Review: The name’s Bond, James Bond

Devil May Care is the 22nd book in the Bond series, but it has nothing to do with the original creator Ian Fleming. Sebastian Faulks’ take on 007 is fast and action-packed — and, somehow, more human

By Anshuman Joshi

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Published: Fri 10 Jul 2009, 10:20 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 8:17 AM

If Daniel Craig has not already altered your perception of what a real 007 should be like --— a muscled, mean killing machine and somewhat lacking in the subtleties and finer graces of his predecessors — then Sebastian Faulks’ Devil May Care takes care of that, at least to a certain extent. The 22nd book in the original Bond series, one that creator Ian Fleming had nothing to do with, portrays the world’s best-known fictional superspy as a smart man, who despite being what he is (an effective field agent on Her Majesty’s Secret Service), is not insulated from the frailties and foibles of a normal human existence.

So there he is, in Paris, on a three-month forced sabbatical, dreading his return to a desk job, avoiding high spirits and staying away from women and other attractions with the stubbornness of a pit bull terrier. Imagine James Bond as a ‘juice-swivelling traveller’ as against the ‘martini-shaken-but-not-stirred Lothario’ with one finger permanently on the trigger. He also likes to eat eggs — poached, scrambled, and those that are procured from the deep end of the ocean in the form of caviar — even as he struggles with the turgidity of his waning years. Besides, for a man whose screen avatar is known for his love of gadgets and fast cars, his print clone is visibly more sedate preferring to be chauffeured around both at home and abroad. It’s an image that you will struggle to accept.

And then just as you think Bond is losing his licence to thrill comes the little twist in the plot as M summons him to back to London and puts him on the trail of one Dr Julius Gorner, a brilliant, yet sinister mind that operates at the centre of a global trade involving illegal narcotics.

Of course when it comes to 007, it couldn’t be just as simple as that. So our man stumbles on to a plot designed to put the Cold War foes on a collision course. Faulks is good at fleshing out his characters — be it the enigmatic seductress, Scarlett Papova, whose ability to tap into Bond’s emotional reserves is matched by her ability to keep him focused on the job, or Darius Alizadeh, who masks his innate knowledge of the espionage business with his love for the finer things in life.

Gorner, too, is infused with the right amount of negative energy: a villain with a rare congenital deformity, who is driven as much by his desire to make profit as he is to use it for a ‘cause’ — however misguided it is. Even his right-hand man, Chagrin, with his brutal ‘chopstick’ methods that he employs to impair Gorner’s enemies, has been given enough attention.

Then there are the usual characters typical of a 007 storyline: Rene Mathis, the French operative or Felix Leiter, the CIA hand, JD Silver who brings out a shade of grey and Poppy Papova, Scarlett’s drug-addled sister struggling to break free of her addiction heroin and escape her dreary circumstances.

The author is good at all this, but what he is better at is building the visual imagery around people, places and situations. For instance, when he delves into life in Teheran before the Revolution, he recreates a world that is difficult to imagine today — the mixed hammams, exotic women with very liberal attitudes and cabbies endowed with a great sense of humour. Even the Caspian Sea Monster, the fictional sea-based craft with the capacity to launch nuclear warheads, comes alive like the Loch Ness monster.

Sebastian Faulks infuses a rather simple plot with engaging drama — and lots of engaging people — and that is what makes Devil May Care a must read.

Vikram Seth and his Suitable Sequel

Award-winning Indian poet and author Vikram Seth is all set to write the sequel to A Suitable Boy, that was published in 1993, and won the top award at the Commonwealth Writers’ prize. The sequel, to be fittingly titled A Suitable Girl, will be published in late 2013, the author has said. The book will be published by Penguin imprint Hamish Hamilton, and the deal is, reportedly, worth a mind-boggling sum of money. It may be remembered that the 1,350 page A Suitable Boy — that went on to sell over a quarter of a million copies in hardback and over a million in paperback — had created history in the publishing world with the $1.1 million advance it received from Indian, British and American publishers of the book. In A Suitable Boy, Mrs Rupa Mehra set out to look for a suitable boy for her 19-year-old daughter Lata; in A Suitable Girl, Lata is looking for a suitable girl for her grandson. While A Suitable Boy was set in a newly independent India, in the 1950s, A Suitable Girl will allow Seth to (as he’s told Reuters) “bring a whole lot of post-independence history to bear on the novel. It allows me to live in the present... I’m doing something quite different to keep myself interested rather than just writing another historical book that I’ve written before. I hope it can be read by a person who hasn’t read the other book as well as by people who have.” Speaking to The Times of India, Seth said: “It’s now that I feel interested in Lata as a grandmother living in the present. My publishers had been after me for years to write a sequel but I didn’t feel inspired enough. I am happy the muse has returned.” So are we!

A Reprieve for The Catcher In The Rye

It was poetic justice for 90-year-old American writer JD Salinger. A federal ruling has indefinitely banned the publication of 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye by Swedish author Fredrik Colting (who wrote the new novel under the pen name John David California). The reason? The protagonist of 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye, one Mr C, who is 76 years old, could actually be a rip-off of Holden Caulfield, the protagonist of Salinger’s 1951 classic The Catcher in the Rye — a book that immortalised Caulfield as a rebellious teenager, and gave him a cult status. Even now, the book continues to sell more than 250,000 copies every year. Salinger’s lawyers had filed a copyright infringement lawsuit contending that “the new work was derivative of Catcher and Holden Caulfield, and infringed on Mr Salinger’s copyright,” The New York Times reported. “While the case could still go to trial... [the] ruling means that Mr Colting’s book cannot be published in the United States pending the resolution of the litigation, which could drag on for months or years,” the paper added. 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye has, however, been published in the UK.

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