A literary meditation by Jacques Stewart
What’s on television? You might be wondering the same. Touch harsh considering you’ve only read a dozen words. C’mon, Babycakes, make an effort and stick it out. You’ll make an old man very happy.
What’s not on telly is James Bond; at least, not in an original capacity. Ah me, my salad days, those dappled sprigs of youth long-mildewed at the back of the ‘fridge alongside the quince jelly and the postman’s head, a time when a Bond film on tv was a gleesome treat, a highlight of a week already brimful with the underappreciated sunshines of First-World childhood freedom and parental love. Even in one’s teenage years, a Bank Holiday or – especially thrilling – a past-bedtime school night Bond would dissolve my truculent rebellion and pretence of liking poor garb, hair worn below the collar and horrid music.
Progress may have benefits – I now tolerate the wheel, and my loom-smashing days have ceased – but I can’t help feeling that direct access to Bond films via multitudes of electrical thingy (and corresponding immediate opportunity to bitch about them anonymously) has eroded the pleasure of seeing how ITV had butchered a film, lest it corrupt impressionable minds into hollowing out a local volcano, cultivating an additional nipple or flying jetpacks without a helmet. My offspring can up / down / sideload the things immediately (along with stuff I’d prefer not to know about) and the special scarcity of Bond – and equivalent scarcity of good behaviour on my part allowing me to watch it – evaporates. Instantly available, there’s nothing of the (harmlessly) illicit about them any more, presumably why ITV has the temerity to show Licence to Kill at 4 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon, an extraordinarily irresponsible act given that there might be people watching. For that “film”, no butchering’s enough. Mid-afternoon schedule fillers, because we can get them by so many other means, the lustre dwindles. A direct consequence of giving votes to women and ‘sex equality’.
What could have been on television are these stories, although Quantum of Solace needs energising to render it watchable; I’d suggest shaking the camera about. Apparently unwavering in a belief that 007 was fit for tv despite the Card Sense Jimmy Bond shambles, and doubtless associated with the marvellously snobby letter to CBS about Bond’s appeal to poorly-educated Bs and Cs, 1958’s aborted thirteen-episode Bond series finds itself novelised two years on. The clever / lazy trick of adapting abandoned projects Fleming would pull again with Thunderball, albeit “quite a” poor decision with a corrosive legacy. Whilst it would have been a shame to have some of these tales lie abandoned in first-draft screenplays, the practice suggests increasing frustration in replenishing ideas and authorial interest the more vocal the demand for annualised Bond became.
More benevolently, the short-story format trims the outré excess that dragged Goldfinger down, the brevity emphasising the duality of high living and low killing without pausing for wheezy deliverance of tart opinion. To an extent this succeeds: From a View to a Kill and The Hildebrand Rarity are contained, terse yet characterful admixtures of business and pleasure, with only occasional hiccoughs of pastoral digression, sexual unrealpolitik and dodgy racial observation. For Your Eyes Only sprawls slightly (not totally convinced why it shifts to Canada other than giving Ivar Bryce’s farmhouse a role, presumably jealous that a thinly-disguised Goldeneye kept appearing) but is blessed with a terrific conclusion. Risico is as loose as Ms. Baum herself but again delivers a stirring set-piece with the Lido minefield chase, something missing from the 1981 film (along with pace) although it would have required Uncle Roger to run and, given its aura of “underage”, would have been a different minefield to traverse; one littered with yewtrees.
Quantum of Solace is anomalous, and I’d guess it wasn’t one of the telemovies, although it gives Eon Productions Ian Fleming opportunity to do other (better?) than the restrictive regime of “James Bond” and send a love letter to W. Somerset Maugham and quite the opposite to Mrs F. at the same time. I admire most of what he produced but Fleming himself could be a toxic measle. Writing that can’t have impressed the wife, nor could From Russia with Love’s fixing of 12th August as a day on which Bond finds himself thoroughly bored by the prospect of what it brings, utterly coincidentally Caspar Fleming’s birthday. Gee, thanks Dad. That it turned out to be Fleming’s deathdate, when the blubbery arms of the soft life caught up with him, is probably karma, along with being very weird. I’m not averring that one has to be a vindictive old chisel to write Bond “properly”, although Messrs. Benson and Deaver (inter alia) appear to be splendid, kindly chaps but their contributions… hmm…
Mid-period Bond – 1959 to 1962 – delivers four odd books, each offering different things to varying degrees of success, searching for settled identity, striving to establish where Bond goes, the cash cow’s milk at risk of turning sour if Goldfinger’s tone were to demonstrate a trend. The sequence has a parallel. Starts with a story delivering crowd-pleasing tics, an Aston Martin and unworkable economic meltdown devised by a British citizen of Eastern European heritage in league with Russians; an adventure that has, on reflection, dated pretty badly. This is followed by an episodic affair in which Bond rides a motorcycle, provokes marital jealousy and spends time in Paris. Next one has 007 starting off unfit for service, something something something about stolen nukes and a conclusion justifying a submarine. Finally, in a wild but wisdomless last gasp, going utterly, utterly mad and unleashing Madonna and an invisible car a female narrator, Bond a bit-part-player in his own life story and secondary to curious artistic decisions. All existing to satisfy the obligation to produce James Bond material, but swerving wildly in the pursuit of a consistent approach. A whiff of going through the motions before roaring back with three tales in which Bond falls in love and is bereaved, goes a bit odd (personally and structurally) in the pursuit of revenge and then, having been missing presumed dead, is sent on an impossible mission against a potentially homosexual foe. So – Fleming’s patchy run of Goldfinger to The Spy who Loved Me inclusive = the Brosnans? OK, so this is wretchedly strained, but that’s in keeping with the Bonds at this juncture, treading water and – whilst not unentertaining and sporadically magical – muddled in moving forward coherently. James Bond’s there, lovely to see him, but hazy what he’s there for.
An alternative view is that these books’ variations, rather than bored attempts to realign, show confidence by an author whose stuff sells regardless, adventurously upholding his underappreciated penchant for experimenting, and the For Your Eyes Only collection is a microcosm of his seriously underestimated breadth, capable of demonstrating five differing characteristics of written 007. Insofar as establishing ingredients of a Bond through spot-testing the seventh chapters was the excuse for this smug prolix dross, there’s a bijou problemette here. For Your Eyes Only has no chapters. If the experiment is worth inflicting, a solution lies in channel-surfing the episodes. Let’s go with paragraphs 1 to 7 of From a View to a Kill; 8 to 14 of For Your Eyes Only; 15 to 21 of Quantum of Solace, with 22 to 28 and 29 to 35 of Risico and The Hildebrand Rarity respectively, to polish us off. This might not work, being too short a selection to demonstrate “range”, or five manifestations of it but, with another portmanteau to come, even this approach might leave insufficient prose to carve into for the likes of the extremely / mercifully brief 007 in New York. That might prove headachey but I’ll burn that bridge when I get to it. Sometimes you have to take the rough with the smooth.
You’ll definitely make an old man very happy, doing that.
The First 007th Paragraphs – From a View to a Kill: “The eyes behind the wide black rubber goggles were cold as flint…”
The contrived 007th Chapter model means that it hasn’t considered Fleming’s techniques in “beginning”. Only thrice does he open with the words “James Bond”, and only one novel starts like that. Habitual to have abstract scene setting and if, one were looking to establish a “model”, it’s that. “Writing as Ian Fleming” has a rainy night in Paris, so at least in opening, Devil May Care shows promise. Direct speech is rare, non-existent in the novels unless one counts The Spy who Loved Me. Bond directly speaking is even rarer; Quantum of Solace exhibits its exceptional soul once more.
On occasion, as here and with (say) Moonraker, we’re dropped into action already underway, that may or may not involve Bond; here, not. At least, given the tombstone teeth and whitish gums, one hopes not, unless he’s been necking pints of wineagain. The imminent twist that this is a villain is unsurprising given the descriptions of the eyes, both as above and as dark and unwavering gun muzzles (twice), and of the requisite reference to nature’s savagery in the attacking paws of the gauntlets. Still, short story, can’t hang around and the opening paragraph adheres to that mission statement with its vivid rendition of pursuit at speed and its effects on the face, and ever-present death danger in the “hurtling flesh and metal”. The thrill of the hunt is in the chase: appropriate, given the title’s derivation.
The Luger on the petrol tank – questionable health and safety – reassures that Fleming hasn’t abandoned tickling wartime prejudices, which becomes explicit later on with Bond’s surprise – and M’s disquiet – at intelligence staff in SHAPE trying German as a lifestyle choice.
Standard Fleming in juxtaposing nature with man’s artificial violence imposing itself upon it, the motorcyclists spending a pleasant morning on a forest road, similar to the one that the dissimilar film flings a stuntman from a horse onto a Rolls Royce. In due course, the polluting machinations of man will be given away by an artificial rose. Equally obligatory is the contemplation of eggs for brekky. Essentially two furious but brief action scenes punctuated by musings on the environment and terse reflections on post-War decay and who’s to blame (clue: probably Germany), From a View to a Kill is indelibly Fleming, hard to mistake it as work by any other writer including those following him, and gives him little opportunity to be as unnecessarily embittered and ‘orrible as the last novel.
That said, query whether it’s reading too much into the dispatch-riders’ names – Albert, Sid, Wally – to point an unclipped Luger at potential class snobbery as one hurtles through the prose at howling speed. Equally, whether the reference to “the little frog bit in the canteen” is critical of the thinking of this courier class, or endorsement. In due course, Double/Oh/Seven, Fleming/Bond/Fleming, will be no more polite about French women nor Paris as a whole, the city having been pawned to “the scum of the world”, amongst them Russians, Roumanians, Bulgars and – here they come, right on cue, how efficient – the Germans. Not one to harbour a grudge, then. Even Milton Krest, the archetype of archetypical Ugly American, gets a German background. Probably not for me to criticise: “What did you do in the War, Daddy?” Nothing; wasn’t born, but maybe I should appreciate more my opportunity to have been, given the policies of some participants. Perhaps this is partly what gave Bond contemporary appeal, tapping post-War insecurity with terrible experiences still fresh memories. So many Flemings have war references – hard to think of one that doesn’t, offhand – that this material, comfortable or not, goes underacknowledged in making the 007 series what it is. I’m not saying one must experience war to write “James Bond” but the cultural legacy of WWII upon Bond’s character seems studiously circumvented by most continuationists, Mr Boyd aside, presumably avoiding prosecution for instigating conflict themselves or because it’d be preposterous in (say) 1994. Defeats me why Mr Deaver made his spayed do-gooder Bond an Afghanistan veteran when he makes nothing of it. Of that episode, Fleming Bond would have come armed with “views”, although these may have resulted in Fatwa so just as well that we’ll never know them.
Whatever the merits of the views expressed, their potency and proliferation confirms the tales – and, accordingly, the lead – as time-barred. SHAPE, the fallout of the Castro revolution, SS thugs in hiding, decayed Colonial living, land-mines on the Lido and the novelty of an air-conditioned yacht: it’s not the 1990s, is it?
“His face, undistorted by the wind, had set into blunt, hard, perhaps Slav lines.” Well, of course. I don’t / can’t recall if Mr Faulks “writing as” impersonated this provocative characteristic, although it’s expressly “writing as” not “writing like”: will send a dispatch in due course. This one’s not long for this world, even though it’s uncertain that the one shot threatened will work since the assassin is performing an unwise “no hands” trick, contrary to the Highway Code, but then so is murdering fellow road-users (probably). As the motorcyclist commences his crash, and the story its crash dive into how Bond mislaid his virginity, suspicious Romany types and statutory rudeness about the French, this cliffhanger is an appropriate place for astation ad break.
In lieu of product placement, pass me one of the – Y*b**nna mat! – eleven remotes kicking around the room and let’s see what’s on the next channel…
The Second 007th Paragraphs – For Your Eyes Only: “Rackets, union funds, Government money – God knows…”
End of era, the shadows of the old world no defence against invading change. Into an idyll of streamertails and other birds of the West Indies, tea-time sandwiches made with Patum Peperium a.k.a. Gentleman’s Relish (oh, grow up), bougainvillaea, citrus groves and fine acres of lawn, spreads the carcinogen of human politics and the ugly, unnatural spits of violence that accompany it.
Eavesdropping on conversation one imagines as a hot topic for the author and his ilk, we’re witnesses to expositionary dialogue from this Colonel Havelock (Ret.) – “Tim”, no less – bemoaning the influx of vulgar cash-rich Cubans of dubious means buying Jamaican real estate and thus forcing out longstanding British families of the purest backgrounds who nobly, sonobly, grasp the huge wodges of cash bunged at them and bugger orf. Written now, it could replace “Jamaica” with “London” and “Cubans” with “Russian billionaires” and achieve a similar sentiment. The Havelocks having apparently been in situ since Cromwell’s time; the snobbery of, and suspicion by, old money regarding new – Blades, Colonel Smithers, all that crowd – holds fast as a Bond norm.
More unusual, it’s interesting that the thoughts are not wholly anti-Castro and, ultimately, it’s not Communists who disrupt the peace of Content. In the next story, Bond sympathises with the rebels, despite instructions to bomb their boats. Whilst that’s distinctly disruptive of the anticipated, less so is that Major Gonzales is in league with – oh surprise sur-frickin’-prise – a German.
“Thank God Judy likes the place”. The personal angle to the story beds in, and unexpectedly reinforced later on with M’s revelation at having been Timmy’s best man in Malta in 1925, which would make him very jolly old when Bond encounters him at a party in The Facts of Death in 1998. The ensuing passage with Bond contemplating M’s conflict between duty and revenge, and M’s mood swings, is visceral insight into the impotence of power and the grey areas corrupting the role, and crying out to be filmed – Bond reluctant to accept a mission personal to M – although arguably already suggested with TWINE and Skyfall. Pity Bond doesn’t know the difference between “hanged” and “hung”, though. One’s for people, the other’s for game, although there’s not going to be much meat on the little bleeders currently flying around the hibiscus. Perhaps quasi-naturalist Fleming wasn’t keen on the shooting season: The Glorious 12th August and all that… ah.
“Agatha, a huge blue-black Negress…” an efficient description saddling-up three Fleming hobby-horses: race, gender and bloaters. There I was expecting a “Negress” to be pale and ginger. Silly old me. As for “quadroon”, and one in servitude, unfortunate resonances leak through. Oh brave new world, That has such people in’t! Come to think of it, in Brave New World they might ectually have been octoroons. Someone’s only gone and mashed the guava bottles again! I mean, what a huge bloody problem. Mrs Havelock reaches a conclusion based on her knowledge of Jamaica which suggests it ain’t Tim what dood it. Presumably, when she gets shot apart, we’re meant to feel outraged, not cheering that the vile presumptive old bitch is dead now. Implicitly negative racial profiling about criminal tendency abounds; hang on, how did we end up watching Fox News?
Quick, change the channel.
The Third 007th Paragraphs – Quantum of Solace: “The Governor examined the end of his cigar…”
Ah, Armchair Theatre does Tales of the Unexpected. Much more relaxing. Feeling teatimey. May I press you to some Gentleman’s Relish? What do you mean you’re “calling the police”?
Quantum of Solace: different, innit? No Germans, for a start. After a couple of cheery morsels in which From a View to a Kill laments man’s inhumanity to nature and For Your Eyes Only contemplates that nothing and nobody lives forever, not even guava bottles, now we get a giddy tale replete with joie de vivre in which Ian Fleming delivers a cruel and melancholy confessional about his marriages (real, and to Bond), if not in incident then in atmosphere, and also lays into the artificiality of 007 in contrast to proper humans and the greater savagery of love’s death. Total guess, not my business, but domestic bliss not overchocolatey when he wrote it?
Happier is that Bond gets his comeuppance, not least with the final twist but also in shamefacedly accepting that the story was more interesting than his initial (appalling) rudeness about the Governor, his social circle and Bermuda as a whole led him to believe. Not just in loosening the straightjacket of “007 story”, this is one of few occasions – The Spy who Loved Me to come – where Fleming distances himself from Bond. One speculates: a manifestation of boredom with the silly man and determination to show that he wasn’t just “James Bond” – look, I’ve written a story in which he’s contemptible. The Quantum of Solace in Fleming’s relationship with Bond is reaching zero, 007 making Fleming feel insecure in his ability to do anything else – hence trying this sort of tale – and actually seems to want to destroy him. Or will. The Inglorious 12th creeps closer. There’s little of the wishes-fulfilled avatar here. Perhaps an unpopular move: the relative obscurity of this tale and the reception for The Spy who Loved Me indicate that his audience weren’t fans: they were captors.
The film is criticised as a Bourne pastiche but what is this other than a Maugham pastiche? Both iterations of Quantum of Solace taking something from the same genre that is critically perceived (justifiably?) as worthier than Bond. Not read much Maugham meself, but the third-party anecdotage is characteristic. Fleming cannot totally slough his own skin; like so many incidents in the Bonds, the tale is apparently true, embellished, with names changed to protect the culpable.
We join the action – some sitting – just as the Governor is about to launch, and Bond – an ungrateful guest – is feigning interest in a tale he childishly provoked by mentioning air hostesses in the first place, actually having “no intention of marrying anyone” let alone an “insipid slave” such as cabin crew or (gulp) “the Japanese”. “He only hoped to amuse or outrage the Governor into a discussion of some human topic”. Tit. By the end, Bond and the Governor are on speaking terms, but the close friendship in High Time to Kill doesn’t have much basis in (cough) fact. The Governor smokes in a manner reminiscent of the Savalas Blofeld, but that’s definitely a contrived connection too far.
Masters – Phillip Masters – was at Fettes. Bond reacts not, unsurprisingly. Years until he’ll read his obituary and find out he went there too. The surname-forename-surname construct so familiar for Bond is merely signals an expensive education, not mentioned often in the films (except negatively) lest it dissuade the Bs and Cs from realising their lifestyle aspirations were beyond them from birth, and thereafter refusing to part with more money. Masters took a scholarship for Oxford – “the name of the College doesn’t matter…” Au contraire. Vital to distinguish Balliol from somewhere like St Catherine’s. “He wasn’t a particularly clever chap…” Balliol it is. A chap of liberal ideas who got on well with the natives – uncharacteristic of Old Fettesians if Bond J. and Blair A.C.L are a guide – “he was lenient and humane towards the Nigerians. It came as quite a surprise to them.” Probably wired them his bank details, sending their surprise into orbit; no-one else falls for it.
Just the sort of chap to appeal to Bond; an under-sexed, hockey-playing pal of the Fuzzy-Wuzzy with “very little to recommend him to girls”. Loads in common. But as Fleming would rather tell his story than yours, 007, you just sit there on the chintz and watch the Governor tip his ash into his coffee cup. You’ve had more than enough attention. “His emotional life ran along the frustrated and unhealthy lines that were part of our inheritance from our Victorian grandfathers.” Hmm. You do know to whom you’re talking, Your Excellency? A man who cures lesbians. If you’re trying to appeal to mutuality of British sexual repression, you’ve seriously misread this audience.
The Governor’s tales of Masters’ “friendly relations with the coloured people of Nigeria” – what, including those coloured white too? What a great guy – provokes Bond into banging on inappropriately about sex, precisely the shaming trap Fleming has engineered for the libidinous, single-track-minded embarrassing clown. More questionable is how far Fleming is distanced from the sentiment that the only trouble “with beautiful Negresses is that they mash guava jars don’t know anything about birth control.” Couple of points for your consideration, once you’ve stopped hyperventilating: A – unless (God forbid) this is absurd prejudice, how does Bond know this? B – has the smoke rising from the Governor’s cigar persuaded 007 to stand for Pope? The Governor is unimpressed with Bond’s “earthiness” – a.k.a. reprehensible manners, can’t take him anywhere – and the gap between creator and creation deliberately widens. “Disastrous marriages and other tragedies”; whatever can Ian Fleming be thinking of? An initially exciting but now tiresome partnership with 007; time for subconscious uncoupling.
“He was, in short, a sensitive misfit, physically uninteresting, but in all other respects healthy and able and a perfectly adequate citizen.” How kind. Yet, for all Sex-o-Tron’s physical prowess, ubermensch sneering superiority towards his dining companions and thermite-bunging brilliance, a citizen capable of yet greater violence. So stuff you, 007.
“[Bond] was enjoying the story. The Governor was telling it in a rather elderly narrative style which gave it a ring of truth.”Chapeau, W.S. The Guv’nor.
“Young Masters’ service in Nigeria coincided with the first Labour government” – still unclear why Bond is enjoying the story given that he’s not ad idem politically, either. Perhaps it’s the shared social awkwardness that appeals. Time-barring ironcrabs its hold on James Bond. First Labour government: 1924. Let’s say he was 24/25 by then. The Governor is a year older than Masters and by the time of this story – late 1950s, say – is a man who has “filled the minor posts for thirty years while the Empire crumbled around him”. High Time to Kill is set in 1999. Tip top. “Nigeria got a new Governor with advanced views on the native problem…”, such problems as it being their country.
“I hope you aren’t too bored by all this. I shan’t be long in coming to the point.” Sorry, attention span of a… whassface. I’m sure it’s BAFTA-bothering but I can’t see this “James Bond” show lasting if sitting in vicarious contemplation is all that happens. Can’t get into it, although I know people are obsessed. Apparently you have to let it build over weeks. Don’t have the patience. Can’t get through a dinner party without some prat claiming it’s why tv was invented. No: it was invented as a means of avoiding evenings with the likes of you. Should have filmed it in Danish. Might come back to it once the box set comes out and then I can grasp the story arc / fast-forward to the killings.
Let’s see what else is on.
The Fourth 007th Paragraphs – Risico: “Any questions?’ M’s jaw stuck out like the prow of a ship…”
It would, wouldn’t it, being a sailor ‘n’ all?
The rushing between Rome, Venice and Ancona gives this tale the impression of being overstuffed, certainly in comparison to its introspective predecessor (range, though?), but it offers thematic novelty underacknowledged in the Bonds: to get the job done, those on your side might be unpleasant. Yeah, you’re right, we should only deal with nice people…
Up to now, Bond’s allies, whilst often characterful and rough like Kerim Bey and Quarrel, are “good”. Colombo, Lisl Baum (Austrian not German, but near enough) and Kristatos (even at his “nicest”) are crooks. A cheery run-around, or exposure of the seamier underbelly of the goodies vs. baddies lark? The heroes and the villains all mixed up…
Accepting there would be no twistatos without making everyone suspect, but Risico is not of the world where a Nazi tried to nuke The Queen. We knew where we stood with that. Hurrah for freedom! It’s now fuzzier. The lack of control in SHAPE. M abusing his position for vendetta. Quantum of Solace exposing futility and in this one, dancing with the devil. As for The Hildebrand Rarity, superficial glamour can’t stop the seediness leaking through. Only for your eyes is the rock lifted, and out wriggle the worms beneath the flagwaving fun of smashing Fritz / Yuri / Auric. Touched on before, but now Fleming directly serves five distinct reasons to doubt 007’s world. The fun’s going out of his writing; interpret as desired. This continues into Thunderball with the revelation that SIS has bought information from SPECTRE, indirectly helping its existence. Then it becomes a more troubling foe and they can’t pull the plug. Never happens in reality, except all the bleeding time. If we refused to do business with villains, we’d have almost no-one to trade with.
Amusing passage about the bees in M’s bonnet (bet he looks divine in it), amplifying his role beyond the sparse characterisation of earlier films books. “There were queen bees, like the misuse of the Service…” Um… the Havelocks, anyone? Anyone? Hello? Am I not meant to talk about that, then? “…and the search for true as distinct from wishful intelligence.” No dodgy dossiers, despite the outlandish hunches / outright guesses with Drax and Goldfinger. The fun continues with his pogonophobia, mistrusting “dressy” men (an euphemism caused by giving votes to women) – just as well Bond’s never invited him to breakfast – those who call him “sir” off-duty (prefers “Cindy” (with a C)) and “an exaggerated faith in Scotsmen”, handy if you’re James Bond, even if you haven’t yet achieved Scottishness. M’s foibles – by implication his leadership too – are likened to those of Montgomery and Churchill; presumably positively given that they were both alive in 1960. “Moreover he would never have dreamed of sending Bond out on an assignment without a proper briefing.” Mr Boyd. Mr Gardner. Taking notes? No? Hmm, OK.
“M gave Bond a hard, sour look.” Uncalled for, given how 007 made that grubby von Hammerstein business “go away”, unless he’s being particularly dressy today. “Earlier this year I had to take you off other duties for a fortnight so that you could go to Mexico…” Places this after Goldfinger, then. Continuity continues in referencing Ronnie Vallance but gone is the all-in-it-togetherness of earlier, simpler tales: Vallance has wilfully undermined M, jockeying for political favour. This isn’t five old farts standing round giggling at a robot dog: this exposes M’s position, as much a shaftable, exploitable blunt instrument of the state as Bond is. Taking notes now, I see, Mr Gardner.
“Seems the dance halls and the amusement arcades are full of pedlars.” Yes, if there’s one thing heroin does, it really improves yer dancin’. I’d have a look into a chain of restaurants in News York and Orleans too, while you’re at it. This business about heroin being an instrument of psychological warfare against Britain – isn’t that [part of whatever masqueraded as] the plot of Devil May Care? It screws you up (heroin, not Devil May Care, although point noted) unlike seventy cigarettes a day and a tsunami o’ booze which are just lush and, y’know, ectually servings of fruit and veg.
More political infighting with the chat about the CIA operating under the FBI’s nose and then a special treat for the lunatics who consider Quantum of Solace (the film) to have an insidious anti-American vibe, with the revelation that Kristatos is Allen Dulles’ top guy, a top guy he hasn’t spotted is a murderous heroin smuggler in the pay of the Russians. Unless he has – but what areyou suggesting about the CIA with that, Mr Fleming? Guessing, it is probably stupidity rather than mendacity. Must run in the family; Dulles Snr couldn’t stop Toulouse-Lautrec and the T-1000 taking over his airport. The CIA: either duplicitous or thick. Yay freedom.
“Bond was thinking that the whole affair sounded unpleasant, probably dangerous and certainly dirty.” No kidding. Cynical about the (limited) effectiveness of organisations like SIS or the CIA to stop something that actually happens , something that isn’t strapped to a rocket or involves hypnotised provincial crumpet poisoning hens, Risico (for all its “action”) is a bleak, defeatist tale and possibly the grubbiest of the lot. “How much will we pay for the traffic to stop?” A dirty reality. It won’t stop. But you’ll still pay. Replace the stone, and walk away. Watch out for landmines.
Feel soiled now (not that way: I’m not that old). Perhaps a nice dip in the briny will wash it off.
The Fifth 007th Paragraphs – The Hildebrand Rarity: “What did I tell you, James?…”
This gaudy human world of artificial pleasures is the fleeting crest of a wave; the depths harbour infliction of great pain and the abuse of beauty through greed. Major Gonzales, Milton Krest and both participants in the Masters marriage to name a few. Five short tales in which the natural order is polluted (here, explicitly) by transitory, cruel human vices, be it a beautiful forest floor fresh-painted with bikerbrain or a beach crammed with mines. Any yearning for a simpler life is squashed by covetous pursuit of money and power. From a view, to a kill, then.
James Bond, it’s all about expensive cars and first-class living and sharp clothes and [come up with a suitably engaged adjective: can’t muster one] watches, isn’t it?
It’s a popular critical précis of Fleming’s style that he details the luxuries; seems less widely acknowledged that Bond’s reaction to the trappings of good living is often guilty justification – or plain guilt – when he’s indulging, and contempt when it’s someone else. The films wouldn’t dare: must get the budget in and you can’t do that suggesting his watch is a self-cosseting frippery, the momentary distaste in acquiring it displacing the permanent soulstain of, y’know, killing. Bond’s disgust at (say) eating well with Mr DuPont isn’t just at overfilling himself, it’s at having the meal at all. Was there ever a man more misunderstood? Film Bond may be a (commercially, wise) sponsored mannequin but he of the books seems anti-consumerist. A plain fellow of spartan regimes with a handful of egg recipes upon which to live, hankering after life on the reef divested of human complexity and responsibility, shunning the mink-lined prison of stuff and, when he succumbs to occasional pampering to avoid darker thinking, he hates himself for it. Bet he doesn’t have eleven remotes in his lounge.
Remiss not to note that GoldenEye tried to shoehorn a semblance of a suggestion of this with its leaden subtext shouted about Bond’s drinking and womanising smothering death and heartache; however, the reason that sounds tin-eared is not just Mr Bean’s incredible accent but also because the rest of it is a two-hour advert for dressy suits, ostentatious timepieces and a grotty sports car to appeal to the gullible consumer deceived into thinking that’s what a James Bond lifestyle is, falling right into the costly trap of trying to copy it in a wholly misunderstood and misbegotten way. In The Hildebrand Rarity, James Bond, lazily perceived as cooler than the yummy side of the pillow, covers up a vicious murder. Go on – buy that watch. Buy it. Don’t youwant to be him?
Bond’s – what? Inverted snobbery? – is frolicsome in this story. Initially impressed by the luxury of the Wavekrest, we join his meandering with the docile Fidele Barbey as the first artifice – air-conditioning – shatters the superficiality. From hereon in the shell cracks further, encouraged along by a whip-wielding ratbag. Milton Krest’s impact – and the reader’s desire for Bond to hit him, hard – is the greater for not being a malformed crackpot but simply a cruel thug, a knuckle of a man with no redeeming features. The physical description he gets doesn’t bode “nice” and things aren’t meant to improve once his Prussian antecedents are revealed. “Always at your feet or at your throat! Sense of humour indeed! And what must this woman have to put up with, this beautiful girl he had got hold of to be his slave – his English slave?” Er, OK. Calm down. War’s over. When Krest poisons a defenceless community with a Germanic-sounding chemical, it’s not difficult to grasp at – nor gasp at – the echo.
Amidst all the ostentatious awfulness of Milton Kraut Krest, all the pejorative characteristics of the stereotypical ruthless Hun and vulgar American rolled into one blisteringly hilarious caricature that after a while – how ironic – tends to stick in the throat, he can claim one bizarre feature: the voice of “the late” Humphrey Bogart. Wonder why Fleming had to give him that, other than to pipe aboard a droplet of Bond’s contemporary cultural awareness, similarly referenced in Risico with the suggestion of an afternoon watching a Brigitte Bardot film (although he might have been joking). Could be another suggestion of artificiality, that Krest emulates cool behaviour he’s seen on film, to emphasise that anyone mentally sound would never try that. Buy this ‘phone.
Similarly, “this man likes to be thought a Hemingway hero. I’m not going to get on with him”. Why not? An invention of an author holed up in the Caribbean, the subject of tales of melancholy derring-do with a robust attitude to ladies, drink and fishing, delivered in journalistic prose and with a strong fatalist streak … Oh, I get it, you don’t like the competition. Well don’t worry – he’s even more brutal and virulently racist than you are, and such a bastard when it comes to women. The compare and contrast of Krest to Bond is fun, and it’s happenstance not coincidence: consider the way in which each would kill a fish. Bond nobly, after an energetic struggle with an armed opponent. Krest a bored bully, money and power simply cheating, choking the little people, his death a particularly ironic one. All that money and you can still end up choking on fishbones. Seem to recall that happening frequently to the Queen Mother. Note bene, Mr Bond – if you’re not keen on Hemingway, never go to his house because your boss will try to have you shot, although it is stretching things to call a poorly cut 80s sports-casual blouson “dressy”.
Amusing that Liz Krest is attracted to Bond, not simply because he is James Bond and he’s always bloody super, yawn, but also because he’s a gentler practitioner of the dark characteristics of her late husband. Not as heavy a drinker, but a drinker nonetheless. Challenging views on those of other countries born (including a devastating summary of the American psyche). Not so much whipping as threatening a light spanking now and again. A fisherman, but a less brutal one. Can be boorish and with a tendency to provoke when bored (although we are invited to cheer it here rather than question it per Quantum of Solace). Just her type, really.
Run! Or swim.
“Free, and I don’t go deep, It’s only a hobby.” Mr Fleming, you underestimate yourself. In five grubby tales of human nature and human vs. nature, the short stories don’t contract Bond’s world but expand its frontier. However, the shores newly reached are lapped by very dark waters. Some of the material here wasn’t tried again but across and within each story, the shadows soon to surround James Bond – and, without doubt, his creator too – are beginning their build.
That’s more than enough television for one evening; station’s about to close down anyway and play the National Anthem. They’ll take requests – any country you like. Except one.
James Bond will return in the 007th Chapter of Thunderball. Jacques Stewart tires of television and is contemplating writing that story you told him after “some” pints of wine. He’ll share credit with you. Promise.