A sampling of Solo reviews

William Boyd

William Boyd

Solo, the James Bond continuation novel by William Boyd, has been out for a couple of weeks in the U.K. and went on sale in the U.S. this past week.

Reviewers have come forward with their evaluations and here’s a sample of a few that caught this blog’s eye.

The Rap Sheet’s J. Kingston Pierce thought highly of the novel, set in 1969 and featuring a 45-year-old Bond.

“Solo is a consuming work, and William Boyd has made Bond his own,” Pierce writes. “I wouldn’t be at all disappointed if Ian Fleming Publications begged him for a sequel.” Among the novel’s strengths: “It doesn’t seek to imitate Fleming’s voice or to play it too safe with his protagonist. Neither, though, does it ignore the tropes and traditions of the famous espionage series.”

The Book Bond’s John Cox calls Boyd’s version of Bond “the thinking man’s 007.”

Boyd “goes solo into the juggernaut that is ‘James Bond OO7’ and fearlessly does his own thing. Not since the very first continuation novel, Colonel Sun, has there been a Bond book less concerned with the industry that is James Bond. Boyd simply tells a riveting story of espionage, geopolitics, and a British secret agent in 1969.”

Bakewell Today’s Martin Hutchinson proclaims that “Boyd has picked up the Bond baton very well; his attention to detail is very like Ian Fleming, who revelled in such fine detail.”

The review, though, isn’t as strong on detail. Hutchinson writes that, “Up until now, all the novels featuring James Bond have been set in the present day.” Actually, Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks was a period piece set in 1967.

Olen Steinhauer in The New York Times’ Sunday Book Review writes a review that doubles as an essay on the Bond novels, both by Ian Fleming and the various continuation novels.

“In the beginning, his appeal in the postwar world of rations, gray English skies and declining empire was easy to determine: he offered Britons a glimpse into a privileged world beyond their means, a world of first-class flights to foreign casinos and sybaritic holidays at exclusive Caribbean retreats,” novelist Steinhauer wrties. “Bond also told them, again and again, that Britain still mattered. Yet 60 years have passed, and people all over the world are still buying into the James Bond fantasy. Perhaps the reason can be gleaned from William Boyd’s ‘Solo,’ the latest official Bond novel.”

Steinhauer suggests Boyd’s 007 surpasses Fleming’s original. “The truth is that Fleming’s Bond was only rarely a fully fleshed character. More often, he was a catalog of likes and dislikes, and it’s this very hollowness that has allowed later generations to imbue him with their own sensibilities.

“Boyd has, by the novel’s close, injected a weary disgust into his central character as the full ramifications of realpolitik — the policies that can lead to starved children hiding from the light — become clearer and clearer…I doubt his creator could have done it better.”

Richard Williams in The Guardian writes, “all things considered, Boyd’s attempt entertains far more than it exasperates. His approach, he has said, was to write his own novel using Fleming’s characters, and his gift for sustaining narrative momentum is the key to its success.” Meanwhile, he lists the continuation authors, yet omits Raymond Benson.

British GQ’s Olivia Cole is also high on the book.

“Boyd’s great skill in Solo is to have written a compulsively readable thriller, replicating the cocktail of ingredients that got Fleming’s readers hooked – from the women to the clothes and the cars (in this case an extremely good looking Jenson Interceptor) and yet to let the cracks in the fantasy figure show through. Whether you go to Solo for Boyd or for Bond, you are in for a thoroughly rewarding, entertaining and ultimately thought provoking fix.”

Meanwhile, Cole mentions some of Fleming’s novels and lists On His Majesty’s Secret Service.

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.

EARLIER POSTS:
OPEN CHANNEL D: WILLIAM BOYD’S FLEMING RESEARCH GAP

WILLIAM BOYD’S NEW 007 NOVEL TO BE TITLED, IRONICALLY, SOLO

The African war that may have influenced Boyd’s Solo

William Boyd

William Boyd

Solo, the new James Bond novel by William Boyd, according to U.S. publisher HarperCollins, is set in 1969 and takes place in “Zanzarim, a troubled West African nation” that “is being ravaged by a bitter civil war.” Bond is assigned “to quash the rebels threatening the established regime.”

It sounds as if Solo’s story may concern a fictional version of a real war. From 1967 to 1970, THE NIGERIAN CIVIL WAR raged, after the southeastern provinces of Nigeria, a former U.K. colony, seceded to form the Republic of Biafra. (To see a Wikipedia map, CLICK HERE.) Nigeria, with U.K. support, took back Biafra. That civil war also produced MANY DISTURBING IMAGES, including those of starving children.

Boyd has written a number of stories set in Africa.

If Solo is using the Nigerian civil war as the basis for the plot, it won’t be the first time a spy novel has done so. The 1967-70 conflict was a setting in the 2009 novel FREE AGENT by Jeremy Duns. The novel’s lead character is Paul Dark, who “is a seasoned agent for MI6 when a KGB officer turns up in Nigeria during the Biafran civil war wanting to defect.”

In the publicity materials for Free Agent, the story is endorsed by William Boyd, who calls the tale a “wholly engrossing and sophisticated spy novel.”

UPDATE: Jeremy Duns, in a reply to yesterday’s post about the HarperCollins plot summary, provides a LINK to the plot summary of Solo by the Curtis Brown literary and talent agency. It reads thusly (with the part in boldface type added emphasis by this blog):

It is 1969 and James Bond is about to go solo, recklessly motivated by revenge.

A seasoned veteran of the service, 007 is sent to single-handedly stop a civil war in the small West African nation of Zanzarim. Aided by a beautiful accomplice and hindered by the local militia, he undergoes a scarring experience which compels him to ignore M’s orders in pursuit of his own brand of justice. Bond’s renegade action leads him to Washington, DC, where he discovers a web of geopolitical intrigue and witnesses fresh horrors.

Even if Bond succeeds in exacting his revenge, a man with two faces will come to stalk his ever waking moment.

To view Wikipedia’s entry for the Nigerian Civil War, CLICK HERE

To view a promotion for Free Agent along with an excerpt, CLICK HERE.

Earlier post:

BOYD’S U.S. PUBLISHER PROVIDES PLOT SUMMARY OF SOLO

Boyd’s U.S. publisher provides plot summary of Solo

William Boyd

William Boyd

HarperCollins, the U.S. publisher of William Boyd’s upcoming James Bond novel, Solo, has provided a synopsis of its story line.

THE BOOK BOND WEB SITE spotted the PLOT SUMMARY earlier. The summary reads:

It’s 1969, and, having just celebrated his forty-fifth birthday, James Bond—British special agent 007—is summoned to headquarters to receive an unusual assignment. Zanzarim, a troubled West African nation, is being ravaged by a bitter civil war, and M directs Bond to quash the rebels threatening the established regime.

Bond’s arrival in Africa marks the start of a feverish mission to discover the forces behind this brutal war—and he soon realizes the situation is far from straightforward. Piece by piece, Bond uncovers the real cause of the violence in Zanzarim, revealing a twisting conspiracy that extends further than he ever imagined.

Moving from rebel battlefields in West Africa to the closed doors of intelligence offices in London and Washington, this novel is at once a gripping thriller, a tensely plotted story full of memorable characters and breathtaking twists, and a masterful study of power and how it is wielded—a brilliant addition to the James Bond canon.

Does Boyd’s novel delve a bit more into politics than other 007 tales, even if the author is using a fictional African country? The part about Bond being assigned “to quash the rebels threatening the established regime” raises that possibility. Ian Fleming’s original novels, of course, were penned during the Cold War and make occasional references to events. But 007’s creator also created larger-than-life villains and devised escapist plots.

Boyd’s BACKGROUND includes writing novels with an African setting such as A Good Man in Africa, where the author ALSO WROTE THE SCREENPLAY FOR THE MOVIE VERSION.

To read The Book Bond’s post, CLICK HERE.

Previous posts:

JAMES BOND AND BREAKFAST

OPEN CHANNEL D: WILLIAM BOYD’S FLEMING RESEARCH GAP

James Bond and breakfast

"Are the scrambled eggs ready yet, Q?"

“Are the scrambled eggs ready yet, Q?”

Ian Fleming Publications this week disclosed A PROMOTION FOR THE UPCOMING 007 NOVEL SOLO. It involves the DORCHESTER HOTEL IN LONDON.

To quote the press release:

Breakfast is, of course, Bond’s ‘favourite meal of the day.’

To celebrate, from Thursday 26 September until Saturday 30 November 2013, (Dorchester) guests quoting ‘SOLO’ whilst making a breakfast reservation will receive a free copy of the book or can choose to listen to the audio version read by British actor Dominic West on an iPod over breakfast.

Indeed, in Ian Fleming’s original novels, we’re told a fair amount of Bond’s eating habits at breakfast. In novels and short stories, meals are a way for an author to work in a character’s internal thoughts and feelings. He or she can mull over events or other characters while eating.

Movies, of course, are a different medium. Internal thoughts have to be conveyed with an expression or a look. Eating also doesn’t always provide the best visuals. The 23 James Bond films produced by Eon Productions since 1962 don’t spend much time dealing with breakfast, even if it was 007’s favorite meal.

In Dr. No, Bond and Honey Rider are served breakfast by the villain’s staff but they pass into unconsciousness from drugged coffee before they can partake of the meal. In From Russia With Love, Bond puts in an advance breakfast order of green figs, yogurt and “coffee, very black,” for the next morning. In Goldfinger, 007 gets out of a planned dinner with Felix Leiter and sets up a breakfast meeting instead. In Live And Let Die, Bond only has time for some juice before investigating a key clue. Overall, the movies don’t deal much with James Bond and his breakfasts.

According to the Ian Fleming Publications press release, Solo author William Boyd wants to bring back the 007 breakfast tradition. “Set in 1969, the story opens to 007 treating himself to a typical Bond breakfast of `four eggs, scrambled with pepper sprinkled on top, half a dozen rashers of unsmoked bacon, well done, on the side and a long draught of strong black coffee’.”

Meanwhile, a number of 007 Web sites are providing tips about you, too, can enjoy a 007 breakfast. Check out posts by THE MI6 JAMES BOND FAN SITE and the THE JAMES BOND DOSSIER.

UPDATE: Got a reminder about Licence to Cook, which has receipes based on James Bond. For more information, CLICK HERE.

UPDATE II: The James Bond Memes blog provides the Dorchester TIPS HOW TO PROPERLY PREPARE A 007 BREAKFAST.

MAY 2011 POST:
OUR (NOT SO SERIOUS) BOND 23 PRODUCT PLACEMENT SUGGESTIONS

(A breakfast scene would offer some product placement opportunities.)

007 heirs putting on airs

William Boyd

William Boyd

The heirs to the literary 007, at times, seem to be putting on airs.

This week, Ian Fleming Publications unveiled the U.K. COVER and U.S. COVER. for its new James Bond novel, Solo.

“We are delighted to finally unveil the stunning UK cover,” the one announcement read, adding it was inspired by the late graphic and movie title designer Saul Bass. The U.S. cover has “a bold and eye-catching design, perfect for the iconic character of James Bond,” that separate announcement said.

This came about three months after author William Boyd PROCLAIMED that “the simple beauty of Solo as the title of the next James Bond novel is that this short four-letter word is particularly and strikingly apt for the novel I have written.”

So, we have IFP suggesting one of its cover designs is akin to the work of one of the greatest title designers in movie history and its hired author discussing how perfect Solo is as a title.

First, with the covers, comparing oneself, even indirectly, to Saul Bass means you have a lot to live up to. Bass designed the titles for films such as It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Spartacus and Vertigo. He also did corporate design work, including revamping the AT&T logo in the late 1960s. Purchasers of the Solo novel will have to decide whether the covers are really up to that standard.

Also, as noted here before, Solo isn’t unique at all to James Bond-related matters. Ian Fleming used Solo as a character name in Goldfinger. The author also was involved in a television show which originally titled Solo, but ultimately titled The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

If IFP, operated by the heirs of Ian Fleming, approved Solo as a book title in jest, they’re doing a good job of hiding it. Anyone who had done the least bit of research about Ian Fleming would know about the Solo history. But don’t expect IFP to acknowledge it.

As for that other Solo chap that IFP is ignoring, the Fleming heirs would have stood to make money off a planned U.N.C.L.E. movie — had Ian Fleming not signed away his rights in June 1963. The author did so under pressure from Bond movie producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman to exit the Solo TV project.

APRIL 2013 POST:
OPEN CHANNEL D: WILLIAM BOYD’S FLEMING RESEARCH GAP

Open Channel D: William Boyd’s Fleming research gap

William Boyd

William Boyd

For more than a year now, fans of the literary James Bond have been told how William Boyd is the right man to do a new James Bond continuation novel.

For example, an APRIL 12, 2012 story in the U.K. newspaper the Telegraph had this passage:

Corinne Turner, managing director of Ian Fleming Publications Ltd, said: “William Boyd is a contemporary English writer whose classic novels combine literary elements with a broad appeal.

“His thrillers occupy the niche that Ian Fleming would fill were he writing today and with similar style and flair. This, alongside his fascination with Fleming himself, makes him the perfect choice to take Bond back to his 1960s world.” (emphasis added).

Apparently the author’s fascination with Ian Fleming himself didn’t extend to titles. Boyd said April 15 that his 007 novel will be called Solo. In a written statement, Boyd said that Solo is “also a great punchy word, instantly and internationally comprehensible, graphically alluring and, as an extra bonus, it’s strangely Bondian in the sense that we might be subliminally aware of the “00” of “007” lurking just behind those juxtaposed O’s of SOLO…”

Of course, many people who are fascinated with Ian Fleming know he used the very same title — but for a television series, not a novel. While Fleming left the heavy lifting to others (principally writer Sam Rolfe), there were title pages for scripts and presentation materials that said “Ian Fleming’s SOLO,” featuring a character named Napoleon Solo, co-created by Fleming and producer Norman Felton.

The series, of course, became The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which ran from September 1964 to January 1968. The reason it wasn’t called Solo was 1) Fleming, under pressure from 007 film producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, pulled out of the TV project, selling his interest in the series for 1 British pound; 2) Broccoli and Saltzman unsuccessfully attempted to shut down production of the TV show, claiming their rights to Goldfinger (including a minor villain named Mr. Solo) had been violated but settling for the title being changed.

The Solo that William Boyd forgot

The Solo that William Boyd forgot


This is not an especially hard piece of information to find. Andrew Lycett, one of Fleming’s biographers, reminded his Twitter followers of the connection in a POSTING ON THE SOCIAL NETWORK SERVICE.

Andrew Lycett‏@alycett1
#IanFleming discussed Bond style tv series in US with producer Norman Felton, then backed out. Sold name Napoleon SOLO to Felton for £1.

Apparently, Corinne Turner also forgot about Solo and Ian Fleming (or, for that matter, the Mr. Solo character in Goldfinger). Here’s a Turner quote from the official PRESS RELEASE (VIA THE BOOK BOND WEB SITE): “Ian Fleming had a great aptitude for naming his books and his Bond titles have become true classics. Solo is a simple yet striking title which fits perfectly alongside the other books in the Bond canon.”

Now you might say, “Hey, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. hasn’t been broadcast for 45 years now.” True. “Hey, that’s just a footnote in Ian Fleming’s career.” Not really. Fleming was involved with the TV show from October 1962 to June 1963. It wasn’t just a passing fancy. He was seriously interested for a time. More importantly, it’s not just the name of an old television series. It was the name of an old television series that Ian Fleming was a participant. Some people might even find that fascinating.