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Tuesday, 29 October 2013

How could I be so low? - Solo-2

Interesting. I’ve been taken to task regarding a part of my review of Solo:

The first part is uneventful and is unlikely to hook modern-day thriller readers. The tone and style are leisurely, like some of the Bond works, but they held the attention, this barely does that. Apart from a bloody dream/risen memory of D-Day events in France, Bond is not involved in any action. He meets an attractive woman and inadvertently becomes a voyeur. Boyd’s writing a novel, it would seem, not a thriller. I’ve read Boyd’s books and they’re good. This is a disappointment, in contrast.
Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, and not everyone is bound to agree with everyone else; reading – and writing – are inevitably subjective. Still, reviewing what I wrote, it seemed fair comment on my part. To paraphrase, the writer says that I was mistaken when stating ‘the first part is uneventful’, since there was 'heaps happening', adding that this section was setting up the story and Bond books shouldn’t be confused with the pyrotechnics of the cinema version. If I seem to yearn for the all-action scenes of the films, I fail to see where I do so in this review…

In truth, by showing the dream/flashback Boyd was attempting to provide a little background to his Bond, but it didn’t ring true. There was no event in the story to trigger the memory of so long ago. Yes, it was the first time he faced almost certain death. But he’d confronted death so many times since, that particular instance would pale into insignificance. There was no conflict, suspense, genuine intrigue or tension in the present (1969). Story without conflict of some kind is no story.
In Solo, Boyd finally links Bond to M in the third chapter (p32).

A hasty glance at Fleming’s books can be instructive.

Casino Royale (1953) begins with the mission already in flow, the intrigue spelled out, and we’re privy to spycraft techniques. M shows up in Chapter 2 (p14).
Live and Let Die (1954) thrusts Bond straight into a combined mission with the Americans against a certain Mr Big. The interview with M is in Chapter 2 (p11).

Moonraker (1955) does begin with a slight yet highly interesting departure from the previous two books. We glean more insight into the spy’s tradecraft and daily office routine, and there is no actual conflict, though a measure of intrigue. M is introduced in Chapter 2 (p12).
Diamonds are Forever (1956) begins not with Bond but the diamond smugglers, the death of a scorpion and intrigue. Bond and M are introduced in Chapter 2 (p12).

From Russia with Love (1957) again departs from the formula. The first part – some 70 pages – doesn’t actually feature Bond, though he is mentioned. Instead, we meet Red Grant in Chapter 1; it’s tension, character conflict, intrigue all the way, however, for the entire part. (A pedantic aside. Fleming gets it right. The book is separated in parts, but the chapter numbers continue throughout, from 1 through to 28. Boyd gets it wrong. He breaks up Solo into parts but begins each part with Chapter 1. If he had broken up Solo into Books, then yes, the chapters could begin with 1 for each ‘book’.) Bond finally meets M in Chapter 12 (p84).
Dr. No (1958) is back to the old routine and begins with the death of Strangways in Jamaica. In Chapter 2 (p12) M confronts Bond about his near fatal confrontation with Rosa Klebb in the previous assignment. (Boyd makes no mention of Bond’s previous assignments, ostensibly in You Only Live Twice). Then Bond is sent off to Jamaica on a ‘personnel problem’.

Goldfinger (1959) sees Bond again thrust into action straight away, combatting a drug smuggling Mexican and settling a score. We learn about Goldfinger in Chapter 2 (p20) and finally get to see M in Chapter 5 (p40).
Thunderball (1961) begins with just over six pages with M telling Bond he needs a rest at a health resort, Shrublands; conflict over his health. Intrigue about another attendee Count Lippe is raised in Chapter 2 and in the next chapter Bond is almost torn apart on the rack, thanks to Count Lippe… (p31).

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963) again starts with threat and intrigue – Bond and his girl Tracy being abducted by armed men on the beach of Royale-les-Eaux. (Incidentally, here Fleming lets Bond visit the grave of Vesper Lynd from Casino Royale). While M doesn’t appear till p71, he is in Bond’s and our minds as 007 writes a letter of resignation, feeling he’s wasting his time hunting Blofeld and SPECTRE (Chapter 2, p17); again, there’s a reference to the preceding adventure).  
You Only Live Twice (1964) begins with Bond being entertained by Tiger Tanaka, head of the Japanese Secret Service and the chapter ends with Tiger warning Bond that the information he is about to glean is deadly serious. Then it’s a flashback to two months before, with Bond liable to get the sack as a result of the terrible trauma of the last episode, though M is inveigled by the service doctor to give Bond one last mission, in Japan (Chapter 3, p28).

As can be seen, for all the novels there is a formula that is hardly ever greatly altered: conflict either direct or implied, with M interviewing Bond early on. The biggest departure is in From Russia With Love, but there’s a good measure of intrigue and the promise of conflict to keep the pages turning. The rest tend to create conflict of one kind or another for Bond – not non-threatening flashbacks. The conflict can be physical, from criminals or villains, or psychological, due to his stress and health. In Solo, there is a plot reason for Bond getting involved with Bryce Fitzjohn, though it’s rather outlandish; but having him break into her empty house on the pretext given is very contrived. And that is the only actual event in the first Part (up to p30), if you discount Bond’s displeasure with the painters and decorators of his Chelsea home. [Throughout this and my earlier review I have been at pains not to provide any spoilers. This is my opinion, after all, and I have no wish to spoil another's reader enjoyment].
Solo, Chapter 2 (really the fourth chapter, p42) is titled ‘Homework’. Sadly, while I feel that Boyd did some homework on Bond, he didn’t do enough. And I see no reason to alter my review.


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