Tag Archives: bond

The Man from Barbarossa by John Gardner

The Man from BarbarossaPhil: A meeting between a debonaire man and a femme fatale in a fine restaurant, surely it can only be another lunchtime chat with team nolanparker?

No, this time it’s James Bond sharing some banter with one of this french counterparts, Stephanie Adore.

In book form, James Bond novels are the blokey equivalent of chick-lit. There’s some clunking product placement, pacey plot line and a bit of shagging. Compared to most chick-lit novels the products and rumpy-pumpy are toned down to a huge extent but I guess this tells you a lot about the difference between men and women.

John Gardner was the first author to be officially sanctioned by Ian Flemings family to write Bond stories. He took the existing characters but moved the plots from the 1950-60 period into the near past. TMFB takes place in 1991 during the run up to the first gulf war. The Cold War has ended, the Soviet Union is falling apart and so Bond operates in a far less certain world than he used to. Some changes have been made, there’s no mention of Bond’s Bently for example – it would be an anachronism in the 1990s when the marque was seen as a luxury brand rather than the sports car Flemming originally intended. Besides, by this point it would be a vintage vehicle and probably conk-out if he tried to drive it accross Europe as he had in previous stories.

Bond books are, apart from On Her Majesties Secret Service, very different from the films. The main characters have far more depth. There’s also a lot more build-up. The main adventure doesn’t get moving in this one until over half way through the novel. That’s not unusual for Book Bond, the “Spy Who Loved Me” doesn’t even see his appearance until 2/3rds of the way through the story. Mind you, Flemming seemed to recognise this wasn’t a great idea and never experimented this way again.

The thing is, that despite the big adventure not happening from page 1, it doesn’t matter. There are little adventures, including an assassination attempt, in the run up. The story seems to build and there is plenty of mystery to go before we get to the finale. Maybe the James Bond brand carries things along but this is one book that defies many of the conventions writers have to follow if they want to get into print.

Another is that the text is a bit clunky. Flemming suffered from this, Sebastian Faulks did a better job years later, but nothing like as badly as Dan Brown does. Despite this, the story is strong enough that you want to get to the end. I read the book in stages while waiting for glue to dry on another project and that seems just the right way to handle it. Bond books are not high art. They are good fun pulp reads writen in a hurry and meant to be read like this.

Anyway, I enjoyed TMFB – Action, adventure, beautiful women and incomprehensible cocktails, what else could a man want?

The Man from Barbarossa at Amazon

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Filed under Books, Phil

Skyfall isn’t about beautiful women, guns, cars or things going bang. It’s much simpler than that.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/94/Turner%2C_J._M._W._-_The_Fighting_T%C3%A9m%C3%A9raire_tugged_to_her_last_Berth_to_be_broken.jpg/800px-Turner%2C_J._M._W._-_The_Fighting_T%C3%A9m%C3%A9raire_tugged_to_her_last_Berth_to_be_broken.jpgPhil: Only a few weeks after everyone else, I finally got around to seeing the latest James Bond film, Skyfall.

It’s really rather good. The last two films in the series suffered from the producers who find CGI so easy that they decided to fill the film with it, giving two hours of relentless, crunching action sparing no room for silly things like plot, character development or changes of pace. (See also: The three Star Wars prequels, that terrible “reboot” of Star Trek, Indiana Jones 4 and loads of other films.)

This time we get something much more complex, but at its heart, far simpler.

Before you think I’m some sort of auteur, pay attention and the hints are dropped with a subtlety that even Agatha Christie would balk at. The important scene is the one where Bond and Q meet in the National Gallery in front of the Turner painting “The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up“.

The painting shows a great  sail powered warship being taken to the breakers by a steam ship. Modern propulsion triumphs over the once great, but now obsolete predecessor.

This is the recurring theme through the film. It’s suggested that M should retire because the world has changed. That agents in the field are less important than nerds with computers and so on. By the end though, fortune has been reversed – the iconic 1960’s Aston Martin is a better mode of transport than a modern car, even if M comments on its lack of comfort. At least when it was bought, someone ticked the option box marked “machine guns”  (Well, you would wouldn’t you) and the final blow is struck with a knife. No one dies by iPad.

A strong central theme is important for a story and it certainly provides both poignancy and purpose for Skyfall.

Returning to the painting though, there is another lesson for the writer. Turner didn’t see the scene he portrayed. The Temeraire would have been little more than a hull by the time she was hauled to be scrapped. Masts and cannon would have been removed, as would anything of value. Despite this, the scene shows her in her prime – not because it’s accurate but because it makes for a better story. It’s as much fiction as the film, and just as entertaining.


Filed under Phil, Writing