Bond is back, in William Boyd’s new novel ‘Solo’
LONDON — William Boyd has left James Bond stirred, if not shaken.
The British writer has taken on the fictional spy in “Solo,” a new 007 novel that balances fidelity to Ian Fleming’s iconic character with subtle changes.
Bond fans will find much they recognize, along with some surprises — one of which is that in Boyd’s mind, James Bond looks like Daniel Day-Lewis.
Boyd says Fleming once described the spy as “looking like the American singer-songwriter Hoagy Carmichael. Daniel Day-Lewis looks like Hoagy Carmichael.”
“Solo” is set in 1969, and takes the suave British spy from London’s plush Dorchester Hotel to a war-ravaged West African country and on to Washington on a perilous lone mission.
Boyd steers Bond away from his big-screen action-hero image and back toward the complex and conflicted character of Fleming’s novels.
“Even though he’s this handsome superspy, when you read the books you realize that he’s haunted,” Boyd told the Associated Press.
“He’s not a cartoon character. Fleming gave him all his traits, his tastes, his likes and dislikes — and his complexes. Bond has a dark side. He’s troubled sometimes. He weeps quite easily. And he makes mistakes. That’s what’s so interesting about him.”
As the book opens, Bond is recovering from birthday celebrations at the Dorchester. He has just turned 45, and is feeling his age.
“Bond is mature. He’s seasoned,” Boyd said. “He’s lived a lot, he’s a man of experience. He may not run quite as fast as he could when he was 25, but he’s seen how life has changed and times have changed. It’s a good age for him to be.”
Boyd, 61, a winner of the Whitbread and Costa book prizes, follows writers including Kingsley Amis and Sebastian Faulks as a successor to Fleming, who died in 1964.
His novel is authorized by the Fleming estate, and was launched today with fanfare befitting a major British cultural export.
Boyd posed gamely for a photo call — at the Dorchester, naturally — alongside British Airways flight attendants, clutching a copy of the book in a translucent attache case. Seven copies of the books were driven in a Jensen convoy to Heathrow Airport, destined for seven cities around the world with ties to Boyd or Bond: Edinburgh, Amsterdam, Zurich, New Delhi, Los Angeles, Cape Town and Sydney.
“Solo” hits British bookstores on Thursday and will be published Oct. 8 in the United States and Canada.
Espionage is familiar ground for Boyd, whose books include the spy thrillers “Restless” and “Waiting for Sunrise.”
He has been a Bond fan since he read “From Russia With Love” in the 1960s as “an illicit thrill” after lights-out at his boarding school. He made Ian Fleming a character in his 2002 novel “Any Human Heart.”
“Solo” takes Bond to Africa, a continent he visited just once in Fleming’s works. Boyd, who was born in Ghana and spent much of his youth in West Africa, plunges the spy into Zanzarim, a fictional country with similarities to Nigeria during its 1960s civil war.
One Bond uber-fan proclaimed himself happy with Boyd’s work.
“It’s exciting, it’s entertaining, it’s fun, it’s sexy, it’s spectacular,” said Ajay Chowdhury of the James Bond International Fan Club. “He’s written more than just a James Bond novel. He’s written a good, modern political thriller.”
Many of Fleming’s familiar characters put in appearances, from spymaster M and his secretary Miss Moneypenny to Bond’s CIA friend Felix Leiter.
Fans of Fleming’s books will recognize Bond’s meticulous approach to clothes — in Africa he dons “a cotton khaki-drill suit, a white short-sleeved Aertex shirt and a navy blue knitted tie” — and his fondness for whisky and fine food (Boyd’s Bond mixes a mean vinaigrette). And, of course, his love of attractive women.
“Bond is a sensualist,” Boyd said.
Although the novel includes two enigmatic female foils for 007, Boyd is not keen on the expression “Bond girl.”
“Bond has relationships with women,” he said. “It seems to me he wants a relationship — it’s not just casual sex.”
Boyd also has toned down some of the racism and sexism that can be found in Fleming’s books. He says that by 1969 “society was changing,” and Bond would have known it.
“I haven’t set out to make Bond ultra-modern,” Boyd said. “But he’s definitely aware of the way the world has changed around him, and his attitudes have changed as well.”
Boyd certainly hasn’t cut down Bond’s prodigious smoking or alcohol consumption. But the writer has dared to deviate in the drinks department.
“There’s a recipe for a dry martini in this novel which is my particular recipe for a dry martini, which I’ve lent to James Bond for the duration of the novel,” Boyd said.
Thankfully, it’s shaken.