Why William Boyd isn’t the best salesman for Solo

William Boyd

William Boyd

This week, author William Boyd makes his 007 debut when the James Bond novel Solo comes out in the U.K. The problem is Boyd isn’t necessarily the best salesman for his own product.

This week, a series of brief Boyd monologues were uploaded to YouTube. In THE FIRST VIDEO he acts as if he had unearthed a startling secret about the literary James Bond.

I suspect there are aspects of Bond people aren’t aware of. Of course the Bond aficionados, the Bond fans will know. The casual readers of Bond will not know some of the things I’ve put in the novel…For example, Bond’s Scottishness. Bond is not English — he’s half Scottish, half Swiss.

Of course, Solo is coming out less than a year after 2012’s Skyfall (worldwide ticket sales: $1.11 BILLION), which made a HUGE deal about exploring Bond’s roots, including the fact he was raised in Scotland, where the climatic sequence takes place. The movie was about as subtle about 007’s Scottish heritage as a heart attack.

Nor was Skyfall the first time. The 1965 television special The Incredible World of James Bond devoted a short segment to Bond’s origins in Scotland, based on the 1964 novel You Only Live Twice. While the bulk of the movies haven’t explored the topic, the fact that Bond has a Scottish heritage doesn’t represent the deepest research into the literary 007. Anybody who has read, say, The James Bond Bedside Companion by Raymond Benson is already up to speed on the topic.

Last spring, of course, Boyd boasted why Solo was such a good title for a Bond novel while seemingly unaware that Fleming had used Solo not once, but twice: as a character in Goldfinger and as the name for the lead character in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series.

It may yet turn out that Boyd’s 007 novel is a good addition to the literary canon. But Boyd doesn’t do himself any favors in promoting the new novel. Some of his major talking points don’t withstand the slightest examination.



4 Responses

  1. Sorry, I didn’t get your name Mr?………….. SOLO, Napoleon Solo.

  2. In Boyd’s defense, he does state “the casual readers of Bond.” Please note the words CASUAL and READERS. Such interviews are for primarily targeted at the curious and not necessarily the die-hard fans such as ourselves. I actually think Boyd is doing a rather good job in his two video clips. He carries himself with self-assuredness, charm, and a warmth for Fleming. We did not see much of this with Faulks or Deaver. Certainly not in the charm department…

  3. A fair point on Skyfall, but most casual readers won’t have watched a 1965 special or read Benson’s Companion. Most people do see Bond as English, I think, or did before Skyfall. I don’t know how many takes he did, but sometimes people don’t word things perfectly in such situations. Overall, though, I felt he came across as articulate and extremely serious about the job. What he was getting at here, I think, is that he’s done several things with Bond that some casual readers might feel is wrong, but for which he’s in fact taken his lead from Fleming. He mentions the Scots-Swiss parentage, but then we can see in the second Times extract that he’s placed Bond in 30AU in Normandy during the war. Bond also smokes a lot in the first extract. The character cries occasionally in Fleming, vomits at one point, is afraid of flying, etc. From the two excerpts so far I’m very excited – the second one in particular is beautifully written, and feels very much like revisiting Fleming’s character in the 60s, and indeed does provide the vividness and rich textures I enjoy in the original novels.

  4. I agree with Jeremy here. Bear in mind that many people could read the bulk of the Fleming novels and see Bond as English because Fleming gave Bond a Scottish/Swiss background very late in the game. He had been writing Bond novels for 10 years before revealing this background information about Bond’s parents and the family home in Glencoe in OHMSS and only after the onscreen Bond happened to be Scottish with the casting of Connery in Dr No. For this reason I think Boyd needed to explain that many readers wouldn’t be aware of Bond’s heritage – it would be easy for readers to miss the information in the novels OHMSS and YOLT.

    Yes, millions more people are aware of Bond’s Scottish background courtesy of SKYFALL but Boyd has said he made a point of not seeing the movie, so he’s probably he is unaware of the use of the family home at Glencoe in it. The inspiration for Skyfall Lodge in the movie was most likely the reference to the ‘stone house in the Highlands’ referred to in chapter two of John Pearson’s JAMES BOND: THE AUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY (not that anybody seems to have noticed this), whereas I get the feeling that Boyd has focused solely on Fleming for his background research, ignoring both the movies and any continuation writing as well. And that’s the message he’s trying to get across in the video – his Bond might seem strange to the ‘general reader’ but he’s taking a purist approach. He’s taking Fleming’s Bond but writing in his own voice, whereas Raymond Benson for example was instructed to make his Bond closer to the movies for the sake of a readership mainly familiar with the Bond films.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: