Tag: James Bond

Blood and violence in Turkey

Saturday, 16 July, 2016 0 Comments

Snow Orhan Pamuk’s brilliant novel Snow is recommended reading for those trying to understand the forces at work in Turkey these days. Early in the book, the central character, Ka, is sitting in the New Life Pastry Shop in the east Anatolian city of Kars when an Islamic extremist kills the director of The Education Institute, who had barred headscarf-wearing girls from attending class. Because the victim was carrying a concealed tape-recorder, Ka is later able to get the transcript of the fatal conversation from his widow. In this excerpt, the killer pours forth his murderous ideology:

“Headscarves protect women from harassment, rape and degradation. It’s the headscarf that gives women respect and a comfortable place in society. We’ve heard this from so many women who’ve chosen later in life to cover themselves. Women like the old belly-dancer Melahat Sandra. The veil saves women from the animal instincts of men in the street. It saves them from the ordeal of entering beauty contests to compete with other women. They don’t have to live like sex objects, they don’t have to wear make-up all the day. As professor Marvin King has already noted, if the celebrated film star Elizabeth Taylor had spent the last twenty years covered, she would not have had to worry about being fat. She would not have ended up in a mental hospital. She might have known some happiness.”

Upon hearing this nonsense, the director of the Education Institute bursts out laughing. Pamuk describes the end of the transcript thus:

“Calm down my child. Stop. Sit down. Think it over one more time. Don’t pull that trigger. Stop.”
(The sound of a gunshot. The sound of a chair pushed out.)
“Don’t my son!”
(Two more gunshots. Silence. A groan. The sound of a television. One more gunshot. Silence.)

Talking of Turkey and fanaticism, of blood and violence, From Russia, with Love, the fifth 007 novel to feature the British Secret Service agent James Bond, might not be where one expects to find insights relating to last night’s coup, but it’s full of surprises. Ian Fleming wrote the book in 1956 at his Goldeneye estate in Jamaica, and the story was inspired by the author’s visit to Turkey on behalf of The Sunday Times to report on an Interpol conference. Fleming returned to London via the Orient Express, but found the experience drab, partly because the restaurant car was closed. Bond observes:

“From the first, Istanbul had given him the impression of a town where, with the night, horror creeps out of the stones. It seemed to him a town the centuries had so drenched in blood and violence that, when daylight went out, the ghosts of its dead were its only population.” — Ian Fleming, From Russia, With Love

Barthes on Bond

Tuesday, 3 November, 2015 0 Comments

“When we are told that Bond, upon hearing the telephone ring, while upon duty in his Secret Service office, ‘picked up one of the four receivers’, the moneme four constitutes in itself a functional unit, for it refers to a concept which is necessary to the story as a whole (one of a highly technical bureaucracy). In fact, in this case, the narrative unit is not the linguistic unit (the word) but only its connotative value (linguistically, the word four never means ‘four’).” Roland Barthes, An Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narrative (PDF).

Now that we’ve got our tickets for Spectre, it’s time to read what Roland Barthes had to say about James Bond. The great French literary critic, theorist and philosopher was a 007 fan and he subjected Goldfinger to close scrutiny in his ground-breaking structural analysis of the narrative form published in 1975. Nothing in that essay reflects the enormous technological changes in the past 50 years than Bond’s reaction to “hearing the telephone ring”. How did he react? Why, he “picked up one of the four receivers.” Imagine explaining that to 21st-century teens who spend most of their days and nights on their mobiles. What was a “receiver”? Why were four of them needed for taking a call? Back to Barthes:

“The administrative power that lies behind Bond, suggested by the number of lines on his phone, does not have any bearing on the sequence of actions triggered by the act of answering the phone; it only takes on value on the general level of typology of a character (Bond is on the side of Order).”

If Ronald Barthes were with us today, he’d have lots of fun deconstructing a recent item of Bond news about an object signified as a “smartphone”. Check this out: “Sony offered $5 million for Bond to carry the phone, with an $18 million bid to be the exclusive vendor. Samsung offered the same $5 million deal for Bond, but beefed the total payment to $50 million. Both offers were rejected by Bond actor Daniel Craig and director Sam Mendes, after judging the phones to be too lackluster for Bond.”

Towards the end of his life, Barthes said: “All of a sudden it didn’t bother me not being modern.”



Tuesday, 26 November, 2013 0 Comments

In William Boyd’s Solo, the latest iteration of the James Bond saga, 007 gets into a spot of bother in Africa, which leads to a spell in an intensive care unit at a sanatorium on a British Army base to the south of Edinburgh. There, he is attended to by Nurse Sheila McRae and such is the quality of her care that Bond begins to meditate on the heroic nature of her profession:

“She helped Bond on with his dressing gown after he’d dried himself and Bond reflected on the curious, intimate non-intimacy that existed between nurse and patient. You could be standing there, naked, as your bedpan was emptied or a catheter was inserted in your penis, chatting to the nurse about her package holiday in Tenerife as if you were passing time at a bus stop waiting for your bus to arrive. They had seen everything, these nurses, Bond realised. Words like prudish, embarrassed, shocked, disgusted or ashamed simply weren’t in their vocabulary. Perhaps that was why people — why men — found them so attractive.”

That James Bond. Along with being such an effective killer, he’s so wise when it comes to matters of the human heart. Nurses are, indeed, astonishing people and they deserve far more recognition and reward from society than they currently get.

JFK and 007

Thursday, 21 November, 2013 0 Comments

In March 1960, Ian Fleming had dinner with John F. Kennedy at the White House. In his book, The Life of Ian Fleming, John Pearson notes: “During the dinner the talk largely concerned itself with the more arcane aspects of American politics and Fleming was attentive but subdued. But with coffee and the entrance of Castro into the conversation he intervened in his most engaging style. Cuba was already high on the headache list of Washington politicians, and another of those what’s to-be-done conversations got underway. Fleming laughed ironically and began to develop the theme that the United States was making altogether too much fuss about Castro — they were building him into a world figure, inflating him instead of deflating him. It would be perfectly simple to apply one or two ideas which would take all the steam out of the Cuban.” Kennedy asked him what would James Bond do about Fidel Castro. Fleming replied, “Ridicule, chiefly.”

In March 1961, Hugh Sidey wrote an article in Life Magazine on JFK’s top ten favourite books designed to show that the president was both well-read and in touch with popular taste. The only work of popular fiction on the list was From Russia With Love. Up until then, Bond had not sold well in the US, but by the end of 1961 Ian Fleming had become the largest-selling thriller writer in America.

“The great trains are going out all over Europe, one by one, but still, three times a week, the Orient Express thunders superbly over the 1,400 miles of glittering steel track between Istanbul and Paris. Under the arc-lights, the long-chassied German locomotive panted quietly with the laboured breath of a dragon dying of asthma. Each heavy breath seemed certain to be the last. Then came another.” Ian Fleming, From Russia With Love

From Russia With Love

Bond interrupted

Friday, 15 November, 2013 0 Comments

Following a forced and painful interruption, we’re ready to recommence reading Solo, the new James Bond thriller by William Boyd. At the end of the first chapter, 007 is at the Café Picasso in Chelsea in London. He orders a glass of Valpolicella and a portion of lasagne. This is followed by another glass of wine and an espresso. Now, note what follows: “He threw down a pound note and some coins to cover his bill and a tip, stepped out into the King’s Road and hailed a taxi.” Given London prices today, William Boyd is dealing clearly with a distant past in Solo.

Here’s the cover of the fourth Ian Fleming 007 story, Diamonds are Forever, which was published in March 1956 in Britain by Jonathan Cape. The creator of the cover art is to be credited with making an effort to match the author’s attitude.

“Before a man’s forty, girls cost nothing. After that you have to pay money, or tell a story. Of the two, it’s the story that hurts most. Anyway I’m not forty yet.” Ian Fleming, Diamonds are Forever

Diamonds are Forever

Peeking into Bond

Friday, 1 November, 2013 0 Comments

Amazon has delivered and once some upcoming unpleasantness has been successfully weathered, we’ll be enjoying Solo, the new James Bond thriller by William Boyd. Can’t resist a quick peek at the first sentence, though. Here goes: “James Bond was dreaming.” Hmmm. Sounds, er, promising. Meanwhile, here’s the cover of the third Ian Fleming 007 story, Moonraker, which was published in April 1955 in Britain by Jonathan Cape. The cover art, if one can call it that, marks one of the low points in the history of design. Between the covers, though, the author was splendidly un-PC.

“Unless she married soon, Bond thought for the hundredth time, or had a lover, her cool air of authority might easily become spinsterish and she would join the army of women who had married a career.” Ian Fleming, Moonraker



Wednesday, 30 October, 2013 0 Comments

One would think that in these dramatic days of data mining the old-style espionage thriller would find it hard to compete, but the opposite is the case. Three new novels suggest that there’s a lot of life left in the genre yet:

An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris explores the Dreyfus Affair through the eyes and ears of Colonel Georges Picquart who, as head of the Statistical Section, a clandestine intelligence unit, gains access to the secret evidence used against Dreyfus. Parallels between the resolution of the Dreyfus Affair in 1906 and recent events revealing the power that intelligence agencies wield is not coincidental.

Solo by William Boyd is a continuation of the James Bond saga. M sends 007 to a West African state split by civil war over oil reserves with the mission of destabilizing the rebel movement under the cover of a journalist for a French press agency (France, unsurprisingly, supports the insurgents). So, in 1969, Bond departs for the Dark Continent equipped with Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter and some toiletries. “He who travels lightest, travels furthest, Bond supposed, and that included weaponry. Into a war zone with a can of talcum powder and some aftershave.”

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan deals with the experiences of its protagonist, Serena Frome, during the early 1970s, when Britain is being torn apart by industrial unrest and terrorism. After graduating from Cambridge she is recruited by MI5, and is sent out to combat communism in the intellectual world. But Cupid strikes and Serena is forced to abandon the first rule of espionage — trust no one.

Reading all three will take some time, but they’re on the list. That same list has been reduced by one with the recent completion of Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Although it was published in 2004, the theme of industrial espionage is as relevant as ever. The problem with the book, however, is that it has aged radically, although it’s less than a decade old. The pace of technological change is so relentless now that a story where LexisNexis is the cutting-edge search engine sounds absurd to our ears. Joseph Finder cannot be faulted for this, but there is a lesson here for would-be novelists and over-reliance on communication gadgets as plot drivers. Robert Harris, Ian McEwan and William Boyd cleverly fix their recent spy stories in the 20th century, which allows them to look back — cynically, humourously, skeptically — at what was once considered the acme of progress and sophistication.

Joseph Finder’s Paranoia was given the opportunity to refresh itself recently via a Hollywood adaptation but the reviews have been universally awful. Describing it as “a ho-hum thriller about corporate spying in the high-tech world,” SF Gate says it “comes off as a lot more preposterous than paranoid, and it takes no more than a few frames for the eye rolling to commence.” Much of the blame lies with the vapid Liam Hemsworth, who was dreadfully miscast as Adam Cassidy, the mischievous, brilliant, vulnerable narrator of the yarn, but the inclusion of Gary Oldman as the villain, Nick Wyatt, is another serious blow to the credibility of Finder’s original. “He had a deep tan, shoe polish-black hair gelled and combed straight back. His teeth were perfectly even and Vegas-white. He was fifty-six but didn’t look it, whatever fifty-six is supposed to look like.” That’s very not Gary Oldman and an over-egged London accent does not make him a convincing corporate shark, either. Ah, well. Solo is sure to be better when it is filmed.

Readying for Bond

Thursday, 24 October, 2013 0 Comments

Amazon is about to deliver and soon we’ll be delving into Solo, the new James Bond thriller by William Boyd. As we prepare for this thrilling treat, let’s ponder the cover of the second Ian Fleming 007 story, Live and Let Die, which was published in April 1954 in Britain by Jonathan Cape. It has to be said that it does not represent a triumph of art. Given that the action-packed adventure catapulted Bond from the jazz joints of Harlem to the emerald waters of the Everglades in pursuit of the ruthless Mr Big, the flatness of the cover is even more perplexing. Perhaps it was the Fleming/Bond philosophy that baffled the designers.

“No, when the stresses are too great for the tired metal, when the ground mechanic who checks the de-icing equipment is crossed in love and skimps his job, way back in London, Idlewild, Gander, Montreal; when those or many things happen, then the little warm room with propellers in front falls straight down out of the sky into the sea or on to the land, heavier than air, fallible, vain. And the forty little heavier-than-air people, fallible within the plane’s fallibility, vain within its larger vanity, fall down with it and make little holes in the land or little splashes in the sea. Which is anyway their destiny, so why worry? You are linked to the ground mechanic’s careless fingers in Nassau just as you are linked to the weak head of the little man in the family saloon who mistakes the red light for the green and meets you head-on, for the first and last time, as you are motoring quietly home from some private sin. There’s nothing to do about it. You start to die the moment you are born. The whole of life is cutting through the pack with death. So take it easy. Light a cigarette and be grateful you are still alive as you suck the smoke deep into your lungs. Your stars have already let you come quite a long way since you left your mother’s womb and whimpered at the cold air of the world. Perhaps they’ll even let you go to Jamaica tonight. Can’t you hear those cheerful voices in the control tower that have said quietly all day long, ‘Come in BOAC. Come in Panam. Come in KLM’? Can’t you hear them calling you down too: ‘Come in Transcarib. Come in Transcarib’? Don’t lose faith in your stars. This happy landing at Palisadoes Airport comes to you courtesy of your stars. Better thank them.” Ian Fleming, Live and Let Die

Live and Let Die