[31 October 2011]
PopMatters Associate Books Editor
There are those who say that James Bond jumped the shark long ago (and I don’t mean those scenes in Thunderball). They say he is a dinosaur – fossilised and misogynistic. Gosh, even ‘M’ accuses him of this in one of the Pierce Brosnan outings of the spy’s adventures. But then, that is when ‘M’ is played by Dame Judi Dench and she spends the entire film telling him off like a school ma’am – exquisitely played – but a school ma’am nonetheless.
I for one felt that the shark-jumping occurred when Roger Moore’s Bond went all Smokey and the Bandit in the ‘70s (and the stepping-stone alligator moment, in Live and Let Die 1973, remember?) and crippled the franchise – after which it had to be reinvented and revived ostensibly by Timothy Dalton, but it was not until Brosnan entered the frame that Bond really became relevant and entertaining once more. Now that I have sparked off the debate (which Bond is the best?) I will proceed with this review!
I began with a digression. Those are the screen portrayals, embedded in all our visual vocabulary. The novels are something different.
Ian Fleming’s original hero would not be all that welcome these days. He hits women, drinks and smokes heavily, is way too promiscuous for anyone’s comfort, and relishes the prospect of killing his enemies off.
Jeffery Deaver hits a different note, however: his Bond chastises a fellow operative for smoking on the job! Deaver now joins the ranks of prominent writers who have tested their strengths on a continuation of the James Bond myth. And Bond is now a mythic figure. He’s more versatile than a superhero, not being fixed in an essential ‘self’ of powers conflicting with flaws. Bond is far more flexible. He’s Robin Hood, he’s a dashing pirate, an inventive and chivalrous man of honour. Yes, that’s right – he’s chivalrous.
Deaver recreates Bond as an old-fashioned figure, but a gentleman; not a ‘relic of the cold war’ as Dench’s ‘M’ accused him of being, but a persuasive, astute and – dare I say it? – kindly colleague particularly to the women in his division of MI6. So this comes as quite a surprising and not unwelcome read for someone who, like myself, did suffer from Bond fatigue throughout my youth as a popular culture consumer.
Deaver gets a lot of things just right. For example, the British secret service is depicted as a far more multicultural place than it used to be, and when the question arises of what device to use for surveillance and encryption, well, Bond has an ‘app’ for that, now. The ‘Q’ division has diversified and upgrades existing technology for him, so that his spymasters can provide him with – wait for it – the ‘iQ-Phone’.
Bond has to exist in the directly contemporary world in order to work properly as an archetype. He must be up-to-date and updated continuously to be the ‘EverySpy’ for our times. He cannot be retro, for example a Mad Men style reinvention might be tempting – the suits, the attitudes, the cocktails. But that was Bond back then, Connery’s Bond, now he must be conversant in millennial Gen X/Y opinions and outlooks.
He’s seeking across the globe, in that fluid way he manages, for an identity; speaking the local dialects and ordering the local drinks as he goes. In some ways he’s the perpetual student forever on a gap year – now able to communicate with anyone, anywhere thanks to the global interface on his phone. In the process he encounters the macabre villain Severan Hydt, a multi-millionaire recycling and waste expert – obsessed with death and decay.
Bond must tackle the abuses and hypocrisy that twist the message of green politics and the movements that tackle global poverty. He learns more about himself, inevitably, and is inspired by the characters of the ‘new’ South Africa.
This is a good take on the Bond myth, and involves an interesting twist on the events surrounding the deaths of his parents in that infamous skiing accident. Like his many gadgets, Bond is in danger of built-in obsolescence if writers and directors are not careful, but in this case Deaver has done a good job of future-proofing our hero. He’s covered for the next couple of up-grades, at least.