On a vacation trip to Canada, I decided to get into the Devil May Care
spirit, and ordered not only that book, but Casino Royale
and On Her Majesty's Secret Service
as well (Yes! Up until now, I was a Fleming virgin!).
I read portions of CR
every night at the hotel, and I really came to appreciate what Fleming had acheived in creating Bond. I then moved on to DMC
... only to be uneased by the first chapter and a half. Dissuaded for then, I decided not to pick it up again until the long drive home... at which point, I came to one horrifying conclusion: Devil May Care
Oh, certainly, the book has its numerous bright spots: The plot picked up during the Persian sections, and I appreciated enormously the minor characters in this novel. I relished the ally that Darius provided, delighted in the colourful strokes with which the author painted the Iranian populace, and I thought the way Faulks wrote Felix Leiter, as well as his slimy successor, J.D. Silver, probably would've made Fleming proud.
Unfortunately, while reading, I began to get the feeling that the book's tone felt far
too modern; surely, Faulks should have known he'd be writing as Ian Fleming. I also felt oddly uninterested, and even infuriated, by the actions the major characters took, as it almost felt like an idiot plot. Then, I realized:
an idiot plot.
Let's face it, folks: The villains are pale reflections of Fleming's creations, more or less inspired by the films. Julius Gorner's ridiculous obsession with becoming English so he can destroy it begs comparison to Gustave Graves of Die Another Day
, and his pathetically unrewarding death brings to mind another Dr. Julius: Surely you remember Dr. No
Chagrin, the evil Vietnamese sidekick to Gorner, is nothing so much than a reupholstered Oddjob, and his final defeat on the train reeks of the Orient Express fight from The Spy Who Loved Me
; in fact, the whole villainous plot is pretty much DAD
in the middle of the frackin' desert.
Even M and Miss Moneypenny feel like their film incarnations: M's loyal secretary goes on an extended banter session with Bond over Italian chocolates, and M is now a devoted practitioner of yoga! So much for his staunch opinions on "the beatnik problem"
), I suppose...
What's more, the main heroine, one Scarlett Papava, is distinctly rendolent of that feared fan-fiction cliché, the Mary-Sue: She waltzes into Bond's life, committing various schemes and misdemeanors against him, and in the end he goes gaga over her? As I reached the portion where she laid out how she had lied to him in Rome, I thought for sure that Bond was going to beat her and throw her out of his room; instead, we get this
"Now that he'd recovered his composure, Bond felt an overpowering curiousity, tinged with admiration."
--Devil May Care, pg. 41
No, Mr. Faulks, real secret agents do no act in that way; at least, not in Fleming's world, anyway.
On the other hand, they do
fall for random dames the author has set up in such universes in the odious realm of fan-fiction. Certainly, you can say that Fleming himself set up such a scheme with Tracy in On Her Majesty's Secret Service
, but at least he
gave the character an arc, unlike Faulks' Papava (which sounds rather like the name of a bizarre tropical fruit).
Papava is a nuisance to the story time and time again; without her, the book actually moves with a sort of lithe grace, especially in the scenes where Bond is getting aclimated in Persia, but when she stumbles back in, the novel grinds to a screeching halt as Faulks attempts to force the reader into accepting this unholy concoction as a genuine Bond girl. Unfortunately for the reader, Scarlett sticks around for the entire climax of the novel, rendering it impotent.
At its very end, when the scales are lifted from 007's eyes, I half-expected him to resign from the Service due to M's deception and personally strangle the life out of Scarlett Papava; sadly, by that time I knew that I could expect no sign of the old Bond in Faulks' work.
You see, that had been troubling me the entire time: The apparent disconnect between Fleming's Bond and Faulks' Bond. Considering Faulks was supposed to be writing as
Fleming (some have gone so far as to detect certain Fleming-esque passages in an earlier book of his, A Fool's Alphabet
), there should have been no discontinuity, but then, how to explain this excerpt?
"He asked the taxi drive to take him to the place where they did the best bouillabaisse[...]"
--Devil May Care, pg. 15
Especially when compared to this
"Bond said, 'Now tell me, is the bouillabaisse chez Guido always good?'
'It is passable,' said Marius. 'But this is a dish that is dead, gone. There is no more true bouillabaisse'[...]"
--On Her Majesty's Secret Service, pg. 218
Or this passage:
"Universal... He was secretly pleased that after various experiments the Service had reverted to its old cover name. No other word had such curious power over him."
--Devil May Care, pg. 23
Compared to this
"As cover, solid cover, Universal was 'brûlé' with the pros. All the secret services in the world had penetrated it by now."
--On Her Majesty's Secret Service, pg. 144
Indeed, I could not clearly picture Fleming's Bond when reading Faulks' novel, instead envisioning the cuddly, bearded visage of the author himself -- or, in the case of certain horrid sentences, Pierce Brosnan!
To summon up my point, it appears that Faulks has not ressurrected Bond, but merely acted as an iconoclast towards the character, viewing him as old and stale. Indeed, in a recent Guardian
article about the novel, Faulks was quoted as saying that
“Bond doesn't have an inner life. There would be moments when I'd think, we need to gather our thoughts here and have a breather, where in another novel you'd slow the pace, have some description and see what Bond feels about this, but Bond doesn't reflect; all you can do is move on to the next bomb or shark or car.”
Unfortunately for Faulks, this completely goes against the introspective nature of Fleming's Bond. Through Fleming’s use of free indirect discourse, Bond muses on all manner of subjects, which thus reveals Faulks as believing that Fleming’s intricately-crafted thrillers are fully beneath him. Thankfully, we know this to be not the case, but there is still one stodgy conclusion to be drawn from all this: Devil May Care
I bid you good-day.