By Jim on 2009-03-02
The following article is the opinion of one individual and may not represent the views of the owner or other team members of CommanderBond.net.
Looking Back: ‘Never Dream Of Dying’
Sleep When It’s Read – Never Dream Of Dying
by Ajay Chowdhury
Opinions. I loathe them. They only annoy other people. From your perspective, ‘other people’ includes me, so I take it bloody personally that you dare to have one. “My opinion is…”, you say, as if you had the temerity, or ability, to state somebody else’s, or anybody in a pip of their right mind would have granted you (I mean—you! Ha!) permission to utter theirs. Alternatively, you wordflab forth with “In my opinion”. Or, very stealthily avoiding the key expression, “What I think is…”.
The most relentlessly ghastly, however, is “Let me share my opinion with you…”. Even if I “let” you, and it’s an amazing assumption that I will, although the amount of choice I have is fictional because you’re going to tell me anyway, you wish to share your opinion with me? So in sharing it between us it, what, only becomes half as stultifyingly ill-informed as it was? No. Share is what one does with cake. I like cake. I benefit from cake. Cake has creamy goodness. Sometimes there’s some choccy, if I’ve been a good boy and not played with my willy. Your opinion, however, you have just thrust my way. I am being forced to share, in much the same way as Brazilian electricians share the Metropolitan Police’s bullets. I didn’t want it. Do I have to share back? I don’t wanna share. Can’t make me. Don’t see why I have to share mine with you. It is my opinion. Mine. Child of my own delights and prejudices, offspring of my womb of bitterness. Let me keep it to myself. Gerroff. The most I would want to share with you is a bed, but if you’re the sort of cretin that wants to share your opinion in some sort of misguided act of charity, I’m not sure I want to do that with you either, unless we’re both really drunk, it’s past three a.m. and no-one will find out until I’ve thought of a quasi-plausible explanation. Even then, The Sock would still be pretty fierce competition, let me tell you, and at least it won’t hurt me with its opinion afterwards.
But, do you listen? It rhymes with “no”. Shares many of the qualities of “no”, too. It is, in fact, “no”. Your opinions are out to get me, be they dripped from your grease-encrusted noiseholes or jabbed onto a keyboard with all the understanding of a semi-literate slack-limbed oil spiv pressing the nuclear button or, worse, pebbledashed out via laxatives “a bit like” MySpace or FaceBook or LifeWaste. “But it’s only an opinion,” you might spout, if I were to permit you instead of doing the proper thing, which is to beat you senseless with a Wilbur Smith. Yes, but that’s an opinion too. Don’t you get it, honeylick? Free me of your shackles, you monster.
What annoys me more is that I am expected to have an opinion, in much the same way as I’m expected to breathe or have toenails or find somewhere worth eating in Leicester. Every morning I am called upon to ‘phone or email or text John Humphreys (I cannot text Nicky Campbell since the injunction, although I can call him that specific word by email—a loophole from which I derive abundant pleasures) with what I think about the credit crunch or ptarmigan or how to edit a film or the Nantwich Cheese Festival, as if anything I could possibly opine about such matters will bear more significance than one fluid ounce of cholera-riddled ratspunk. Yet, people do send their messages in, as if looking in the mirror and coming to terms with the fact that they’re still them just isn’t enough early morning humiliation any more. “Go to the website,” they say, “and let us know what you think.” An offering this morning, from “Baz22” on the BBC website (spelling adjusted to protect the language): “My wife has just bought a German car and my children are being made to learn about Russian history. Who won the War anyway?” I don’t know, Baz22, I just don’t know, but I suspect that your comedy rhetoric is telling us your view and… what of it? What is anyone who matters (in your case, anyone with a proper name) going to do with that view? Why would anyone want to do anything? What has telling us made you? Money? Have you been given a shiny cup, or a sew-on badge? Has your hair grown back, instead of upon your back? Are your testicles now less underwhelming? What is it that you have achieved? There was a woman—I think it was a woman, it looked lumpy and drunken and ill-shaven and that seems to be the current idiom—interviewed this morning who wanted to tell us what she thought Winston Churchill would have thought about the European Union, and she claimed she knew. And then proceeded to tell us. Jinkies! I thought—she’s actually saying that she knows? She’s channelling Winston Churchill? Admittedly, there was a facial resemblance. Hell of a talent. She couldn’t have been more than fifteen—I know this, she mentioned grandchildren—and he’s been dead forty-odd years and she knows what he would have said? Incredible! Sign her up! Get her to tell us who’ll win Dancing on Ice so I don’t have to watch it any more and can indulge in marginally more heterosexual pastimes like macrame or mainlining crack.
Actually don’t want an opinion on most things. I don’t want to formulate a view on caravanning or the efficiency of the Excel spreadsheet or different makes of awful watch because I can then value the time I would have otherwise wasted in such arid pursuits. Yet, I am required to take a stance, otherwise I am deemed to be a non-participant in life. Phone in! Text in! Email us with your rabid view! Let us expose your pitiful brains and, under the pretence of giving you a voice, identify precisely why you should not be given one at all! Do ring! Even if you can’t text, do text! Text! For decades, ruling classes have feared the people having a voice lest they say something radical, inspiring and beautiful, a call to arms, a rallying cry against oppression. Now that they can see that the best we can muster is “The Batman film were grate” or “Gordon Brown smells of chisels”, and in observing the relentless stale bicker about how to edit action scenes, picking away like suicidally depressed gorillas sitting in weepuddles and lifting lice from each other, mirthless routine, they can sit back happy and do what the damn hell they like to us, safe in the knowledge that we don’t have the ability to do anything about it or, more likely, we’ll ignore it, such is the ferocity of the debate about one’s favourite flavour of carpet or whether a particular film is too long or too short or too wide or too hedge. I just don’t know what the Chinese are so worried about in opening up the internet; as with every human technological advance, all we end up using them for is booking holidays, arguing about utter rubbish and finding free pørnography. You should see Teletext pørn. “Blocky” is probably the kindest thing I can say about it, but like all good grumbleshows, it is guaranteed to send you blind, this one quicker than most. Is that meant to be an arm or a penis? Oh, it’s the weather map. Vaguely stimulating Scotland, though. ‘Scuse me a moment.
There’s so much opportunity to “give” an opinion, isn’t there? “Give” is an inappropriate word, suggesting gift, with some glad anticipation of receipt. When someone throws some pooh at you, which I would hope is not a common occurrence but I have to accept that some of you may be Northern persons and I am obliged to recognise your ethnicity and culture, was that in the desire to give you the pooh? If that is the nature of giving, it would make Christmas much more fun, hurling an Xbox at an eight year old and watching it bounce off her eye and through a window, and one would actively—and uniquely—look for’ard gleefully to being passed the sprouts. Look at the forums here. People want to tell the world things (on the basis that the world is made up of a few thousand people who can remember individual lines of dialogue from A View to a Kill, and don’t deny that this would make the world so much sweeter), most commonly what they may think about a song, as if it stops the song being sung, or makes the song better sung. Alternatively, they may tell us about why they think N was good as James Bond whilst O was very possibly the embodiment of evil, a dreadful amalgam like cheese & pickle, or a French Fred West. Does it matter? Probably not. Perhaps it is much better than the alternative, that every time they bung a view out there, someone tracks their computer or mobile telephone device back and one day, very early one day, so early that Nicky Campbell’s yet to get his first email from me (and I get up really early to do that), there will be a knock on the door and five burly young men will be standing there and before too many of you think that this is a good thing, you’ll change your mind when there’s a bag on your head and you’re hauled off for really quite unbearably tense questioning about that time when you asserted that Octopussy was somehow acceptable in a democratic society, or that today you were mostly listening to U2 yet again. Did you write that you quite liked Octopussy? Did you write that you quite liked Octopussy? Oh God, oh God, someone help me. Did you write that you quite liked Octopussy? Look, we’re trying to help you here, son. Did you write that you quite liked Octopussy? Why has my life come to this? Did you write that you quite liked Octopussy? Trying to focus on the happy time, this will be over soon. Did you write that you quite liked Octopussy? Did you write that you quite liked Octopussy? Ah, —— it, take it back to its cell. Cries in corner. Face at the door. No face at the door. No one visits. Ripping up sheet. Balancing on stool. Happy memories. A puppy, a ball, the smiling man. There, that should hold. That shed. His rough hands. Yes, that’s nice and tight. The man also said that, didn’t he? Give it a tug. He also said that. Loop around neck. Bye bye mum. Kick swing crack. This is the end of Octopussy.
Or, does it matter? All these blogs, all these methods of communication, all these opportunities for free speech and it isn’t free speech at all? Are they watching you, and evaluating coldly what it is you have just said, even if you nicked it from somewhere else and your contribution was to make the spelling more adventurous? You have been drawn out into the open when previously you could—and should, if anyone was going to respect you—have kept it so secret that you would forget it, or at least done the decent thing and shot yourself. When they find you, they’re going to put you to death. You would be safer not expressing any opinion at all (and evidently, a positive opinion about Octopussy couldn’t be acceptable no matter how Utopian the society, so never do that). My advice is this—just make a sort of grunting noise—a low bass baritone for disagreement, a warmly amused chuckle for accord. The visual equivalent would be a frowny face or a smiley face. Work out which is which. Perhaps we could do it in animal noises? Animals seem to cope, getting on with their lives in much the same way I do—breathing, blinking, sweating, eating, coughing up a furball, marking out my territory in wee—without ever having to play a quote game or typing something fatuous about Tony Gubba. So, which sound? Not a moo, even if all this noise usually just descends into bovine rumination—a moo is too difficult to interpret, the ambivalence of the cow being a dangerously non-committal statement, and one that’s led to great suffering in the past. Who was it standing in the fields watching the Nazis roll into Poland in 1939? Cows. Who stood aside, chewing their lunch, when the Russians went into Hungary? Cows. Don’t trust ’em. They’re bastards. Maybe a harsh doggy barking noise for anger, or a serpenty hiss for sarcasm, and a contented purring for agreement, perhaps even the prirrp prirrp of the dolphin for making an intelligent point (you won‘t hear this one much). This isn’t as daft as it reads. You might not know this, but dogs cannot work The Internet (I could have broken that one more gently but it is true) and therefore what do you think it is they’re doing when barking away at each other at 2 a.m? They’re going through the same routines as us, just with more honesty as they’re not pretending to listen to one another. As it happens, a lot of dogs are Pierce Brosnan enthusiasts. Only ones who can make out the pitch of his voice. Cats… well, cats seem to prefer licking their own anuses. A judgment call. Woof woof woof, woof woof woof, woof woof. LOL!
(Distinguish the above from “Woof woof woof, woof woof woof, woof woof woof”, which is meaningless).
Might as well ram one’s head into the keyboard, all the achievement it… um… achieves. Lkasfjksdfkj askkdsjdfsjkfs poiuofo dsfofipdfspdfsi fslfskl;lsdfsd;l sadflfdskfkldfs. Ladsklklklsj sdfjklfsfdskjfjd aadsdads jfjdfsjfj fas98wei9erj a;lff;fdsfs kkfkifdsjsdjsd sadfodfsofdso fadssdpfp safdfjdssdjjf.
Anyway, whatever code it is that we devise, this way we’ll make it through. We can build this dream together. Standing strong forever. Nothing’s gonna stop us now. If the world runs out of lovers, we’ll still have each other and you’ll have got your opinion across without a ) having required anyone to engage with your brainspew in any way, because they were never actually going to do that and you’re deluded if you thought they were, and they’ll like you more for saving their time, and without b ) having endangered your liberty, or reason, by evidently agreeing or disagreeing with “opinions”.
Below is my opinion of Never Dream of Dying. It is of no consequence. This is also true of the book. You do not have to read it. That is also true of the book. I apologise if that’s broken another unbearable truth (alongside the dogs/internet one; blinkin’ flip, it’s like Jeremy Kyle in here today, albeit with a marginally less deep-fried whiff). My opinion, your opinion, does not actually have to be noticed. It may as well not be there. You can stop reading now. You are not obliged to give it any time at all. I cannot make you. Not yet, anyway. Give me time.
If the strapping young men come for me in the morning, please make the bag a linen one. Man-made fibres chafe so. Although, frankly, they should bring with them a medal the size of The Moon and make me the Baronet of Opinions, because I had to read the awful thing again and it mashed my brain up real bad. But that’s only my opinion.
Never Dream of Dying
What follows is an opinion. The only fact is that it is an opinion. This does not make the opinion fact. If this distinction troubles you, you might as well throw yourself off a bridge right now because the world’s going to confuse you very horribly and you are already lost, my child. I cannot help you. I am just some typing. You’re on your own. Face it. Cope. Or find someone to blame.
I’ll start with the big thing first. The villain is Marc-Ange Draco.
“It was all clear to Bond now. After the death of Tracy, Draco, once a criminal but a man with principles, had become a bitter, vengeful man.”
Why this is a good idea:
Well, whyever not?
It is a logical idea to “make” Draco the villain, even if it does shove to the sidelines Le Gerant, just when he was becoming interesting. Draco is a villain. He never was a nice man; professionally, he is unpleasant and brutal—the success of the character as initially written is the palpable tension Bond has in dealing with him—and he is emotionally and socially suspect, given that he admits to Bond in their first interview that he raped Tracy’s mother. Such “principles”. This has never been a hero and “making” him a villain is the correct thing to do, because it’s effortless, or should be. Trouble is that what happens here is that Mr Benson renders him a bit nicer and sympathetic—he’s an affable codger and stops only one micron short of breaking out the Werther’s Originals—and then wants to pull the rug out from under us at the end. The rug went years ago, son. As soon as he appears, it’s pretty obvious what’s going to happen here. The chapter headings give it away, for a start.
This cannot be a surprise. Most of the book is set in a (typically vividly realised) Corsica, there is an organisation called “The Union” based there and the villain is somehow a mystery to the reader as well as to Bond (who, sorry to say, comes across in this book as really thick, if this plot twist is to work). Rely on the broad strokes here. There y’go—it was Marc-Ange Draco all the time. He bankrolled The Union, let it absorb the old Union Corse, Le Gerant (who is forgotten by the end of the book and dies as an afterthought) was his nephew, Bond (albeit sort-of-but-not-really accidentally on purpose) is partly responsible for the death of his latest wife and daughter and British Intelligence had no way of finding any of this out. Eh? For this to work, it all does rely on yawning chasms in information and nobody knowing anything. Anyway, boo and hiss. So, do we have a problem with this? I seem to recall—not that I’m making an effort—that at the time the book came out, several of the couple of dozen who read it thought this too great a change in the character and were “upset” (please: it’s a fictional character). So, apparently, is Bond.
Why this is a bad idea:
Going back to that quote, why on Earth is this? It was all clear to Bond now? Only now? It’s not as if Tracy only died a few months previously, is it? What age are we meant to assume Draco? If we take the end of OHMSS as occurring in the New Year of 1962 and this story being somewhere around 2000/2001 (given that it refers to “Prince Edward and his wife Sophie” (presumably the Earl and Countess of Wessex, if one were to refer to them at all properly, like)), then even at the generous estimate that Draco was in his mid-fifties in the earlier tale, he’s over ninety now and probably thinks he’s an ant or something, even if fathering a child at an advanced age suggests that there’s still some mustard in his custard. If he has been supporting The Union all this time, evidently his judgment is that of someone in their “Golden Years” (i.e. enfeebled). Ultimately, he has been behind the Skin 17 fiasco, a failed coup in Gibraltar and in this book, in the most dastardly threat to the public welfare, he wants to remake Waterworld. Silly old pillock.
I have no issues with the basic idea. My issue is with the fact that it’s taken so long and, when it comes, it’s treated as some sort of surprise that Bond could not see coming. The notion is sound: the execution is terribly flawed (a Mr Benson staple, admittedly) as it requires Bond to be completely dense, which isn’t that appealing a characteristic. He doesn’t seem to question why Draco has been in hiding. He doesn’t seem to concern himself with who it is he kills in the opening shoot-out and nobody else seems concerned to find out. Little things that would make a considerable amount of difference. Willing suspension of disbelief is one thing—plot holes through which one could drive epileptic bison are another. Accordingly, whilst the idea of Draco being the villain is fine, twenty years earlier it would have been considerably more plausible and the plot machinations mean incredibly daft knock-on effects on the plausibility of Bond himself. And this nonsense about suddenly turning vengeful—wasn’t the whole point of the Union Corse all about systematic blood vendetta (a concept banged on about at length in this book too)? So, again, there is nothing in Draco’s actions that mean any change of character whatsoever, save to the extent that this writer monkeys about with it to try to spring a surprise.
There is something that doesn’t ring true in the concept, though: in DoubleShot, The Union taunted Bond early on with a double of Tracy. If the power behind Le Gerant was so cut-up and vengeful about her death, would this really have been sanctioned? Strikes a discordant note in an otherwise plausible explanation. It’s as if, God forbid, Mr Benson saw his opportunity to bring Draco back in the final book and let plausibility go hang. The very thought. Tchoh! Eh? Tchoh! Mmm? And tsk! I really do wonder whether, in setting out on this “trilogy”, Mr Benson really, genuinely, intended it to end this way. Or cared. Also, given that we are told in the initial (and literal) fire fight that The Union knew Bond and the Frenchies were about to attack them, and Draco is The Union, why put his wife and daughter in danger, unless it is to get them killed by Bond so he can be a bit miserable later on? All very curious.
Should this revelation of Draco as the badhat come as a surprise to the reader? Depends who is doing the reading. If one is unaware of Draco at all, it will be meaningless and therefore shuts off the casual reader in the usual Bensonian manner, and just when he was neatly developing his own most indelible villain. If one has only seen the film version of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, then all this guff about Draco having turned vicious and bitter may work, as the Draco of that film is a chipper, saucy old rogue and nice family man who, admittedly, could get a bit miz if every time James Bond pops up the offspring catch death because of him. But for anyone noting the book Draco, this cannot really be a revelation. Mr Benson has stated, I think in an interview with this website, that Draco being the villain is entirely within character, which is true, but the way he’s written the book, and in particular the reaction of Bond to this character, is that he was setting Draco up as the avuncular Ferzetti model, not the nasty bastard of the original story. Conclusion: this is the film Draco, if what Bond is ostensibly put through by his writer is to achieve any pretence at sense. This is the film Bond.
And, indeed, this is the “Film Bond”, set as it is around a terrorist attack on the Cannes Film Festival and Bond working undercover as something-or-other, whilst nosing around the production of “Pirate Island”, which appears to be some sort of godforsaken cross between Cutthroat Island and Mad Max and evidently The Union’s most heartless outrage yet. There are a number of observations gently hurled at us about people in the film industry: apparently some of them are not very nice, several of them take cocaine and they may be involved with organised crime. It’s all so thrillingly revelatory. The stuff at Cannes is jolly amusing, with suitably coy breaking-the-fourth-wall name-checks for Carole Bouquet (albeit sans ‘tache, an error) and Sophie Marceau but all this becomes very silly and most chortlesome when it dawns on the reader that—oh no!—they’re going to kill John Madden! Aieee! You’ll be shaking the book, feverish with excitement, devouring every page! The scoundrels! Not John Madden! Spare John Madden! Let John Madden live. (For those not in the know/care, and I admit that I had to spend some life looking this up, he subjected us to Shakespeare in Love so “Actually, let John Madden Die!” would probably find more support). Francis Ford Coppola gets a mention, but that’s pretty much all he deserves these days. B-bm. Although, thinking back for a moment on the John Madden thing, Mr Benson does appear to have taken on board the advice from that film about having a comedy moment with a dog; about ninety pages into this and there’s an ill-judged action sequence at a televised dog show which seems of no purpose save to inform us that “The director in the control room went nuts”, lovely, and to resurrect the Thunderball joke about someone losing a dog, albeit I seem to recall him doing that in High Time to Kill too. That I recall this does tend to suggest that I am wasting my life.
If you’re interested in that sort of thing, I’m sure it’s a hugely interesting sort of thing and doubtless there’s plenty of so-true-the-truth-squeals-out-of-it-like-a-pig-in-a-war observations about the horrible sort of vapid rubbish that makes horrible vapid rubbish, but I am no more interested in the people who make my films than I am in the people who make my ready meals, who are probably equally as whacked out of their skulls on nasal talc if last Thursday’s moussaka is any clue. I’m afraid that this background left me cold and ultimately I didn’t care very much whether or not Gilles Jacob, who rather bizarrely Bond appears to recognise despite frequent assertions that he knows little of the film “world”, gets blown up or gassed or drowned or nibbled to death or whatever it is. Accordingly, it’s not a plot that engages me and “James Bond at Da Moooovies” is, unfortunately, by far the least interesting story yet. One wonders if it’s a final throw to try to get one of these things filmed, that in mentioning Catherine Deneuve and the Coen brothers someone would suddenly make something worth watching out of Blast from the Past. I wonder if the Coen botherers know they’re in a Bond book, albeit one as utterly shruggable as this? If I were them, I’d send around that horrible man with the gas cattle-gun thingy to say hiya. Or Barton Fink, to bore everyone to death. I have never understood why the people who make entertainment think that the making of entertainment makes for entertainment. I suppose that’s entertainment. For some. Not me. It always strikes me as an smug exercise in delusional vanity. I suppose that it’s not as naff as James Bond saves The Academy Awards (copyright and all rights reserved to whoever is mad enough to claim them) when we would all be anxious about the fate of Mick Jackson and Mira Sorvino and Whassherface who gave us this generation’s definitive interpretation of Dr Christmas Jones.
After the structurally interesting but otherwise abject High Time to Kill and the family-splitting intrigue (still unresolved) in deciding whether DoubleShot is a clever pastiche or really quite as rubbish as it appears, this is a conventional narrative against a dull background and, to save you the bother, Jean-Louis Trintignant, whoever he may be (admit it, you’ve no idea either, and it’s a thunderously show-offy reference) lives to die another day. This will always be the problem in setting a Bond against a real-life event for as we know, the Cannes Film Festivals in 2000 and/or 2001 (or whenever this is meant to be, perhaps it’s 1622) went ahead very peacefully and the only victim was art.
On reflection, I wonder whether Mr Benson was really all that interested in this one. Not much actually happens: it is very light on action in comparison to most of his others although, to give him credit, he does appear to be wanting to try to write a love story in which Bond appears now and again but most of the investigatory leg-work is done by Rene Mathis (who must be about 254).
As opposed to DoubleShot, which was all about Bond, this is a book in which Bond appears only sporadically, for the first half anyway, pratting about with some actress woman whilst other people do the Bond-stuff (or don’t do anything at all and rather bizarrely wait for James Bond to turn up and make it all OK). The deathly dog-show incident pads out the first half with some “action”, but as an incident it’s filler. Bond beating up a guard at Belmarsh is an arresting (ho ho!) little incident, but it is just a little incident, albeit it leads to a good joke about union protection. I limp away from this one wondering whether his heart was in it. Abundant references to Goro Yoshida and his schemes suggest that Mr Benson would much rather be writing about those, and they’re diverting little vignettes, so diverting that I want to read about them than whatever’s meant to be going on here. Additionally, the female lead mentions so often that she appears with her estranged husband as a “contractual obligation” that it raises the suspicion that Mr Benson is trying to make some sort of point, somewhere, somehow, so subtly, so very subtly. The offhand manner of the destruction of The Union and the villain (remarkably straightforward and Le Gerant falls for a transparent trick: is he blind or what?), the letting of anything resembling narrative coherence go hang for the sake of an in-reference, it comes across as being there but that’s about it. It plays, not as the grand climax to The Union but as the prelude to the next book, and there’s a genuine impression I get of wanting to hurry things along here and get it all out of the way. Admittedly, Mr Benson has been rather deft throughout his series, of rolling things together—we had a Helena Marksbury Trilogy that rolled into and crossed over with The Union Trilogy that, here, crosses paths with the Yoshida Duet, and obviously we have the M. Being Useless and Inept Sextet. Here, though, I am left abandoned at the end not just with the usual dissatisfaction but also an unsatisfaction.
It is, of course, reassuringly Mr Benson: the usual stuff, the standard deathly prose from the school of “oh God, why bother?” that gives us a description of seaweed as “[S]ome of it was brown, a lot of it was green, and a portion was red.” Ooh; a whole portion; lush. One sentence simply reads “Uh oh.” That’s it. Unclear whether this is Bond thinking it. or the writer. Or me. All a bit autopilot, and even the game of spot the bizarre solecism isn’t challenging this time around: Bond emerges from the Eurotunnel in his DB5. Isn’t Eurotunnel the parent company, rather than the Channel Tunnel itself? And the way it’s written suggests that Bond drove through the tunnel which… can’t happen. More positively, it’s generally (although, in one “important” regard, inconsistently) breezily written with a lot of contractions in the narrative of the “hasn’t” and “wasn’t” and “he’d” variety and this is unashamed and confident and seems to be making some sort of point that this is how I, Raymond Benson, write stuff, so eat it, bitch, or sod off, which is bold and perhaps this is indeed the most obviously “A Raymond Benson Book” rather than “A James Bond Book by some American bloke” so far (especially as Bond does damn all and is one of the more boring characters served unto us). Certainly, the incident involving Perrin and Weil (two film persons with the initials P and W, one name of six letters, the other four… hmmm) with its reference to “hookers” doesn’t read as Bondy and perhaps that’s no bad thing: this may well be a Raymond Benson novel (and may be a defining moment of the style) and whilst I fear that he’s not a new and exciting author I will be reading much of or searching out his work in remainder shops the globe o’er, the book could be taken to demonstrate a desire to stretch away from the Bond thing.
The unsatisfaction comes from what a weird book this is: just when one was expecting something dramatic and exciting as a conclusion, it is hollow: damn all of consequence happens and the big reveal is lumpy and unthrilling given that we all know very early on that (amongst other clues of equivalent punch-on-the-nose delicacy) that Le Gerant uses a Union Corse yacht to get about. Being generous, let’s say Mr Benson wanted to make the point that finishing off one bunch of villains doesn’t stop villainy elsewhere which is a true enough observation but makes the principal narrative a difficult one with which to engage, the tedium about film-making aside. Even Bond’s thoughts seem elsewhere: early on, he wonders whether a trip to Japan will be in his near future; only 100 pages or so in and he wants the book over too. I sympathise.
The other villains are some typing. This is a bit of a sadness with Le Gerant, who provokes in his torture of Bond one of the greatest cliffhangers of the series in “He couldn’t help screaming, especially when he smelled his own eye burning”. A book with that sentence in it cannot be entirely without merit, and only a fool would assert otherwise. Being a nephew of Draco (and how does no-one actually know that Draco and Cesari senior were half-brothers?), and therefore within the man’s family and accordingly fated to die when James Bond hoves into view, it is a novelty to have Bond related to the villain, albeit distantly and by marriage. Shame that Le Gerant has to get stuck in the middle of spat between the in-laws. Gets blown up in a helicopter, which is an oddly impersonal sort of death: given his pervasiveness, and the pretty monstrous things he has done to Bond and his chums over the years, one might have expected something a bit more satisfying. Unless we can chalk up another generous interpretation and this is Mr Benson teaching us that there is little or no true satisfaction truly received from killing someone so they may as well die any-old-how. Wisdom. Still, given such a vivid and, an achievement this, sensual villain, it does seem anticlimactic. Perhaps it’s a brave move on Mr Benson’s part. There remain unanswered issues about Le Gerant at the end (it’s never really explained how he has been cheating at cards, unless he truly has (forgive the pun) second sight, which does give him a dimension of the extraordinary and the interesting) and why should we always expect answers—isn’t the unexplained more troubling? Or perhaps it’s because Mr Benson was bored with him and couldn’t be bothered to invent any reasons. Daily, I face the dilemma of deciding which.
Amongst the other villains, the two most unusual are some bloke called Rick Fripp, and he’s only interesting because his aroma is the subject of a weird bit of typesetting on page 159 of the UK first edition, and Leon Essinger who is—and does this remind you of anyone, anyone at all?—a film director who cannot return to the United States for fear of arrest, and is a Frenchman married to a model/actress/whatever who makes spectacular action films. No, it’s gone. Anyway, he is the most cartoony element of the whole affair, this Roman Besson or whatever he’s called, and given that his conversations with his estranged wife habitually end with him muttering dark oaths, he may as well wear a big hat and swishy black cape and have his dialogue suffixed with the phrase “he cackled, wildly”. Enjoyably silly, but no threat of any sort.
As far as the traditional bunch of tedious hangers-on go, there’s little or nothing to report and they only evidently appear because they probably have to. The Bond/Moneypenny and Bond/M relationships are still the bickery twaddle of the Bond films and are therefore fit only for ignoring. M still seems blithely unconcerned by events generally, and seems to rely on Bond being the only agent acting against The Union. Lazy old cow. Bond has a new p.a. and her name is Nigel Smith. A Bond Boy who only drinks soft drinks (albeit this appears to be explained by having one kidney). The mind boggles. What are we meant to think about this? If, indeed, anything. Major Boothroyd is back, not for the better. Mr Benson appears to be making a particular point about not using the name “Q”, the issue presumably being that the “Q” that we know and tolerate is a creation of the films: this would be tenable if his Major Boothroyd wasn’t anything other than the Llewelyn prototype and, anyway, in chapter three of Casino Royale, M directs Bond to have a chat with Q about equipment, so it seems to be an artificial point to press.
Of all the usual parasites, Rene Mathis gets the most screen time and the first half of the book is as much about Mathis as Bond. This is a success, save that quite a lot of what Bond then later does is to tread over the same ground, which does little to diminish the gust of repetition and leftovers rattling through the book. Mathis occupies enough attention as a character that it’s genuinely affecting when he is blinded; however, does he need to be Mathis? Because enough care and attention is paid to him, and he is developed as someone to be interested in, could he have stood up as an original character of Mr Benson’s own devising? I think so. This is part of the frustration—did he actually have to use Rene Mathis? It still looks terribly insecure, this shaking of the skeletons of Fleming’s bit-part players. True, if one did not know he was a Fleming character, then one would accept at face value that he is this author’s own creation, but that does raise the question—why call him Mathis? Why not LeBlanc or Martin or any other common French name? Would work just as well. It’s all very odd.
As for Bond himself, it’s moot whether he appears in this. There are some touches of the old lad kicking about—and by old, he must be about eighty by now, which does make the principal relationship a mite ewww. He speaks fluent French, allegedly, has an Armani dinner jacket (I mean, what?) and takes ten minutes to swim one hundred metres, evidence itself of considerable age. He shoots his father-in-law, something I can sympathise with although someone in Palermo beat me to it, and has been known to sleep with fashion models (male or female is unclear, and presumably not from the Grattan catalogue) but found them vacuous. James Bond. Finds someone else vacuous. Hm.
There are, reassuringly to remind us that it is Mr Benson’s vision after all, the sporadic dashes of EonBond such as 007 contemplating “If only he had the car’s machine guns” or “just a rocket or two”, yeah yeah, and some awkward observations, with Bond being impressed by the performance of a mid-range Renault Megane (I’m not convinced that the (ahem) real James Bond would even have deigned to be aware of such an object) and a very curious reflection on losing his virginity in Paris (presumably in the Underage pørn Cut of By Royal Command) asserting: “Although the sex had been explosive, the experience of discovering that he’d been taken for a ride had left a permanent bad taste in his mouth”. Getting banged, someone rode a teenage James Bond via his mouth? Jesus H Juice, what happened?
Slice off the routine MI6 stuff, which would be easy enough as they add nothing, this is a hero in a tepid romantic action piece that would work just as well if the hero was Jed Bang or Trig Kyll or, perhaps more likely for Mr Benson and his adult entertainment enthusiasms, Dick Klitt. The impression, having done quite a lot with Bond in the previous two books, DoubleShot especially, is that the writer has run out of interesting things for Bond to do (and has perhaps realised, just as his forebears did, quite what a vapid character he can be) so, in a twist, he creates interesting things for Bond to doesn’t. It is unclear whether Mr Benson wants Bond in the story at all. He is sidelined for too much of the early story and the “love affair” is so utterly contrived, that it’s a bit of a disappointment when Bond turns up again. Whilst it’s clear that Mr Benson wants to develop a stronger relationship between Bond and the girl than he has done to date, and make their eventual parting more significant and melodramatic, this isn’t hard given the competition presented by Thingy and Her and Mrs Doowit and Them Twins. Seeking to concentrate on the romance and leaving plot to go slit its wrists somewhere quiet and unseen, whilst the relationship does get more space, it is unfortunately no more convincing than any of the others, just more time-consuming. There are two particular problems with it.
Firstly, repeatedly, Mr Benson has Bond muse about whether this relationship is love, which is nothing more than the writer telling us that it is regardless of convincingly demonstrating it as such through how he tells it, which is cheating and if he can’t be bothered to write it properly, I can’t be bothered to read it properly, please may we get back to the grim eye-torturing inflicted on Mathis, ta. Secondly, any conviction is undermined by an initial meeting that is hootsomely unlikely. Bond, working undercover as representative of “Pop World” magazine—James Bond works for Heat, OMFG! LOL!—eats lunch with the woman, during which we are witness to giggling about blonde jokes, Bond being overtly flirtatious, lots of gossip about fashion and celebrities and horoscopes and shoes and interior design (probably), the girl laughing so loud that Bond wanted “to hug her” (ooh, snuggles; what next, a big sleepover and a Sex and the City marathon?), Bond thinking that everything she wears is A-MAZING and, most of all, being a really, really, really good listener who drinks Pouilly Fuisse: why she doesn’t assume that James Bond is a screaming homosexual cliché is a mystery, unless her unsubtle come-ons are intended to indicate that she sees him as no threat, signals that Bond ultimately mis-reads in a spectacularly heterosexual fashion. Perhaps, thinking back to what we are told about the losing of his virginity, whenever he is in Paris, 007 is gay. I have a friend a bit like that; weekends, he is Robert but when he flies to Germany every Sunday evening, he is called Samuel. But that’s because he is a bigamist and cannot have either wife discover this. I certainly don’t want his Oxford wife to find out—it would completely ruin my Monday nights.
“[My mother] had to scramble to come up with a name for a girl that began with a “T”. She put “Ty” and “Lyn” together and came up with “Tylyn”. ”Bond thought that she was an amazing girl…”
What, on the basis of this crummy anecdote? Man’s a fool. Fine, so there’s a “real live” Tylyn noted in the acknowledgements at the front of the book (Tylyn rhymes with smilin’ (or, presumably, um, well… tilin’)) and this may well be how the actual person came by her name, but it’s not particularly exciting a reason, is it, this feeble person-naming protocol that involves sticking two things together? Further evidence of the weary “oh, I can’t be bothered trying now; here are some words” impression. I name this child Fiscalradiator, for I have “put” Fiscal and Radiator together and come up with “Fiscalradiator”. Fiscalradiator is a little sister to our other children, Ringbinderlips, Slaggrandpa, Scissortit and Dungflue (Jr.). Whilst I would hope for her sake that the bland stupidity gene is not hereditary, the rest of the narrative suggests otherwise. And what does she mean, her mother had to give her a name beginning with T because had she been a boy, she would have been Timothy? Weird thing to discuss and it reads really oddly, not so much a conversation as a nonversation, but I guess we have to be thankful her mother wasn’t keen on the name “Pierce” otherwise she might have tried to put “Pen” and “Is” together. Why couldn’t the mother think of a female name beginning with T? What about—Tracy? Um. Well, perhaps that would be going too far, even for Mr Benson. Tatiana? Hm. I see the difficulty. There’s Tjennifer (the T is silent). Could always have tried Tinkerbell, I s’pose. Or, perhaps, [censored], which would fit nicely with
“Finally, he took a breast in his hand and used his thumb and forefinger to stimulate the nipple. When it was erect, he slowly and gently twisted it, pulled it, twisted it, pulled it…”
And then he hooked her up to one of those electronic udder graspers and got two pints of foaming gold top out of her. She was his best heifer, and he looked forward every morning to her soft brown eyes, her blistered tongue and her smell of crusty dung. Oh! How he loved her and how he loved thinking about the luggage her leather would make, and the hamburger her womb and rectum would end up in.
“Tylyn squirmed under him as he alternated between the two breasts. Then, keeping his left hand on one breast and continuing the nipple stimulation…”
Exquisite. “I shall now proceed to continue the nipple stimulation, madam. Please do not adjust your hat.” What an antiseptic description, all the passion of the nit nurse. I think his technique is a little rough. Mrs Jim insists that I use my tongue; bet you really needed to know that. I did consider it necessary to share.
“…he slid his right hand down to the mound between her legs. Her hair was soft and thin there. She was wet, and his second and third fingers slid inside easily.”
Oh, Mr Benson! What are you saying about the virtue of the young lady? Could one hunt deer in there? Is it like a welly top? I know the words “actress” and “prostitute” have traditionally been interchangeable, but still…
Perhaps she’s the Eurotunnel.
“Tylyn moaned loudly and arched her back as he used his thumb to circle the erogenous zone at the top of her vulva.”
I wonder if he writes Biology exams in his spare time. All very matter of fact, isn’t it? I’m not actually finding this erotic, and evidently with me popping up (fnarr) there’s an amount of coitus interruptus but I do wonder if we’re meant to be taking notes for a test next Tuesday. You, there, Benson minor—yes, you boy—draw me the erogenous zone at the top of the vulva. I said the erogenous zone at the top of the vulva! What do you mean you don’t know where it is? Ask your mother! Stupid boy!
Or did he write this at all? Humour me on this. So brutally fisted into the narrative is this episode that I do wonder whether this is the Benson voice or some perverse edict of the publisher. I may be wrong, and on the basis of being married and having children I have become resigned to the fact that I usually am, but there’s pleasing speculation to be had and imagery to brainspunk that Mr Benson was forced to emit amateur pørn at gunpoint and this is the spill, taking the ournal out of journalism. Admittedly, there must be worse fates than being contractually obliged to write a whambamthankyoumamagram, such as being a peep-show booth wiper or managing Carlisle United or being educated at an unimportant school and if wrong I am, I shoot a load of tepid apologies right in yer faces and will perform a suitable act of contrition that will doubtless involve public nakedness, a lacrimose ambulanceperson and a radish. But I’m not sure that I am. Yet.
“He kept up this rhythm for several minutes, using her natural lubrication to slide his thumb up and down and around her clitoris, while keeping his two fingers deep within her.”
It rhymes with clucking bell. How deep? I think, given what we’ve been told so far and we now inwardly know this woman, and that she’s as wet as an otter’s pocket, this seems like atypical restraint. Deep enough to wear her appendix as a little hat? Deep enough to scramble her eggs? Detail! This textbook requires detail! There is an image that I just cannot shake, of Bond using his fingers to work out the last of the jam from the bottom of the jar.
“Tylyn’s breath increased and the moans became louder until her stomach tensed and she gasped. Bond felt her contract spasmodically around his fingers as she writhed on the bed.”
It remains a little unclear how easily he extracted those fingers. This would be the very definition of compromising situation, would it not? Imagine what would happen if his fingers got stuck? Have to go through life as some sort of obscene ventriloquism act. The Amazing James and La Tylyn Fantastique. Puts Orville the Duck firmly in his place. That’s it children, if you twist and pull the right nipple like turning an ignition key, she’ll make a honking sound, and do the same to the left and she’ll sing a bawdy song about Kent. No, Kent. Yes, I know what it sounds like.
I very much hope he washed his hands before eating.
It hasn’t finished yet. Oh no. Au contraire.
“Later, after she had caught her breath and calmed down, she snuggled next to him, and said, “Don’t you dare leave, James. Don’t you dare.”
“She reached down, grasped him, and proceeded to return the favour.”
So, James Bond fingers a French fancy who then tugs away at his purple-headed womb broom. Unless, by returning the favour, she stuck a couple of fingers up his wrong ‘un and, I dunno, worked out a bit of sweetcorn or, on the basis of this rubbish, the manuscript of a book. Wouldn’t surprise me, but on balance, it’s probably a swift hand shandy. It’s so tremendously sophisticated, isn’t it? “Never Dream of Dying—Bond gets Wanked Off”. Evidently, and rather transparently, this is in the book to shock, and it is pretty shocking albeit for reasons other than its graphic nature. It’s ultimately over-descriptive; there’s little if any sensuality to this. It’s as if someone is describing what they are watching; it’s voyeuristic, not participative; grubby rather than involving. Perhaps, as I believe Mr Benson has asserted, if Ian Fleming had lived, he would have come up with something similar, and maybe he would, but I doubt it would have been so pedestrian. It is stimulation absent the first T. I remember upon my initial reading being surprised that this had made it into a Bond story but now that we’ve all sat through Mr Craig telling Ms Green about the qualities of his little finger, ultimately I’m not so sure. Still, Casino Royale may have been a departure (-ish) from the Bond norm but they just weren’t going to suggest that Bond’s fingers were slathered in labial juices, which is pretty much what I take from this. James Bond “meets” a French floosie, indulges in a crafty clit-tickle and it’s all jolly good clean fun as she excretes Chateau Twatto over what he uses to pick his nose; then he gets a hand-job for his efforts. Trouble is, it’s not suggestive, which might have been amusing, and to have to read it is really rather jarring. Up to now, the narrative style, such as it is, has been breezy and light, getting on with telling us uncomplicated things in an uncomplicated, unthreatening and chatty way. However, at this juncture, the writing becomes considerably… um… stiffer. Um. Everything stops and we are forced to watch this. And, basically, it is indeed a bit embarrassing. Doubtless it pushes an envelope (how hard is pushing an envelope anyway?) but one queries whether it was an envelope worth pushing. And not with those fingers. Unless it was a French Letter. Or perhaps I should be more adult about this and observe that such things are natural in a loving relationship and when a mummy and a daddy or a mummy and a mummy or a daddy and a daddy or a daddy and a doggy love each other very much they seek to express such love with as much of their bodies as possible. Yes, even the nose, Gio-Gio. And the ear. Even Daddy’s big fat belly, yes. Possibly not the knee, no; that would be silly. For example, your mother’s principal erogenous zone is not located north of the vulva, no, but appears to be Selfridges. Whereas my principal erogenous zone is north of the Volga. What do you mean you’re only three?
I digress. Where was I? Must remember to cut my fingernails.
Oh, why can’t I do the decent thing and admit that this anatomy of her anatomy embarrassed me horribly and I’m not coming at this from a pretence of arch detachment but really from a little boy lost gone a bit red faced at all the sexy stuff? Well, sorry, can’t. Adult, y’see. And I know sexy when I sees it. It happens. Just as with the golf game in High Time to Kill, Mr Benson appears to be writing this as some sort of manual for those who have never played. From what I remember of being wanked, it was a more satisfying experience than this. At least I like to think it was and as wankee it’s only polite to inform one’s wanker accordingly. I wonder where he is now? Halcyon days. Anyway, I must accept that James Bond, as a sophisticated adult male, experiencer of many women, must have a number of techniques beyond the missionary and, as an adult male, masturbates. Not sure I wanted that assumption brought too readily to the fore, though. What next—“Bond has a really satisfying crap”? “Bond leaves the iron on, damn, can’t be bothered going home, let the bugger burn down, I’m insured, sod it.”? “Bond gets really juicy catarrh.”? The panache, the sophistication of the character is eroded by this. It seems plebian for Bond to indulge in explicitly, although tacitly acknowledge it I suppose I must. It’s just that when I get a clitoris shoved in my face, the mystery evaporates. Put that clitoris away, madam, I say; can you not hear the mysteries dissolving? Think of the mysteries. Pop pop pop. Happens all the bloody time.
With breasts that are “perfectly adequate handfuls”, which is jolly nice, Tylyn is undoubtedly the most memorable of Mr Benson’s leading ladies, albeit this is due to more screen-time and what is done unto her rather than anything she actually does, save for kindly giving a murderous drunkard pensioner government hitman a four-fingered fist of fun. There are other sexual escapades, alongside the most notable one, in which they indulge in “noisy, animalistic love”, although one wonders which animals would spring to mind immediately. Bats? Ferrets? Lice? Aside from using the character to allow Bond to explore every conceivable aspect of his sexuality, and some that are several leagues away from conceivable, she is also the source of the book’s light entertainment. One of her horses is called Commander. “Bond mused that he knew a certain commander who would like a ride.” Oh, did he? Fancy. Bond ends up riding a nag called “Lolita”. Stop it, Mr Benson. Stop it! You’re a riot. You wicked, wicked man! I have autoeviscerated, so split are my sides. I sit here, in a lake of my own internal juices, punching my small intestine back into place but I find I cannot, such is the mirth. One can, it appears, die laughing. The most amusing elements are her observations on the Cannes Film Festival, that “Mostly she felt that it had become way too snobbish for her taste”, yet “She couldn’t believe that [fans] could stand in the Riviera sun outside a hotel for hours just to get a glimpse of a celebrity” which is a magnificent moment and presumably the writer telling us that she is as hypocritical and delusional a cretin as any actress, quite a brave move to be quite so critical of his leading lady, and in the closing, heavily melodramatic parting, her accusation that Bond is a member of a deceitful profession which given that her job is to deceive and she is as trained a liar as he, I’ll generously take as being an authorial observation shot through with bitter irony rather than the nonsense it appears to be.
As I suspect that I’ve mentioned, the book is light on action until the last few dozen pages, but the big, mid-book boat chase set-piece is notable. Mr Benson indulges his usual habit of getting all caught up in his lovely and super action (“He turned the wheel and his boat did a marvellous barrel roll…”, Bond hits a wave with “perfect timing” (well, of course he bloody does), and performs a flawless “stuff”), but it is so reminiscent of several of the stunts in the opening boat chase of The World is Not Enough that I am terribly confused about it. Is this:
a ) authorial wit, answering the criticism that his books were just written Bond films so we may as well get a bit of an actual Bond film, see how it stands out, yeah, see how all the rest of my craft, my art. isn’t really like a Bond film with all the lovely writing what I done about clitorises (clitori? cliterati?), see, this is what a Bond film is like and what I was doing is Bond literachurrr, yeah?
b ) authorial wit, that if the literary James Bond (put to one side whether he’s in this book) happened to walk onto the set of a film, he would—actually, yeah, actually in fact—behave like James Bond in a James Bond film? Admittedly, this is a funny idea, albeit it doesn’t so much as break the fourth wall as do a marvellous barrel roll right through it.
c ) authorial wit, that only Bond fans would get this, a gift to them, and the half dozen people who would pick this book up who were not amongst the millions who saw the film, would not be troubled by it?
d ) a shameless lift?
e ) further evidence that he’s not really bothered any more so if he’s going to be criticised here, he can at least say “Well, it might be rubbish but you can’t pin that bit on me; it was Eon’s idea. Let me tell you some more about Japan.”
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So, where does that leave us? It’s not a wholly pointless or dreadful affair—the incidents with the mazzere have atmosphere, the eye trauma is unsettling and Bond’s improvisation of a weapon from a rat’s bone having had to bite through the rodent to get it provides much entertainment but there’s an inescapable air of anticlimax, boredom and treading water whilst wanting to get on with the next book that distracts, and I truly don’t think that I’ve imagined this. Whilst I will claim here that I would be interested in considering anyone else’s conclusions on the point, the start of this rubbish gives you some idea of how much I will value your view.
Digressions into adult infomercials aside, there’s not much here about which to get excited or bothered and symptomatic of this is the strange cover design of the UK version, a lurid green map of Europe that very oddly deletes Corsica entirely, and that irritates me hugely. I know one should not judge a book by its cover (even one with “by Raymond Benson” written on it) and I doubt that the writer has any responsibility for this, but, still, all a bit slapdash, careless, done it, over with, have you ever heard of Mishima?
There are clues that he doesn’t appear to want to write it, I don’t really want to read it (the lengthy digression at the opening of this piffle is evidence enough): reader and writer as one (not physically; I doubt that my orifices could cope). It’s tired. Disappointing. Building up to a climax (fnarr) that on the one hand is credible and on the other is utterly ridiculous, a shocking surprise that is neither, with the rest of it going through on cruise control, this is a go-nowhere of a book. It has some nice passages. As does the Bond girl. Oh God, will the pørnography never end? Whilst Never Dream of Reading wouldn’t be a fair comment, and there are worse ways to spend a few hours such as being hacked to death or Rugby League, or Rugby station, don’t lose too much sleep deciding whether to re-read. Ultimately, it exists.