This summer, I’ve been on a quest of sorts in my reading. I’ve been looking for books that spawned or defined certain genres that interested me; in this case, I’ve been interested in spy thrillers and gumshoe/mystery/crime novels. The reason for the exploration comes from possibly trying an online serial novel (not unlike this excellent one) as I have found words to be the absolute most simple form of communication versus sequential art (letterforms intrinsically being the most recognizable symbols around), and as I am always in the pursuit of simple, trying my hand at just writing a story is appealing. I could write more about my ongoing “simple” philosophy, and perhaps I should write a definition of sorts to clarify what I am personally trying to achieve, but I’d rather get back to the subject I really want to talk about – James Bond.
During a small bout of insomnia last night, I finished reading Casino Royale by Ian Fleming (Amazon), which is the first book in the James Bond series. Let the record show that I hate James Bond movies. Hate them. I have only seen one of the early Connery films (Goldfinger), which I did find enjoyable as a thirteen year old, but the more modern iterations of the franchise (from the 1980s on up) have been insulting to my intelligence. I can’t suspend my disbelief for whatever reason while watching them, so the whole flick comes of as a lame action-blood-sex orgy. With this bias, I picked up Casino Royale (which has never been faithfully made into a movie) to explore the appeal of this franchise, because bringing up the fact that you don’t like Bond has as much potential to spark debate as claiming the Bible is the single greatest work of fiction created. Bond has many defenders.
After reading this book, I can see why. I absolutely loved it. Ian Fleming’s original character is very much a man of the times, namely a vicious cold-blooded killer with delusions of having an ordinary life in the years following World War 2. Bond actually wants to settle down and quit the service, until he discovers a betrayal at the very end which finishes his transformation into an utter bastard, a self-destructive and emotionally hollow killing machine ready to do M’s bidding.
The ending is so much more powerful because the plot follows a typical Hollywood movie for the most part, and at the end it looks like Bond is going to settle down after defeating the “villain” (after a gruesome torture sequence where Bond gets whacked in his family jewels by a carpet cane repeatedly until he reaches near death). Then it goes totally pear-shaped because he doesn’t get the girl in the end. In fact he ends up hating the girl and all she represents.
I’m hooked. I can’t wait to go pick up more of these little gems. There are some cheesy parts, but I’m willing to look past it because the story fits well in the beginning of the Cold War, which is really where the character belongs. Oh, and he isn’t driving a frickin’ tank down the street, dodging missiles, nor jumping into his submarine car. Bond is (for the most part – guild of Russian assassins with a lame acronym for a name not withstanding) grounded in reality, or at least a darker mirror version of our reality. This is a Bond I can enjoy, because like so many of us, he is a broken human being. Unlike most of us though, he indulges the darker, baser side of his nature – a side I’m hoping will show its face more frequently in the subsequent books.
Now, back to writing. Somewhere along the way, the original vision of Bond has been romanticized into the lukewarm pile of crap we see in the movies. Also, many spy/pulp thrillers that followed tried to capture Fleming’s magic, but only grabbed the surface of the stories and the character. They missed the most important part completely (the broken man/perfect killer aspect). That is the sweet spot; were one to write a book in this genre, that would be the most important thing to carry through – how this supposedly glamorous life of the jet setting spy is really a facade, and how it turns one into a monster.
The closest comparison of someone getting it right is the Jack Bauer character from television’s 24. Jack as a family man is almost non-existent in every season; every scene where he is interacting in a non-work setting has him as an awkward communicator, almost like a ghost. However, when work comes his way, he turns into Jack Bauer, relentless killing machine that will stop at nothing until his mission is complete. He even died in Season 2 from torture, but was quickly revived by his torturers, and yeah, he brutally killed them all.
That is the sort of stuff I’d be interested in writing, something with some damn teeth.
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