Hello, friends. First Impressions is, of course, Jane Austen’s title for her first version of Pride and Prejudice. And in the same way that Elizabeth and Darcy come to realize that they were utterly mistaken in their first impressions, I’m also hoping that I’m wrong about the new book I’ve dipped into.
I’ve written before about my love for the novels of William Boyd. Boyd is that rarity, a writer who merges thriller with literary fiction, and he does so with authority and panache. (I also once read that he also makes award-winning wines near his home in the south of France. I haven’t checked into it, but I really hope it’s true.) Nevertheless, I was extremely nervous about his most recent novel, Solo.
As you can see from the cover, Solo is a James Bond novel. And that’s when my interest in it stalled.
Let me explain. I really enjoy action movies and have seen a fair few James Bond flicks. (Until Daniel Craig, my favourite Bond was Roger Moore. That always makes Bond aficionados groan. But here’s the thing: I have difficulty taking Bond seriously, so for me, Roger Moore was the perfect foolish, flouncing, smirking, stiff-limbed puppet who undercut the seriousness of the enterprise. Also, Sean Connery’s wildly meandering but too-frequently Scottish accent drove me nuts. In the non-Bond way.) But there’s a difference between watching a light-hearted action film and taking the time to read a book. A film is so easily here and then gone, reduced to a few clever lines of dialogue, a smart plot twist, and some great cinematography. But even a weak book embeds itself in your brain. It lingers.
I attempted Devil May Care, Sebastian Faulks’s Bond novel from 2008, but didn’t get far. Faulks has a good reputation as a writer, but he hewed closely to the Bond tradition. I found Devil May Care to be a laundry list of shopping, snobbery, and boring sexual stereotypes. After a few chapters, I gave up and skimmed to the end, for the plot. Can you see why I’m so nervous about Solo?
I genuinely don’t know what to make of the first chapter, but I howled with laughter a few times. That’s probably a bad start for a Bond novel. But don’t take my word for it; let me give you some examples. In the first few pages, Bond wakes up in a hotel and eats breakfast:
“Bond smiled grimly to himself, slid out of bed and walked naked into the en suite bathroom. The Dorchester had the most powerful showers in London…” (4)
“He swallowed again – his throat was sore.” (5)
“He sprinkled some pepper on his scrambled eggs. A good breakfast was the first essential component to set any day off to a proper start.” (8)
Is that you, Bond, or is it my grandmother? I was half-expecting him to order chamomile tea. After Bond manfully eats breakfast (despite his sore throat), he declines a flirty invitation to a party and goes back to his flat to supervise some builders who “have found some damp in the drawing room” (11). And THIS is why I’m wondering what’s going on with Boyd’s Bond.
I think Boyd is too good a writer to slouch on the basic furniture of a Bond novel (luxury brands, cheesy sexual intrigue, crazed megalomaniacal villain). I suspect – I sincerely hope – that something more is going on. A subversion of the Bond tradition? Something deliciously loopy and off-kilter? We shall see.
How about you, friends? Have you read Solo or other Bond novels? What did you think?