Sex, sadism and snobbery?

May 28, 2008 at 4:39 pm (Jim D, literature, media, Tory scum, trivia)

On the centenary of Ian Fleming’s birth, Sebastian Faulks’s new 007 novel Devil May Care hits the bookstalls – but only after the books were transported to HMS Exeter by supermodel Tuuli Shipster, accompanied by Royal Navy Black Cat Lynx helicopters, and then transferred to a waiting Bentley S1 Continental convertible…

Oh well: no sillier than all that nonsense when the last Harry Potter was launched. Although I suppose it could be argued that at least the Harry Potter books are meant for children.

As an adolescent I read most of the Bond novels, attracted by the garish covers, the fact that they were banned in our school, and the famous denunciation of them as comprising “sex, sadism and snobbery”.

But I never went much for the films, and in particular disliked the arch, gadget-ridden Roger Moore travesties. I haven’t read a Bond book for about thirty five years, but listening to Dr No on the radio last week reminded me just how good some of Fleming’s writing could be – and why he could count PG Wodehouse and Raymond Chandler among his fans.

But is it all just harmless, escapist fun, or something (however enjoyable) essentially nasty, sexist and imperialistic? I don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other, but would be interested to hear yours.

Meanwhile, here’s a range of views worth considering (and please note my scrupulously fair balance of pro- and anti- opinions):

In Chapter 3 of The Spy Who Loved Me there is a sudden silence at the baccarat table: ‘the table was becoming wary of this dark Englishman who played so quietly, wary of the half-smile of certitude on his rather cruel mouth. Who was he? Where did he come from? What did he do? ‘ (Kingsley) Amis’s answer in The James Bond Dossier follows immediately from the quotation: ‘Well, he started life about 1818 as Childe Harold in th later cantos of Byron’s poem, reappearing in the novels of the Bronte sisters, and was around until recently in such guises as that of Maxim de Winter in Miss Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca’.” –  Kingsley Amis quoted by Zachary Leader in The Life of Kingsley Amis.

 “Ah, Bond. The human Swiss Army knife, capable of running, killing, boozing, being sarcastic and fornicating, all at the same time. I hate him. I’ve always hated him. As an international spokesmodel for the old imperial boy’s club, Bond represents everything that’s odious about the status quo: smug machismo, the military industrial complex and its gadget-porn, boxy tailoring. Bond’s naff delux combo of the Milk Tray man, the Grecian 2000 hair dye advert dude, a low-level guest at the Chanceller’s reception and a financial adviser from Hemel Hempstead.” – Bidisha in The Observer Review, 18.05.08 

“If they (ie people who have only seen the films) bothered to read Fleming in the original, they would find a more sympathetic Bond than is found in the films, one who does not always get the girl and who grieves at the emotional compromises he is forced to make in the course of duty. They would be carried along by the verve of the author’s style, known as the ‘Fleming sweep’, which marries a journalist’s attention to detail with a great storyteller’s capacity to generate pace and excitement.” – Andrew Lycett in The Times, 28.05.08

“If the existance of an inner life can only be guessed at, Bond’s externals are described with such sober precision that it is remarkable no one ever launched a range of Bond leisurewear…Actually, you wonder if this passion for clothes might not explain, up to a point, the requirement for regular, balancing outbursts of manly woman hating. ‘Women were for recreation,’ opines Mr pyjama-coat designer, for whom sex is always better when it has the ‘sweet tang of rape’.” – Catherine Bennett in The Observer Review 18.05.08

“James Bond was born into a world of Fifties austerity. Through the decades he has spoken not just to schoolboys, but to the inner child that survives in most of us – in women almost as much as men. I tried to imagine Fleming having recovered his appetite for life and for his character, then tried to write a book that showed both men at the top of their form. For decades, James Bond has been a beacon of dependable excitement in many a drab existence, and Devil May Care is my attempt to offer thanks for this to his creator.” - Sebastian Faulks, The Times Magazine, 24.05.08

“Mr Fraser is a skilful and meticulous writer, twice as good as Buchan, and twenty times better than Fleming.” – Auberon Waugh, on George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman books.

9 Comments

  1. KB Player said,

    I haven’t read the Bond books since I was a teenager but I do remember a scene from Live and Let Die I think it was – Bond and the female with the odd name (Solitaire, this time) are tied together naked about to be dragged over coral before being eaten by sharks, and Solitaire is whispering in Bond’s ear:- “I didn’t want it to be like this.”

    I agree with Auberon Waugh – George Macdonald Fraser is vastly better – he’s funny and gives you a sketch map of events and characters in Britain’s nineteenth century imperial history.

  2. Reader said,

    An Anti abortion MP writes

    Guess who’s Daily Record Column?

    “SEX And The City…

    Journalists sometimes ask which of them would do it for me.

    The honest answer is all four of them, but it’s too dangerous to admit that.

    There’s the sweet one – great marriage material.

    The lawyerly red-head – sexy and motherly. Or the voracious man-eating vamp, ankles behind her ears.

    But if I had to choose just one, it would have to be the eponymous Carrie Bradshaw.

    She’s not the prettiest, the sexiest or the cleverest. But she would be, quite simply, the most fun.”

  3. KB Player said,

    I’m D, Jim D.

    Licensed to blog.

  4. modernityblog said,

    shaken by events, not stirred?

  5. Renegade Eye said,

    Bond is British imperialism’s wet dream, still I agree with your general atitude. It has to be judged in its own terms. It’s a winner if it it brings you joy. Joy first then politics.

  6. sackcloth and ashes said,

    One of the reasons why ‘Casino Royale’ was such a good film was that it was faithful to the novel. In fact, the best Bond films (‘From Russia With Love’ and ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ – yes, I’ll stick my neck out on that) were ones which reflected the content of the source material.

    I admit that right now, elements of Bond books are beyond the pale. I remember reading the sentence ‘All women enjoy semi-rape’ in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’, and I almost tore the book in half. ‘You Only Live Twice’ also included a revolting sequence where the ASIO officer, Dikko Henderson, explained patiently why Aborigines needed white Australians to look after them, because they were too childlike and subnormal to manage by themselves. So there is plenty to dislike, in much the same way that anti-Semitic comments in Buchan novels make me grit my teeth.

    But then on the other hand I think there’s a lot of mileage from going back to basics and remaking ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’, ‘Diamonds are Forever’, ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ and ‘Moonraker’ as per the original novels (updated, of course). No gadgets, no stupid one-liners, no characters with daft names (Holly Goodhead, how sixth form is that?). As a novel, ‘Moonraker’ has plenty of potential, and bear in mind that it has an ending you never saw in the Roger Moore films – Gala Brand walks away from Bond because she has a fiance in the Special Branch. As an ending, it beats the hell out of ‘I’m having Christmas in Turkey’, or ‘I think he’s attempting re-entry’.

    I’d be interested to read Faulks’ book.

  7. Jim Denham said,

  8. sackcloth and ashes said,

    Of course Galloway likes SATC. The four main characters are self-obssessed, amoral materialists who like to live the high life and think that they’re at the centre of the universe. Although in fairness, I don’t remember any of them schmoozing with mass murderers and serial rapists.

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