Two James Bond Novel Reviews from Kingsley Amis (1977 & 1982)

Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 7,614MI6 Agent
edited July 2014 in James Bond Literature
Here are the two Kingsley Amis reviews of Christopher Wood’s James Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and John Gardner’s For Special Services (1982). Any typos etc. in the original text are marked with the usual [sic]. Hope you all enjoy the read.

Shaken, but Not Stirred

Ian Fleming’s ninth novel, The Spy Who Loved Me, was published in 1962. Except perhaps for one short episode, it is not a spy story but a mildly touching thrillerish romance, recounted in the first person by the “me” of the title, a nice French-Canadian girl with an unfortunate sexual history. And a nasty current predicament in an Adirondacks motel. A kindly, capable English policeman called James Bond turns up just over half-way through and sorts everything out. Some male reviewers, though no female ones, assailed the book as “unpleasant” and “pornographic” (we’ve come a long way in fifteen years) while in fact disliking the naively patriotic and anti-Soviet attitudes of author and hero without quite caring to put it that way.

Always sensitive to criticism couched in moral terms, Fleming stipulated that this story of his should never be filmed; the title alone might be used. So it has been. A plot in which the baddies’ grand design is burning down the motel for the insurance (admittedly with the heroine thrown in) would in any case hardly have done for a Bond film of the later 1970s: space stations, laser bombs and global takeovers are de rigueur here. There is plenty of that sort of thing in James Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me, which is the book of the film The Spy Who Loved Me, out soon.

Christopher Wood is part-author of the screenplay of this film. His Bond is largely unreconstructed, still drinking shaken dry martinis and still alive in spite of being unable to draw and fire his Walther PPK in under three-fifths of a second (even FBI men are expected to manage in one-quarter). M has gone soft, allowing his desk-top to be specially prepared for a briefing demonstration and looking at Bond not without affection. The new “me” is Major Anya Amasova of SMERSH, a sad come-down from her archetype, Corporal Tatiana Romanova in From Russia, with Love. And the chief heavy, one Sigmund Stromberg, an insane pelagiophilic ex-undertaker endearingly bent on sparking off the Third World War, lacks the presence of Goldfinger or Mr Big.

Enough of comparisons: Mr Wood has bravely tackled his formidable task, that of turning a typical late Bond film, which must be basically facetious, into a novel after Ian Fleming, which must be basically serious. To this end he has, by my count, left out nine silly gadgets and sixteen silly cracks which were in the script. He has also left out, to my surprise, a marvellous fight on a train that challenges comparison with the one in From Russia, with Love. The heavy concerned, a seven-and-a-half-footer with steel teeth, name of Jaws, is the best thing in both book and film. Mr Wood is not always exact: Bond, out skiing, muses that you “can lay for a long time in the bottom of a crevasse”-I doubt if even Bond could manage more than a brief lay in such circumstances. But the descriptions are adequate and the action writing excellent.

What nobody could have cut out is the element of second-sight contingency planning (or negligence) that gets by in a film, indeed is very much part of the style of these films, but obtrudes in a book. Your enemy has an explosive motorbike sidecar ready to launch at your car in case he’s forgotten to kill you for certain and in secret a few minutes before. In case that misses, he has already aloft a helicopter fitted with jets and [sic] canon. Your car is submersible in case you meet such a helicopter while driving on a coast road. In case you submerge your car he has a midget submarine waiting. In case he has you have underwater rocket-launchers.

Later, in his super tanker, which is really a giant submarine-trap, your enemy has a revolving gun-emplacement and four inch armoured shutters with machine-gun slits over his control-room in case the submarine crews he’s taken prisoner and forgotten to kill break out of the “brig” and start trying to take over with spare weapons they find in the magazine, where there’s also enough stuff just lying around to build a bomb that’ll blast through the armour-plate. Second-sight sportsmanship?

And earlier - but forget it. You safely can.

New Statesman, 1 July 1977

Double-low-tar 7, Licence to Underkill

Ian Fleming’s last novel, The Man With The Golden Gun, appeared in 1965, a year after its author’s death. I published Colonel Sun: a James Bond Adventure under the pseudonym of Robert Markham in 1968. The next Bond novel, Licence Renewed, by John Gardner, did not come along till 1981. Here now is For Special Services, by the same author.

Quite likely it ill becomes a man placed as I am to say that, whereas its predecessor was bad enough by any reasonable standard, the present offering is an unrelieved disaster all the way from its aptly forgettable title to the photograph of the author-surely an unflattering likeness-on the back of the jacket. If so that is just my bad luck. On the other hand, perhaps I can claim the privilege of at least a momentary venting of indignation at the disrepute into which this publication brings the name and works of Ian Fleming. Let me get something like that said before I have to start being funny and clever and risk letting the thing escape through underkill.

Over the last dozen years the Bond of the books must have been largely overlaid by the Bond of the films, a comic character with lots of gadgets and witty remarks at his disposal. The temptation to let this Bond go the same way must have been considerable, but it has been resisted. Only once is he called upon to round off an action sequence with a yobbo-tickling throwaway of the sort that Sean Connery used to be so good at dropping out of the side of his mouth. No ridiculous feats are required of him. His personal armament seems plausible, his car seems capable of neither flight nor underwater locomotion, his cigarettes in the gunmetal case have the three gold rings and M calls him 007.

Nobody else does, though. The designation is a pure honorific like Warden of the Cinque Ports; some ruling from Brussels or The Hague has put paid to the pristine Double-0 Section and its licence to kill long ago. Even the cigarettes are low-tar. But these and similar changes would hardly show if he had been allowed go keep some other interests and bits of himself, or find new ones. Does he still drink champagne with scrambled eggs and sausages. Wear a lightweight black-and-white dog-tooth check suit in the country? Do twenty slow press-ups each morning? Read Country Life? Ski, play baccarat and golf for high stakes, dive in scuba gear? What happened to that elegant international scene with its grand hotels and yachts? No information.

One thing Bond still does is have girls. There are three in this book, not counting a glimpse of Miss Moneypenny outside M’s door. The first is there just for local colour, around at the start, to be dropped as soon as the wheels start turning. She is called Q�ute because she comes from Q Branch. (Q himself is never mentioned, lives only in the films, belongs body and soul to Cubby Broccoli, the producer). Q’ute is liberated and a champion of feminism. Luckily she has only two lines, but one of these contains a jovial mild obscenity, and a moment later there comes a terrifically subtle reference to the famous moment in the film of Dr No when Bond said, “Something big’s coming up” [sic, actually TSWLM film] in ambiguous circumstances and got the hoped-for laugh from the first audiences, thus, legend says, turning the subsequent films on to their giggly course. When you consider how much the original Bond would have hated these small manifestations of what the world has become since 1960 or so, you might be led to suspect a furtive taking of the piss, but nothing like it occurs again, as if Gardner, not the most self-assured of writers, had repented of his daring.

Bond’s second girl has the cacophonous and uncertainly suggestive name of Cedar Leiter-yes, kin to that Felix Leiter of the CIA whom sharks deprived of an arm and half a leg in Live and Let Die (1954). Cedar is his daughter, a superfluous and unprofitable device that raises the thorniest of all questions, Bond’s age in 1982. Bond keeps his hands off her throughout, perhaps out of scruple but more likely because only a satyromaniac [sic] would find her appealing. She is described as short - a deadly word. An attractive girl may be small, tiny, petite, pocket-sized and such, but never short. Poor Cedar has no style of presence, no skills or accessories, no colour, no shape. And it is this wan creature whom Bond instantly accepts as his partner for the whole of the enterprise. In a Fleming novel - I nearly wrote “in real life” - Bond would have outrun sound getting away from her. To be accurate, of course, he would have done that even if she had been Pussy Galore or Domino Vitali all over again. He knew all about the way women “hang on to your gun-arm” and “fog things up with sex and hurt feelings”. But then that was 1953.

Bond scores all right with the third of the present trio, Nena Bismarquer, née Blofeld and the revengeful daughter of his old enemy, a detail meant to be a stunning revelation near the end but you guess it instantly. Nena-let me find the place-Nena looks fantastic and has incredible black eyes. Her voice is low and clear, with a tantalising trace of accent. She wears exceptionally well-cut jeans and has that special poise which combines all the attributes Bond most admires in a woman. When she sees him first she gives him a smile calculated to make even the most misogynistic male buckle at the knees. As she comes closer, he feels a charge, an unmistakeable chemistry passing between them. From expressions like these you can estimate the amount of trouble Gardner has taken with the figure of Nena and indeed the general level of his performance. It remains to be said about her that she has a long, slender nose and-by nature, not surgery-only one breast, an arresting combination of defects. Nobody really cares when she gets thrown among the pythons of the bayou. Well, there are pythons on this bayou.

There are two other villains round the place about whose villainy no bones are made from the beginning, Nena’s husband Markus and his boyfriend Walter Luxor. One is fat and cherubic, the other of corpse-like appearance, but neither exudes a particle of menace or looks for a moment as if he would be any trouble to kill, and Nena casually knocks them off one after the other on a late page. The three had schemed to steal the computer tapes governing America’s space-satellites, having fed drugged ice-cream to the personnel in charge of them. Bond, brainwashed by other drugs into believing himself to be a US general, is at the head of the party of infiltrators, but a third set of drugs, administered by a suddenly renegade Bismarquer, brings him to himself just in time. This sounds, I know, like a renewed and more radical bid to take the piss, but seen in the context of the whole book and its genesis the absurdity, however gross, is contingent, mere blundering.

I have suggested that For Special Services has little to do with the Bond films. In one sense this is a misfortune. Those films cover up any old implausibility or inconsistency by piling one outrage on another. You start to stay to yourself. [sic] “But he wouldn’t”- or “But they couldn’t”- and before you can finish Bond is crossing the sunward side of the planet Mercury in a tropical suit or sinking a Soviet aircraft-carrier with his teeth. Hardly a page in the book would not have gone smoother for a diversion of this sort. Why, for instance, does the New York gang boss set his hoods on Bond when all he has to do is ask him nicely? The reader is offered no relief from this bafflement.

What makes Mr Gardner’s book so hard to read is not so much its endlessly silly story as its desolateness, its lack of the slightest human interest or warmth. Ian Fleming himself would have conceded that he was not the greatest delineator of character; even so his people have genuine life and substance and many of them both experience and inspire feeling. So far from being “the man who is only a silhouette” Bond is shown to be fully capable of indignation, compunction, remorse, tenderness and a protective instinct towards defenceless creatures. His girls have a liveliness, a tenacity and sometimes a claim on affection beyond the requirements of formula. Most of the Fleming books also have a more or less flamboyant figure assisting Bond and acting as a foil to him, such as Darko Kerim, the Turkish agent in From Russia, with Love, and Enrico Colombo, the virtuous black-marketeer and smuggler in ‘Risico’. By a kind of tradition, however, perhaps started by Buchan with Dominck Medina in The Three Hostages, the main character-interest in this type of novel attaches to the villain. Mr Big, Hugo Drax, Dr No and their like are persons of some size and power. They are made to seem to exist in their own right, to have been operating since long before Bond crossed their paths, rather than to have been run up on the spot for him to practise on. But then to do anything like that the writer must be genuinely interested in his material.


Times Literary Supplement, 17 September 1982
"The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).

Comments

  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 7,614MI6 Agent
    Anyone care to comment on these two Kingsley Amis reviews?
    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • Sir MilesSir Miles The Wrong Side Of The WardrobePosts: 25,211Chief of Staff
    Anyone care to comment on these two Kingsley Amis reviews?

    Short on time at the moment...but I'll read them when I can...good work for digging them out though -{
    YNWA 96
  • ChromeJobChromeJob Durham, NC USAPosts: 149MI6 Agent
    edited January 2013
    I closed FOR SPECIAL SERVICES with a resounding thud, never to be opened again, likewise any of the subsquent "continuations," when Bond got into bed with the one-breasted progeny of Blofeld. It was downhill to that point, but at that moment I felt I could've bathed in the rejunvenating waters of that awful joke-fest, MOONRAKER. Yeah, that bad.

    Though I didn't finish it, I'm sure Amis nailed it.

    And btw,... "No, I can't Felix ... er, something BIG'S come up" is from GOLDFINGER, while Jill tickles his ear with her deliciously blonde hair.[1] ;)

    [1] I can forgive the man for not having a VHS or Beta tape of the films.... :)
    20130316-5278_kingston_corvusbond_pussyposter_80x65.png
    “It reads better than it lives.” T. Case
  • Napoleon PluralNapoleon Plural LondonPosts: 9,065MI6 Agent
    Interesting reviews. Amis was interviewed by 007 Magazine in the early or mid 1980s, very disparaging about Gardner, rightly so imo. No idea why he got the gig.

    He agreed that Gardner was one of those writers who insert descriptive detail for the sake of inserting descriptive detail. But he also hated the Union Flag joke in TSWLM pts - too absurd for him.
    "This is where we leave you Mr Bond."

    Roger Moore 1927-2017
  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 7,614MI6 Agent
    Interesting reviews. Amis was interviewed by 007 Magazine in the early or mid 1980s, very disparaging about Gardner, rightly so imo. No idea why he got the gig.

    He agreed that Gardner was one of those writers who insert descriptive detail for the sake of inserting descriptive detail. But he also hated the Union Flag joke in TSWLM pts - too absurd for him.

    As I'm currently writing a lengthy piece on Amis and TSWLM film at the minute, I'd really love to get a copy of said interview. Ebay?
    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • Napoleon PluralNapoleon Plural LondonPosts: 9,065MI6 Agent
    Guess, but I'm not sure what issue it was in.
    "This is where we leave you Mr Bond."

    Roger Moore 1927-2017
  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 7,614MI6 Agent
    Guess, but I'm not sure what issue it was in.

    Yes, I will have to rersearch into this. Perhaps Raymond Benson would know as I think that he interviewed Amis for OO7 Magazine in the 1980s.
    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 7,614MI6 Agent
    edited February 2013
    Just a little update for those who've not yet read my new article on The Bondologist Blog here:

    http://thebondologistblog.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/kingsley-amis-draxs-gambit-and-reform.html

    It makes liberal use of quotes from these two reviews. Read these reviews and then my article - there's even a reply from Martin Amis! :)
    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 7,614MI6 Agent
    Thought I would bump this for anyone who missed the chance to read these very interesting reviews from Amis the first time around. Enjoy! :) -{
    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • ThunderpussyThunderpussy Behind you !Posts: 63,697MI6 Agent
    Interesting reading {[] , always fun to read others opinions. -{
    "I've been informed that there ARE a couple of QAnon supporters who are fairly regular posters in AJB."
  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 7,614MI6 Agent
    Interesting reading {[] , always fun to read others opinions. -{

    Glad you enjoyed them, TP!
    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • superadosuperado Regent's Park West (CaliforniaPosts: 2,559MI6 Agent
    Just a little update for those who've not yet read my new article on The Bondologist Blog here:

    http://thebondologistblog.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/kingsley-amis-draxs-gambit-and-reform.html

    It makes liberal use of quotes from these two reviews. Read these reviews and then my article - there's even a reply from Martin Amis! :)

    Very meaty reviews, SM, I'm still reading through them, thanks for these. I'd love to hear Martin Amis' input about his father's involvment with the polish of TMWTGG manuscript.
    "...the purposeful slant of his striding figure looked dangerous, as if he was making quickly for something bad that was happening further down the street." -SMERSH on 007 dossier photo, Ch. 6 FRWL.....
  • ThunderpussyThunderpussy Behind you !Posts: 63,697MI6 Agent
    Is his putting a final polish story true , as I keep
    reading different stories ? I love to have a "final"
    Answer. -{
    "I've been informed that there ARE a couple of QAnon supporters who are fairly regular posters in AJB."
  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 7,614MI6 Agent
    edited July 2014
    Is his putting a final polish story true , as I keep
    reading different stories ? I love to have a "final"
    Answer. -{

    I believe that Amis merely made notes on it (see his edited Letters), but that only William Plomer edited it and possibly polished it too as an editor would do normally after his friend Ian Fleming's death. Amis' suggested changes were not included in the final manuscript, including the idea he had that Scaramanga was sexually attracted to Bond and that was why he rather oddly hired him in the Savannah La Mar brothel like that. Amis even wrote an article about this which was republished in a 1970 collection of articles entitled What Became of Jane Austen? and Other Questions.
    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • ThunderpussyThunderpussy Behind you !Posts: 63,697MI6 Agent
    Thanks SM, I'm no expert on the novels ( and I don't know much about the films either ) :)) {[]
    "I've been informed that there ARE a couple of QAnon supporters who are fairly regular posters in AJB."
  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 7,614MI6 Agent
    superado wrote:
    Just a little update for those who've not yet read my new article on The Bondologist Blog here:

    http://thebondologistblog.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/kingsley-amis-draxs-gambit-and-reform.html

    It makes liberal use of quotes from these two reviews. Read these reviews and then my article - there's even a reply from Martin Amis! :)

    Very meaty reviews, SM, I'm still reading through them, thanks for these. I'd love to hear Martin Amis' input about his father's involvment with the polish of TMWTGG manuscript.

    Yes, I would too. I was very pleasantly surprised to get a comment from Martin Amis. It was a nice little boost to the ego! :))
    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 7,614MI6 Agent
    Thanks SM, I'm no expert on the novels ( and I don't know much about the films either ) :)) {[]

    My pleasure, TP. My friend Jeremy Duns proved this was the case on a thread over on CBn some years back. And don't be so hard on yourself, you know loads of stuff about Bond! :) -{
    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • ThunderpussyThunderpussy Behind you !Posts: 63,697MI6 Agent
    The great thing about AJB, if in doubt ask !
    There'll always be someone who knows more about
    the Bond Films, Books, music etc. Who are only too
    happy to help. -{
    "I've been informed that there ARE a couple of QAnon supporters who are fairly regular posters in AJB."
  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 7,614MI6 Agent
    Yes, it's a real community here, rather cosy in nature and we all help each other here, indeed. -{
    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • AlphaOmegaSinAlphaOmegaSin EnglandPosts: 10,924MI6 Agent
    -{
    1.On Her Majesties Secret Service 2.The Living Daylights 3.license To Kill 4.The Spy Who Loved Me 5.Goldfinger
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