Saturday, 26 February 2011
THE COMPLETE LITERARY 007 - Licence Renewed by John Gardner
I recall it was a sunny day and I started reading the book while waiting for a bus home and I think I finished it that evening. I loved it, thought it was a worthy Bond book. These days, though I'm a little more critical.
Firstly Gardner's Bond is not Fleming's Bond, but then I don't think he was intended to be. The Bond of this novel is the cinema Bond as played by Roger Moore - the then current Bond actor. But I suspect that Gardner received strict instructions from Glidrose (the copyright holders) on how the book should be written, and the result is something that seems like a mish mash of the various films, rather than a stab at recreating Fleming. The publishers and copyright holders must have assumed that the readership would be so familiar with the movies, that they wouldn't want Fleming's gritty Bond, and so they opted to give them a carbon copy of the character they were seeing on the big screen.
For one thing Bond operates in a contemporary setting - the flashy but shallow 1980's - and what's more he thinks and acts like a man of that period. There are some nods to Fleming but Bond is no longer a man who relies on his courage and wits to escape danger, but a playboy who relies on his gadgets (double entendre, intended).
John Gardner has brilliantly portrayed the most famous spy in the world as he pits his nerve and cunning against a dangerously deranged opponent - one prepared to sacrifice most of the Western world to prove only he can make it safe from accidental nuclear holocaust. As the seconds tick away on the valued Rolex Oyster Perpetual, the world comes nearer this ironic annihilation and Bond comes nearer to a frightful death.
The biggest problem with the book is that it doesn't even try to take itself seriously and as a result the story seems flat and unbelievable. No matter how outlandish Fleming's books were, the reader felt a truth for the time spent between the covers, and you don't get that here. It as if this is Bond is his, "Fat Elvis" period.
That's not to say it's a bad book - if you think of it as a film tie-in then it reads very well and it is paced wonderfully, even if Bond often seems to jump from one location to the next without logical reason, which is again something that the films often do.
"James Bond shifted down into third gear, drifted the Saab 900 Turbo into a tight left hand turn, clinging to the grass verge, then put on a fraction more power to bring the car out of the bend."
I think Licence Renewed was a very professionally written book and it's a good enough Bond fix, but anyone expecting Fleming will be disappointed . I do however think Gardner improved and at least two of his Bond books are classics.