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CBner's 'Solo' reviews - spoilers ahead!

Boyd Solo literary continuations reviews CBners reviews

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Poll: CBner's 'Solo' reviews - spoilers ahead!

So - having read it my spirits are now...

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Out of ten, ten being really splendid and zero being pretty bloody awful, it's...

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Would another Boyd Bond be welcome?

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Assuming William Boyd doesn't do another, my advice to IFP would be...[MULTIPLE CHOICE]

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#61 S K Y F A L L

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Posted 09 November 2013 - 03:31 AM

I seen SOLO at my local book store (which is modest) and they only had a few copies on the lowest shelve. I was also surprised how expensive it was, well not that expensive but about $29.99 (Canadian). I'm a cheapstake is all, I may wait until it goes on sale. ;)



#62 saint mark

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Posted 09 November 2013 - 06:55 PM

I seen SOLO at my local book store (which is modest) and they only had a few copies on the lowest shelve. I was also surprised how expensive it was, well not that expensive but about $29.99 (Canadian). I'm a cheapstake is all, I may wait until it goes on sale. ;)

 

You have a point, I do recall buying both DMC & CB cheaply in some sort of pre-order actionprice, this book by Boyd was easily double of what I paid for the earlier mentioned books. Does that mean anything?



#63 Dustin

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Posted 09 November 2013 - 08:25 PM

Could it be that's a sign of print hardcover becoming a high-end product?

Edited by Dustin, 09 November 2013 - 08:25 PM.


#64 Simon

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Posted 09 November 2013 - 10:26 PM

I'm a cheapstake is all, I may wait until it goes on sale. ;)

 

You're a cheapstake huh?

 

Not sure whether to assume you're a cut of skirt or blade, or whether in fact you mean cheapskate...



#65 S K Y F A L L

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Posted 09 November 2013 - 11:42 PM

Another error on my part, what else is new. I'm curious does anyone remember how much DMC or CB were when they came out?



#66 saint mark

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Posted 09 November 2013 - 11:57 PM

Another error on my part, what else is new. I'm curious does anyone remember how much DMC or CB were when they came out?

I paid less than a tenner (in Euros) for each book while SOLO took easy double that.



#67 Double Naught spy

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Posted 11 November 2013 - 10:35 PM

Although I have a few criticisms that I'll touch on in a moment, my biggest criticism of Solo is over the fact that on page 232 (Chapter 4, Part 4), Bond goes to see the film Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.  The following evening, on page 241 (Chapter 5, Part 4) he watches a baseball game on television - the Washington Senators vs. Kansas City Royals.  A quick check of IMDB & Wikipedia reveals that Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice premiered in the U.S. on Wednesday, September 17, 1969.  However, an equally quick internet search reveals that the last date in 1969 that the Senators played the Royals was on Sunday, August 24, 1969!  Arrgh! 

 

Now, compared to other legitimate criticisms about Solo the previous reviewers have posted on this thread, I realize that little 'snafu' might seem trivial. But if I can fact-check this stuff in less than a minute(!), why can't Mr. Boyd (not to pick solely on him per se because this 'laziness' happens all to often with other novelists) or his proof-reader do the same?   As someone who plunked-down good money to buy this novel, this type of laziness is a personal affront to me (OK, that might have been a tad too dramatic, but you get the point.  :)  )  Having tolerated the first part of the novel with 007 coming off like a creepy weirdo by breaking & entering Bryce's home and then having to slog through all the pointless political intrigue that a fictional African nation (Psst!  Mr. Boyd, leave the fictional 'postage stamp' sized nations to the 007 movies!) can provide, I was finally beginning to "get into" Solo by the time 007 reached the U.S.A. 

 

However, coming across the aforementioned grossly incompetent (and easily correctable!) error, I was once again left with a bad taste in my mouth.  In order for me to have respect for an author, I need to feel as if he/she respects his/her audience.  Otherwise, (and this goes 'double!' for 007 continuation novels because IFP knows that us avid fans are 'easy, gullible prey' that will gobble up whatever product, good or bad, they present to us), the author can come across as some cheap, cynical huckster out to make a buck off of his/her readership.  I'm not willing to place Mr. Boyd in that category just yet... but I have to say, the evidence isn't looking good...

 

On a personal note:  I cannot begin to tell you how discovering this needless 'snafu of dates' bums me out.  One of the little pleasures in life (for me at least) is to go through the 007 novels, mapping out their internal references (moon phases, etc.) and breaking down the events into real calendar dates.  I've done it with all the continuing novels (the lengthy trek up the mountain in Benson's High Time to Kill was a real treat to hash out!) and I was really looking forward to continuing my little tradition with Solo.  At this point, I guess I'll have to stick with the Bob & Carol reference and settle for an 'asterisk note' stating that Bond was somehow 'mistaken' about the team's name that the Senator's were playing against.  (And for those interested, by keeping the "Bob & Carol" reference means that Boyd places 007's birthday somewhere (roughly) around mid July.  ...However, this might change after I've researched things like "Was the Jensen FF available for dealer showrooms at that time?", etc.)


Edited by Double Naught spy, 11 November 2013 - 10:42 PM.


#68 glidrose

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Posted 11 November 2013 - 11:49 PM

Although I have a few criticisms that I'll touch on in a moment, my biggest criticism of Solo is over the fact that on page 232 (Chapter 4, Part 4), Bond goes to see the film Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.  The following evening, on page 241 (Chapter 5, Part 4) he watches a baseball game on television - the Washington Senators vs. Kansas City Royals.  A quick check of IMDB & Wikipedia reveals that Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice premiered in the U.S. on Wednesday, September 17, 1969.  However, an equally quick internet search reveals that the last date in 1969 that the Senators played the Royals was on Sunday, August 24, 1969!  Arrgh! 

On a personal note:  I cannot begin to tell you how discovering this needless 'snafu of dates' bums me out.  One of the little pleasures in life (for me at least) is to go through the 007 novels, mapping out their internal references (moon phases, etc.) and breaking down the events into real calendar dates.  I've done it with all the continuing novels (the lengthy trek up the mountain in Benson's High Time to Kill was a real treat to hash out!) and I was really looking forward to continuing my little tradition with Solo.  At this point, I guess I'll have to stick with the Bob & Carol reference and settle for an 'asterisk note' stating that Bond was somehow 'mistaken' about the team's name that the Senator's were playing against.  (And for those interested, by keeping the "Bob & Carol" reference means that Boyd places 007's birthday somewhere (roughly) around mid July.  ...However, this might change after I've researched things like "Was the Jensen FF available for dealer showrooms at that time?", etc.)


Excellent research. What bothers me is that Bond's birthday is 11 November...

Moreover the Moon landing - which Bond and Blessing discuss - is on 20 July 1969. Bond is in the hospital for at least five weeks, so no go on that particular baseball game.

Edited by glidrose, 12 November 2013 - 07:52 PM.


#69 chrisno1

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Posted 09 December 2013 - 01:47 AM

Oh dear.

 

I’m coming to the party a little late. I’ll be honest and say that from the off there was nothing that excited me about SOLO. It has a rubbish title, a rubbish cover, the premise (featuring an imaginary country – not just the odd politician, casino or hotel, but a whole damn country) has me shaking my head and, without intending disrespect, I am not familiar with Mr Boyd’s work.

 

Sadly I now don’t want to be.

 

SOLO isn’t as bad as Sebastian Faulk’s quick knock-off job and I am grateful for that. However, while at times the prose summons faint memories of Ian Fleming, overall it is a thin enterprise which relies much on a long, dull and complicated chapter towards the end of the novel which attempts to resolve almost every thread of the narrative. This is a one-to-one conversation between OO7 and his mate Felix Leiter, a man who still seems to know more about the CIA than the CIA despite not working for them. I was reminded of the chapter in Casino Royale entitled ‘The Nature of Evil’ when Bond and Mathis discuss the devil of the detail. Fleming’s chapter resonates highly because the discussion centres on emotions, the sins of cold war politics and latent human psychology; all Boyd’s long esoteric conversation tells us is that James Bond needn’t have been on the mission in the first place as the CIA had all angles covered.

 

There is a villain (I think) but I had a hard time figuring out who it was. Initially it seems Bond is being sent to assassinate Solomon Adeka, the leader of the rogue African state of Dahum, but M isn’t clear. It’s never explained why M is reluctant to give Bond a defined objective. This reenacts the worst of John Gardner’s continuation efforts and from the briefing onwards I was searching for cross and double cross and wasn’t surprised when the twists and turns duly arrived. They clunked like empty whisky bottles and had no joy in them for this reader.

 

Later we find three more antagonists, the brutal Jakobus Creed, the lean Colonel Denga and the arms dealer and fervent political activist Hulbert Linck. None of these supposed bad guys have any menace to them. Creed is perhaps the most finely drawn, but after initially appearing to be an efficient, callous mercenary, his guard slips badly as he’s forced to allow Bond to orchestrate the defence of Dahum. This completely diminishes the character’s stature as it appears he’s hopeless at his own career and no amount of wielding corpses onto butcher’s hooks can restore it. Incidentally, Gardner also did this neat killer’s signature back in ‘Nobody Lives Forever’ and he did it better too.

 

There are two women for Bond to seduce. The most interesting of these is a skin-flick actress called Bryce Fitzjohn, aka Astrid Ostergaard, whom Bond clearly fancies, but also exploits. Bond recognizes the similarities in their make-up and their union felt very genuine. I enjoyed the scenes in which she featured. Bond is very natural in these London bound episodes. In fact the best of Boyd’s story occurs in the first few chapters when he is encapsulating James Bond’s home life as our hero reflects on his past through a series of flashbacks.

 

These scenes have purpose and imagination: Bond is suspicious of the motives of a stranger; he’s unable to relax; he’s bothered about his age; he’s turning into a habitué; he has money and time on his hands; he both likes and dislikes aspects of 1969 Britain; he’s haunted by the past. There is a brilliantly described break in to Bryce’s  home, where he voyeuristically witnesses her undress, and several passages reminisce on the gaudy sleaze of 1960s fashion. I understood this world, one of colour and coincidence, where a chance encounter or a sudden decision can lead to boundless possibilities, moments of love and sex, intrigue and death, all rolling as one.

 

Sadly by the time Bond has reached Africa and the author believes he had defined our hero, the characterisations become less detailed. The nominal heroine, Blessing Ogilvy-Grant, is your standard double crossing CIA agent who seduces Bond with ease, appears to be a baddie and eventually reveals her true colours at the point of termination. I hardly cared a jot for her, especially as at one point during a fire fight she goes screaming into the jungle and really ought to have been shot dead. This particular scene reminded me of the machine gunning in ‘Dr. No’ and I wondered, why it is that Ian Fleming can create tension and excitement with such a simple premise, but William Boyd can’t. The reason is simple: Fleming’s personas are established early and for the most part he abides by them, introducing nuances and background through the story, but essentially the narrative is driven by how these characters interact. So the excitement in ‘Dr. No’ derives from Bond and Honey’s shared plight, their reaction to it and their interaction throughout it, not from the entanglement itself. Boyd meanwhile chooses the opposite. He’s less interested in the people and more interested in the politic behind them. His characters (even in the London scenes) spend a lot of time talking about what they are doing and why, but not much about how that effects each other. Hence when we have moments of tension they tail off very badly because we simply don’t care enough about these people. And that applies to the dull as ditch water climax as well.

 

Bond ‘goes solo’ in the final third and it’s good to see him doing some proper spying a la 1969, but not very much happens and while Boyd is keen to give us thorough descriptions, his lack of memorable metaphors is disappointing. I had no sense of place or atmosphere. Even in war torn Africa, everything’s written as if you’d watched it on a newsreel or read it in a paper, snippets of detail with no encompassing sweep, no picture beyond the image laid before us. Subsequently the locations become startlingly bland. Perhaps Boyd’s most notable line (and one still prevalent today) comes when Bond buys weapons and ammunition from a Washington gun store: ‘he marveled just how easy it was to arm yourself in the land of the free.’

 

I could probably go on, but I feel my disappointment might turn to ire. This is a very sad episode. While the London scenes and the Normandy flashbacks showed great promise, overall the piece is rather unimaginative and for all its length, James Bond doesn’t do much of any importance, he’s simply the lynch pin for everyone else’s machinations.

 

Oh dear, oh dear…

 

 


Edited by chrisno1, 09 December 2013 - 01:53 AM.


#70 glidrose

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Posted 11 December 2013 - 11:35 PM

I agree with a lot of what Chrisno1 says above. A disappointing book for sure.

Bad imitation duplicitous John Gardner plot. Weak non-villains. Thin story. Pointless "solo" premise. Bad title, bad cover.

Boyd writes well and it was a smooth, fast read. I enjoyed the "summation" chapter more than anybody else. One of the book's best chapters.

I understand that nobody can duplicate Fleming's Bond, but Boyd's Bond is much softer than Fleming's Bond. And that bit at the end when Bond tells M in French that he's a mere Scottish peasant - I half expected M to chew Bond's head off and tell him to speak English, Fleming's M certainly would have and I think Fleming's Bond would have known not to speak French in front of his boss.

Book curiously doesn't mention Tracy, especially given Solo's controversial ending. Bond abandons Bryce. Would have been more credible if Bond had thought back to losing Tracy then thought he didn't want to hand his heart over to another person who could also die. Instead, as other readers have mentioned, we get Bond abandoning her somehow believing this will stop her life from being in danger.

Don't buy the argument that Jakobus Breed survived so that Boyd can write a sequel. Fairly certain that Breed is dead.

Don't understand how anybody can call this the "thinking man's Bond novel." It's so curiously half-hearted like Boyd put little thought into it. Worth noting Boyd usually takes three years per novel. This one he had little over a year. Perhaps if he'd taken his traditional three years it may have resulted in a good, solid story.

Worst of all the book throws away what I thought should have been its true premise: when I heard that Bond would be going rogue I figured he'd be turning on his own side. I think Boyd would have had a much better novel if, once in Africa, Bond became sympathetic to the rebel cause and so helped them. Whereas his erstwhile allies - Jakobus Breed helping the Dahum nation - then torture him and leave him for dead as punishment for helping the enemy. This would have made the whole "Bond goes rogue" plot more credible. As it stands, there's no real reason to claim Bond is going "solo" in the novel as it currently exists because Breed was always his enemy. Nobody else seems to have picked up on this lost story possibility, tho' I know I'm right.

#71 MkB

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Posted 14 December 2013 - 12:39 AM

Since my Solo review, I have read another book by William Boyd, Any Human Heart.

I guess it is a well-known fact among CBners that this novel features Ian Fleming as a character in his Naval Intelligence days? But reading the novel after Solo, I found a couple of chapters echoed strangely with Boyd's own Bond effort. When the (now middle-aged) central character is in Africa, he gets somehow involved in the Biafran war. It is pretty clear that the Dahum secession in Solo stands for the Biafran war, and Boyd's outline of the events in Solo is oddly reminiscent of the one he did in Any Human Heart ten years earlier. 

 

Just for the record. 



#72 SILVERTOE

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Posted 16 January 2014 - 02:55 PM

I bought it on 23rd december on my way out to Germany, where I spent christmas on a river cruise on the Rhine. I started reading it on Christmas eve in the bar, and over the next 2 afternoons, then completed it after leaving it for 2 weeks, after i got back ( i lost my job on 2nd January, so have had time on my hands, but chose to sort out a few things around the house before I go looking for another job) most of these are done now. so i went back to SOLO.

 

I found it a very easy to read book, and it felt like a tribute to the Fleming Bond, but not exactly as gripping as the originals, on par with DEVIL MAY CARE, but an improvement on the BENSON BOND,



#73 Eskyfall

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Posted 15 April 2017 - 05:02 AM

Definitely late to the party with this one, but I finally got around to reading Solo and.....very underwhelming. Bond never acts like Bond (since when are flashbacks part of a Bond novel?). There is no true main villain. I guess Kobus Breed is the closest we get, but the whole plot is a convoluted mess with way too many players. The Adekas are built up, but turned into throw away players. Linck is instrumental in the whole affair, but is almost never seen. Breed is more of a henchman. The whole idea of Bond going rogue is never really played up. It seems more like he's just continuing his assignment in Washington. M never chastises him for 'going solo.' I remember the novel being pitched as a Bond approaching the age of mandatory retirement and his thoughts and feelings about it, but that never really comes up. Nor does it have any bearing on the plot. I can see why there was friction between Boyd and the Fleming estate. Overall, just one of the weaker Bond novels, IMO.






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