Sunday, July 06, 2008

book review - Devil May Care

It is hard not to get wrapped up in the hype before even opening this book. The amount of pre-launch coverage was intense with the main angle being that this James Bond novel had been written by a literary figure. Sebastian Faulks was expected to deliver a book that combined the best of his writing style, developing characters and drawing out emotions, with the best of Ian Fleming’s fast paced action and tightly controlled plots.

The question should not whether or not he manages to deliver that but whether or not you enjoy reading the book. The response to that has to be a qualified positive. The qualification comes from a couple of moments when it became hard to see what was being gained by stringing scenes out.

But before launching into that a quick reaction to the story. Picking up where Fleming left off this is a Bond in the 1960s managing to sidestep the oncoming hippy revolution and the summer of love and stick to fighting shady characters against the cold war background.

The other change though is the focus on drugs that could ironically place the action bang in 2008. Mind you these were early days with drugs and the idea of corrupting an entire nation with narcotics is a novel one. The irony is that even with drugs now firmly established and by all accounts quite widely available the collapse in society hasn’t happened. Or has it? Let’s not start that debate.

Aside from the drugs and the swinging sixties much is the same. This is a Bond reliant on his fists, strength and quick thinking rather than on gadgets galore. This is also a man quite happy to spend some serious time in the company of women as well as evil megalomaniacs.

But his is also a Bond with frailties and the book starts with him weighing up the prospect of retirement. He is never quite away from those thoughts until close to the end when it becomes clear that this is a world he could never leave, except as a result of taking a bullet.

The fight between the mad chemist thwarted by the British establishment and his Vietnamese henchman who goes in for tongue clamping removal as a form of torture is enjoyable but sometimes stretched. It seems to take ages for Bond to complete a game of tennis with the arch villain Dr. Gorner and likewise a passage of events on a plane when Bond is struggling to stay alive seems to take just that bit too long.

The other criticism comes with the womanising. It takes Bond an age to take the lead female to the bedroom and then when he gets there he takes her “roughly” in a moment that makes you think of Mill & Boon. The sex has to be there but is clearly not somewhere Faulks feel comfortable writing about.

But give him credit this is an enjoyable book with several plot strands running in parallel that he manages to all pull together at the end. This is enjoyment and is not meant to be much more. The skill is writing a believable plot with a leading character that is not only known the world over but in most reader’s minds already carries the face of a Connery, Brosnan or a Craig and their behavioural patterns.

From a publishing point of view it has already been a great success for Penguin and in terms of the highlights of this year it will be included in most lists. The real test is if it is remembered for anything than being yet another attempt to resurrect the Bond character and that is of course far too early to judge.

Version read – Penguin hardback


Brad said...

I read this book after you personally recommended it to me.

I have just read your "review" and I think I disagree with you. In my opinion the aim of the book was to simply be the next instalment of the Bond series written very much in the style of the previous works - and this is certainly achieved. The usual formula is lovingly followed and the set pieces work a treat. The point you raised in your "review" was that they seemed drawn out or went on too long. I just don't agree the tension builds nicely in both the Tennis and Plane sections. In fact I thought the overall pace of the book was excellent.

After I had finished reading the book my wife asked me who I had pictured James Bond to be - Sean Connery, Roger Moore or Daniel Craig? But none of them, to the compliment of Faulks it stayed true to the magic of the Fleming books as I had imagined him to be me.

Simon Quicke said...

Brad thanks for your comment. Unlike most of my readers I have actually met you and the idea that you saw yourself as James Bond still has me laughing, hence why it took some time to respond to you.

You must remind me there is some great Archer that I can recommend.