What a mind-bogglingly thorough collection of essays on the literary version of James Bond by Jacques Stewart. Take the Dr. No entry, for instance:
Albeit with mild erosion of the Casino Royale paragon – his impetuousness in Diamonds are Forever, his accidental brute force and luck succeeding in From Russia with or without Comma – the Bond of the first five novels is prima facie a competent man whom we are invited / required to admire, lest the fallacy of the wish-fulfilment enterprise collapse. Not without flaws, certainly, but tending towards the classically “heroic”. The man introduced in 1953 is a tank-tough archetype with habits and pleasures intended to engender post-War envy; despite a jaundiced view of his trade, a success. The character flourishes of the third, fourth and fifth books are not presented as egotistical faults nor manifestations of defective reason. To an extent, the end of FRWL shows the fluke finally expiring and an invitation to the reader to reflect on how precarious – and unlikely – his previous successes were; how long can luck (believed in or not) continue, before shaming
Skyfalldownfall? How close to failure has he always been? I’d argue that such contemplation only arises after reading this book: the reason From Russia with Love’s ending is a “shock” is because up to then, we’re not expecting Bond to fail. Now, we can’t be quite so confident of his success. The series pivoted and crashed down, too. Put the same ending on (say) Thunderball and it’d be no surprise at all.
One of the things I enjoy most about Daniel Craig’s Bond is that we’ve actually seen him try and fail. He’s not invincible anymore, and he often gets the job done only at great personal cost. In a way that takes a little bit away from the myth — the suave, cold-blooded spy with nerves of steel and a bulletproof liver — but after decades of overused clichés and impossible last-second escapes, maybe this was the only way to revitalize the franchise. The current interpretation is closer to the literary Bond than ever before and I just hope Spectre continues the trend, because I’m loving every minute of it.