“From an early age she had developed the art of being alone and generally preferred her own company to anyone else's. She read books at enormous speed and judged them entirely on her ability to remove her from her material surroundings. In almost all the unhappiest days of her life she had been able to escape from her own inner world by living temporarily in someone else's, and on the two or three occasions that she had been too upset to concentrate she had been desolate.”—Sebastian Faulks, The Girl At The Lion D’or
“People never explain to you exactly what they think and feel and how their thoughts and feelings work, do they? They don’t have time. Or the right words. But that’s what books do. It’s as though your daily life is a film in the cinema. It can be fun, looking at those pictures. But if you want to know what lies behind the flat screen you have to read a book. That explains it all.”—A Week in December, Sebastian Faulks
“ [He looked her up and down, appraising her from the dusty shoes to the expression of guarded hope in her eyes.] "Can I help?" he said.”—Sebastian Faulks, The Girl At the Lion d’Or (thanks, greysfanhp)
Thoughts on Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks
I quite like James Bond, prior to my exposure to Jason Bourne, he was the epitome of spy thrillers to me. Having said that, I’ve never sat down with the source material, I only know the movie-Bond – the women, the cars, the gadgets and the terrible one-liners.
I’d been meaning to pick up one of the novels for a while and Devil May Care seemed like it was the easiest of the lot to find and thus as good a starting point as any of the others.
Set in the “swinging sixties” according to the blurb, though you’d never really know it from the narrative itself, the story sees Bond going up against a drug lord who is obsessed with toppling the British Empire through a plan to turn the entire nation into drug addicts.
The novel starts off well-enough with Bond on an enforced sabbatical contemplating retirement. The writing is clear, concise and suitably Bond-esque without any of the whiz-bang gizmos that started to overwhelm the last couple of Pierce Brosnan films. The focus is, instead, on Bond’s physical capabilities and his trusty Walther PPK.
Faulks also seems to have studied the truly iconic Bond villains and understands that the best have all had some sort of distinguishing characteristic – Scaramanga’s Golden Gun, Oddjob’s bowler hat, Goldfinger’s obsession with gold … Jaws’ jaws – and has created an equally compelling villain in Dr. Julius Gorner with his deformed left hand, called a monkey’s paw.
Along with Gorner, the rest of the cast is equally well illustrated from a return to pre-Judy Dench M and Moneypenny to Darius and Hammed to Scarlet and Bond himself. Within their world they’re all believable characters and stick nicely to the “women want him and men want to be him” adage that (I think) was a tagline for one of the movies.
Where it all starts to fall apart however is in the third act. Gorner suddenly starts making decisions that go directly against his established character – deciding on a whim that his original plans for a tactical, slow-burning war in the shadows against Britain isn’t good enough apparently and switching to a scenario which allows for the cliché and predicable race against the clock for Bond to single-handedly prevent World War 3.
Add to that two really, really unsatisfying show-downs with both Gorner and his chief goon (complete with one of the most irritating attempts at ‘poetic imagery’ for the former that I’ve ever read) and a big twist reveal that anyone familiar with thriller conventions will have predicted less than half-way into the novel and the book feels like it was given to a totally different, much less talented, author for the last act.
The tagline for the book reads “Sebastian Faulks writing as Ian Fleming” but I don’t know which way that knife cuts. Does it mean that Faulk has copied Fleming’s style down to the unsatisfying conclusions OR that the former is simply unable to craft a tale up to the latter’s high standards? It does, however, give me another excuse to track down some of the original novels. You know. For comparison.