Is it any wonder that the James Bond industry continues to do a roaring trade? 007 has become one of our most endearing and enduring exports. By turns a suave negotiator and brutal killer, the superspy has sold hundreds of millions of cinema tickets and tens of thousands of novels, the latest of which is written by William Boyd. The acclaimed author headed a glitzy press conference at The Dorchester yesterday flanked by air hostesses and Jensen cars for the publication of Solo, his novel written in the style of original author Ian Fleming.
Breathing new life into an iconic character is always risky, but Boyd, a self-confessed obsessive fan of Ian Fleming’s novels has gone back to basics. For the book that looks like a wise move as the James Bond of the original novels and the contemporary spy that explodes across the cinema screen are now two very different animals, and the gulf is getting wider. Boyd’s Bond is not the thuggish blond muscleman of Skyfall but the one described by Fleming as looking like 1940s singer-songwriter Hoagy Carmichael; a “tall, lean, rangy very dark-haired, good looking man”.
This is the Bond who chain-smokes 70 cigarettes a day and is rarely seen without a drink in his hand. The Bond who is attempting to stop a civil war in West Africa, rather than the one portrayed by Daniel Craig trying to defeat a cyber-terrorist who had brought MI6 to its knees and mayhem to central London.
Boyd himself stressed that the link between the character devised by Fleming and the one thrilling cinema audiences “gets fainter and fainter” each year. The celluloid Bond is a product of the year in which the film was made. The follow up to Skyfall – which took $1bn worldwide – will be released in 2015 “and will show the world of 2014” according to Boyd. His novel, by contrast, shows the world of the 1960s still shaped by the Second World War and the Cold War.
Arguably the most successful continuations, by authors including Kingsley Amis, Sebastian Faulks and Charlie Higson, left Bond in his original period. Jeffery Deaver made him a post 9/11 agent in Carte Blanche two years ago, while John Gardner and Raymond Benson’s novels took him through the 1980s and into the new century. None of these met with a wide acclaim, either popular or critical. But leaving Bond where he is without sanitising him raises serious questions about how to remain true to the time and deal with the misogyny and racism rife in the Fleming books.
Boyd has dealt with the issue deftly. By setting Solo in 1969 – the last Fleming work ends six years earlier – he creates an older, wiser Bond who has noted the huge social shifts during the decade and adapted accordingly. So he is in his original era, and out of it at the same time.
Perhaps it is no surprise that, were his book to be filmed, Boyd would choose Daniel Day-Lewis as his ideal Bond, one of the few actors of such talent that would be able to reconcile this ever changing yet strangely immutable character.