A literary meditation by Jacques Stewart – cunningly presented out of sequence…
Contains huge spoilers. Of a book over thirty years old. Isn’t it terrible, that news about The Titanic? Bet you can’t guess who Darth Vader really is. I think I’ve drunk wine younger than this book. Once, with regret.
I’m thinking… Ronseal.
I haven’t succumbed to product placement (yet) but as I age, I dwell on how to keep wood. If none-the-wiser, or just aghast at the squalor of that joke, Ronseal is a creosote (this won’t get more exciting). Other brands are available but Ronseal stands out for possessing a bouquet that smacks-up dead quick dirt cheap, and having been advertised with the slogan “it does exactly what it says on the tin”, a phrase that has entered the wider lexicon, like those “Keep Calm” things – Keep Calm and Drop Dead – and “A Mars a day helps you work, rest and cultivate Type-2 diabetes”.
This springs to mind not through an urge to paint the fence – one engages the little people for that, how charming they are with their “vans” and their “views” – but because I hold a-mitt a 1987 Coronet UK paperback of For Special Services. It looks chewed. There’s a distinct – dog? – toothmark at the moment Bond eats a tuna sandwich and drinks Perrier. I might be blaming the hound unfairly; could have been me, enraged at this dumbing-down / plebbing-up of 007. There’s another incision just as Bond crams his gut with “chicken pie” and Apple Jonathan – presumably not Sir Jony Ive, although since Bill Gates gets an oblique reference in Role of Honour one can’t dismiss the thought. Fair’s fair, both meals are comforting beige stodge, so I might have been trying to join in. “Beige stodge” seems apt, somehow.
Back to the “point” – the selling (or selling out) of Gardner Bond. Can’t judge a book by its cover, say “they”. Codswallop: the cover has “James Bond” in letters larger than both title and author, there’s a silhouette of a dinner-jacketed man taking aim and the base has “007”, big and bold. Little else upon which to judge it, frankly. It does exactly what it says on the tin. The book has James Bond 007 in it, although moot whether it’s ectually Ken Spoon (or Ron Seal). For Special Services might be open to many criticisms – on their way, lovey – but terminal ambiguity is not one. There is nothing else this could be. Anyone spotting you reading it – once they’ve stopped pointing fingers and whispering (although that’s nothing to do with the book and you know it) – would be in no doubt about what it was; similar absence of doubt in their deciding to flee, chop-chop quick.
The back cover risks undermining this single-mindedness, instilling anxiety whether such tin-based-promise will come true. Things start “well”, boasting that Bond comes armed “with a new pair of Sykes-Fairburn commando daggers and a new Heckler & Koch VP70 hand gun”, as if that can impress non-mental people, and evidence of a burgeoning trend that hardware gets top billing. Still, the book delivers, narrating inanimate serial-numbered murder-things in greater detail than its characters. Possibly the point is that 007 is just an inanimate serially-numbered murder-thing too. Mr Gardner, you scamp. As if that wasn’t enough tedious name-checking of story-hijacking objects, the “turbo-charged silver SAAB 900” clanks back. The author’s note thanks SAAB (GB) Ltd for “proving that the James Bond SAAB really does exist” even if they don’t any more. Karma caught up with them. Because it wasn’t driving a frickin’ SAAB.