cipher once we’ve been distracted by minor sexual titillation. Like so much Fleming, like so much of the motivation behind and character of villains, heroes and allies, there’s a basis in WWII. Sometimes the war hangover is overt – Moonraker, say – and sometimes it’s muted, but it’s the one fixture across all of it. Bond is a creature of a World-blasting post-War hangover, as are the villains he challenges, be they despicable boom-opportunists or proto-Mussolinis. It’s not post-9/11 or knocking around the Cannes Film Festival and saving the lives of the Coen Brothers. Other people can do that, better. Bond has already speculated in the tale whether M is bored and springing this underwhelming mission to relieve his own ennui. Query the same tactic with Julius Gorner. Query the whole of the enterprise being read in that; warlike men bereft of the war that made them, having to make one up to sustain their purpose. M’s childish glee at “hotting up” the material going through the phony cipher is a dead giveaway. Calm down, dear.
To be fair to the poor girl, at the hands of these wretched men, she’s only on fifty quid a month so they’ve only themselves to blame. Mrs Jim (probably) pays the cleaner more than that (I don’t engage with domestics; one must maintain hierarchy. Also, no-speaky anything east of the Elbe).
When it comes to it, not that it’s in these paragraphs, Bond’s “flash of intuition” that the Resident Director will turn up to the auction has always struck me as a thin reasoning for the sake of a story but I suppose one doesn’t crack the spine on a Fleming and expect impermeable plotting. Absent anything more spectacular happening, though, this time it seems particularly anaemic.
“All very satisfactory”. Not really.
The Eighth 007th Paragraphs – The Living Daylights: “Yes, he had got the picture…”
Presumably not that stolen Goya making yet another appearance. Gets around, dunnit? Can hear The Ac-Tor Timothy Dalt-Ton saying this line, too.
The Berlin Vintage, then, to the tune of a Wykehamist snore (ill-bred? Minor key? Both.). The atmosphere of these paragraphs one could dig bits out of with a spoon, and they stand as a solid example of Fleming’s observational eye, even if in the bleakness of the city and the weather he is prey to pathetic fallacy. There’s little doubt this is dirty work, a direct assassination and on a par for grubbiness with taking out Von Hammerstein. Setting it in a chilly, broken and glum Berlin might be over-egging things, although it’s possible that Fleming would say one could never over-egg. There’s some coming up, shortly.
This first paragraph of this random seven gives the lie to the perception that James Bond is unaffected by his job of killing people. Notably, the job is not saving people. Bond’s fretting mind is whether he can kill Trigger and the bitter goodbye of the closing lines encapsulates failure, despite having preserved 272 whole. There is absolutely no thought given to whether there’s another way to extract the fleeing agent. The incidental success of saving the man, and that he has done so without having to kill at all, brings no solace. Questionable whether Bond has or could derive any satisfaction from Saving! The! World! If he has not managed to kill and whether the tendency in the Eon films to have him do just that and be a far nobler creature, has grasped the character.
Or, at least, the character presented here. This is a hard, terse, embittered Bond, appropriate to his environment, but the twist in the tale regarding the opposing shooter only works if we have bought that he is a killer. Too much “nice” and it’s inevitable he would stay his hand, albeit blow hers off. Presumably this is why – questionable education aside – he is so horrible to Captain Sender. Is this true to form by this stage in his “development” – one might have believed it of 1950s Bond, but of the softer / softened-up one of the 1960s? Flipside is that we might be getting back to the kernel of James Bond without the surrounding fluff that two hundred pages more would bring. This is an uncomplicated tale with a straightforward premise – “sudden death or a home run” – and reins Bond in. His is a hired hand, the reluctant but effective executioner, brought in to serve and not be the centre of attention. Rarely has he been a blunter instrument. Rarely has the Eon series got an adaptation just so than in those early Bratislava scenes of The Living Daylights, at least until the mood-hoovering pipeline piffle.
Ramming the atmosphere home non-too-subtly, we have violence in the ordinary. The “gun-metal” dawn, the “depth-charges” of the sleeping pills arranged in ranks, and their pole-axing effect, it all builds to the one shot. There’s no sunshine in this tale, as that would divert the momentum of the misery infused. But this is James Bond, surely? Martinis and bikinis and colour and glamour and gadgets and wit, not half-awake, staring miserably into the Berlin gloom at weed-strewn bomb-damage and hanging around a drab apartment with an unmade bed, the only thing he kills here being time. The potency of cheap metaphor, perhaps, but the grimly oppressive atmosphere reeks of damp and sweat and this is just as vivid as when Fleming’s banging on about barracuda, exotic birds, voodoo, biological misfits and atom bombs.
“…burned the message with a sneer at his profession.” He’s not enjoying himself, is he? Piece as a whole reads critical of the ways, means and morals of the Secret Service, perhaps as pointedly ambiguous (if that’s possible) as anything in Fleming. A calling as broken as the rubble, disappointed and cynical. Mr Gardner’s books tend to politicise SIS to the point of mind-bending complexity but there’s little argument that ultimately they are “doing good”, similarly the Bensons. The Living Daylights isn’t about “doing good”; it’s just “doing”. And failing. The heroes and villains all mixed up.
Still, amidst this dampness and torpor, some things still hold. The “vast dish of scrambled eggs and bacon” that Bond crams into himself, with whisky laced with coffee (suspicion that’s the right way round) is a reassurance that this is James Bond, a James Bond who will now drift through a chilly character-study of a chilly city. There’s no love lost between him and Berlin, and the crack about the brittle chromium veneer on American cars is one Fleming also made in his ostensible apology to New York. Bond’s not even in the mood to use a whore; that the thought crosses his mind places him some distance from that chap with the invisible car or the crocodile submarine. He’d rather have a bracing walk and a perfectly horrible-sounding meal and it all adds to the air of punishment, reluctance and despondency dripping off the page.
Neat trick with the Opel, although query why Trigger doesn’t just shoot the man fiddling with the engine, and another reference to angst with the Americans, everyone hoping for “…a clean job and without repercussions.” We never get to know the repercussions of Bond failing to kill Trigger. Plainly, one potential is that he is dismissed and this is left deliciously hanging but – no … And so the rot sets in.
I haven’t tended to play “favourites” in this exercise, largely because of the silly concept of only looking at bits of a story. It’s true that Goldfinger and The Spy who Loved Me are those I would less readily reach for but if you wanted a positive, have this: this is a favourite. It’s so lip-smackingly bleak, densely atmospheric and Spartan, absent the ludicrous – if entertaining – padding that weighs some novels down and, given the final (relatively) merciful act and the sour impression it creates in his superiors, whilst it may not demonstrate a man of great moral virtue, it elevates Bond as a better man than those that employ him.
If the final tale is anything to go by, than those who would write him, too.
The Ninth 007th Paragraphs – Octopussy: “Up in that big double bedroom in the Tiefenbrunner…”
And so, the end. And in the end, a whole picture seen. From the youthfulness of Kitzbuhel to decay in Jamaica, via London, cutting off little slivers of wartime experience to build a persona, to create comfort, but drinking himself to death in a marriage that has irritated him, wasting lazy days on the reef and watching life slip out of view, ultimately destroyed by James Bond, the map of Dexter Smythe is the map of Ian Fleming.
It’s not a suicide note, nor (one hopes) a confession, but it is starkly metaphorical. The idealised avatar, the fictionalised autobiography, has outgrown the husk of its creator leaving him abandoned, lonely and empty, and has developed a life outwith. For Dexter Smythe, reputation and riches from cutting off fragments of gold; for Fleming, the same achieved in polishing up fragments of memories, of past golden glory. For both, the riches running out, spent. Destruction comes a-knocking and destiny strikes without pity. James Bond meets his maker (I know I’ve already done that joke but I like it, so nurr) who is left reflecting on his life and realising he is surplus to requirements. James Bond will continue. He won’t. Whatever the parallels of the earlier works, Fleming and Bond now part, identities unwoven and the threads cut. It is in the mouth and mind of Major Smythe, not James Bond, that unpalatable attitudes and War-cling rest and, although the Major is not wholly incapable of engendering some sympathy for his plight, it is time for all that thinking and behaviour to die and let James Bond continue on without them, if he can. A final farewell to the wartime genesis and all the “good” it did. This tale might not have been the last written, but it feels like an end, an elegy for a high old time now come to naught. Ashes, dear boy, ashes.
I’m writing myself into accepting the approach – or at least, the existence – of the continuations here, aren’t I? Dexter Smythe is dying, Ian Fleming too, but James Bond will carry on. It could be read as the author’s endorsement that he does, leaving behind the old ways, and the piece becomes not just reminiscence but a reflection on how James Bond came to be. Gold – literary ability? Clutching at it a bit but humour me more than I have humoured you – found in the Alps as a younger man, not necessarily his own gold and possibly “a bit” stolen given the influences – Bulldog Drummond, Fu Manchu, Crowley, etc – but effort taken to carry it from there with sweat and hard work and smuggle it into one’s own name; then, having got away with it, living off the spoils, and very well. Easy to point to the persona of Dexter Smythe as Ian Fleming, but Octopussy the tale also stands as a metaphor for the whole damn show, how well it all ran and how dissatisfaction, complacency, boredom, illness, drunkenness and a dried-up fund of imagination brought it down, to “a bizarre and pathetic end”. A self-mocking parable and now the show’s over, for one of the participants. Although Bond’s barely in it, this is more about “James Bond” than anything else Fleming wrote, and seems as good a place as any to stop. Either it endorses that Bond will continue (a positivist outlook beckoning others to have a go) or recognises that if he does so, he does so without characteristics that once defined him – anti-Hun, drunkenness, wartime hangover – now discarded by balling them up into “Major Dexter Smythe” and drowning them. The early Eon films showed that a type of “James Bond” could succeed without the literary character’s more extreme traits. The Bond in this tale is almost entirely without characteristic, a blank canvas upon which others can draw their own stuff. This is a handover: does Bond need that baggage and, as that baggage is Ian Fleming, does it need him? Alternatively, less positively, it’s to set a challenge: if I divest 007 of everything that has “made” him, how successful can he be should anyone dare? Challenge definitely taken up. Challenge met? Less definite. Let’s see.
The one character point 007 is given here is, of course, the twist, that Oberhauser taught him to ski before the War. His other habits have been passed to Smythe, but the dating of the character remains, which renders his throwing ice axes around the Himalayas in 1999 or saving Princess Diana in 1993 highly suspect.
Still, it might only be a codename.
While I’m contemplating that, you have a good old contemplate why the Gestapo would mark all their documents in German other than the ones “only to be opened in final emergency”. None-too-surprising that they weren’t, is it?
Smythe’s a stinker (particularly so because he’s not wearing any pants), Oberhauser’s a credulous idiot – Lord and North Korea alone knows what his namesake’s going to turn out like – and Kitzbuhel and its surroundings sound lovely. Not a vast amount happens in these seven paragraphs other than setting up the inevitable dastardly deed, and reinforcing that to understand the pitiable end, one has to go right back to the promising beginning. Is it a plea by the author for sympathy for his plight? His own creation isn’t overtly sympathetic, after all.
“There are many crevasses.” Stretching the metaphor over the precipice, some of those following the path, following the leader, have been swallowed up.
Some should have been.
Of those, one that seems as on ice as Hannes Oberhauser is Per Fine Ounce, and my attitude to discussing that is encapsulated by its acronym PFO: if in doubt, the first word is “Please” because sometimes I’m nice and the third word is “Off” because much more regularly I’m ‘orrible. Not getting into that minefield so I suppose the place to re-start all this nonsense is Colonel Sun.
Still, time to say goodbye, to bring a bizarre and pathetic series to an end. The pain of a goodbye is tempered by the promise of being able to say hello again. Well, yay. The 007th Chapter will return. It will, however, be set in the year 2086 to bring its views right up to date, or something.
James Bond won’t return. “James Bond”, a character needing a purpose other than money, will shuffle around in the 007th Chapters by other folk because for some reason it is vital to the cultural life of the planet that he does. Jacques Stewart is obviously only this sour because he’s not one of those other folk. Obviously.
In his own terms, then, “Goodbye, Mr Stewart”.