Thursday, February 10, 2011

Carte Blanche: Why the New Bond Book Will Bomb

In 2008, the Estate of Ian Fleming released the first of the 'next generation' of James Bond novels – Devil May Care.

Rebooting the franchise after John Gardner and Raymond Bensen's long tenures, the Estate of Ian Fleming went back to the format they intended to introduce shortly after Ian Fleming's death – having each book in the series penned by a celebrity author. For Devil May Care, they made the inspired choice of Birdsong author Sebastien Faulks.

Devil May Care was a great addition to the Bond canon – a solid little story which coolly carried the style and substance of some of Fleming's better Bond books. Ever since I read it, I've been eagerly awaiting the next chapter from publisher Hodder & Stoughton.

It turns out, I might have been waiting for nothing.

Because the estate of Ian Fleming recently announced the next of the Bond books, Carte Blanche, and I'm deeply underwhelmed by what I've heard.

For a start, they've picked American Jeffery Deaver to write it.

Now Deaver's an accomplished author, and penned some truly clever thrillers. It would be an honor for (almost any other) franchise to have a writer like him at the helm. But with Bond, things are different. In picking an American author, the publishers risk making the same error they did when they chose Raymond Bensen to take the reins of the franchise in 1996.

Bensen was a great writer – far better than his forebear, John Gardner – but lacked an insight into British culture (most notably Bond's snobbery) that was an essential ingredient to Fleming's stories. I am concerned that Deaver might share that shortcoming.

[Perhaps this is a demonstration of your own style of British snobbery – Editorial Bear]

Don't say that! It would be like getting a British actor to play that most iconic of Americans – Superman!

[They did. You might want to read thisEditorial Bear]


Anyway, what concerns me more – in fact fills me with dread for the whole project – is that Deaver's wading in and rewriting Bond's history.

You can understand why he's doing it, of course. James Bond was born in 1920, yet was portrayed as still being in active service by John Gardner and Raymond Bensen well into the 21st century. It was growing impossible to maintain Bond's continuity and also portray him as a young, vibrant and dangerous secret agent.

Sebastian Faulks solved this issue by setting Devil May Care in 1967; just weeks after the conclusion of Colonel Sun (the last of the 'canon' Bond books.) Jeffery Deaver is apparently taking the opposite tack.

"The book will be set in mid-2011," Deaver explains, "which is when the book will be coming out. Bond is a 29- or 30-year-old agent for British security, doing what he did in the original books. And he will be a veteran of the military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. You'll see the cast of characters readers are familiar with - Miss Moneypenny and M - but updated for the present day."

Ouch. Bond is being 'reborn' in the mid-eighties, according to Deaver's math.

And to me, this means that despite dodging the deadly intentions of Blofeld, Goldfinger and SMERSH, Bond did get killed in the end. There's simply no way this modern mash-up will be anything akin to the chauvinistic, cold-blooded ladykiller we all know and love.

Bond was the archetype for the modern action hero – so to 'reinvent him' for a modern age is to thrust a character into a literary realm in which he's already become a stereotype. Likewise, the challenges Deaver's modern-day Bond will face will be starkly different to those of the original Bond – whose world view was shaped by wars World and Cold.

Don't get me wrong – I'm sure the new Bond book, Carte Blanche, will be a magnificent thriller – but it won't be a Bond book. Not in the same way Devil May Care was. It will be something like the exciting, but ultimately unsatisfying Quantum of Solace movie – a fast-paced thrill ride that owes it's name, but nothing else, to Ian Fleming's legacy.

Carte Blanche by Jeffery Deaver is available in hardback in June, 2011

1 comment:

40MilesOfBadRoad said...

Theres been 60 years of books lumbered with all the baggage not only from the Fleming novels but all the novels from all the different authors ever since who continues his story. No, a literary reboot was well overdue.