Sunday, May 29, 2011
The cleverness is taking a totally fictional character as James Bond is, and writing a biography of the real man all the while staying within the realms of fiction. In short this novel is a fictional biography, of an already fictional person! Like I said, very, very clever. But not totally original as I read a novel like it many years ago about W.E. Johns very famous, Biggles. The premise here is James Bond was real, and that Fleming had initially written the novels with M.'s consent as a way to convince the Russians 007 was actually a myth, and a figment of fiction. This was because Smersh were intent of killing Bond, and getting all too close in doing so in retaliation to him killing their own operative Oborin.
It is a wonderfully crafted premise, and I couldn't put the novel done. I managed to read its 345 pages in a little over six hours. I really liked how Pearson injected himself into the novel as a type of narrator. He is convinced that Bond is a real man, and after some initial heavy handed warnings from MI6, he is given carte blanche to meet Bond and write his biography. It is felt by MI6 that to release a biography is a smart move as they realise his real life activities will eventually be discovered and published anyway. By agreeing to Pearson's writing of the biography they are jumping the gun to avoid any controversy further down the track. Better to get it out in the open than try and hide it any longer.
The Bond Pearson meets is nothing like the Bond of the novels or movies. Bond himself doesn't particularly like them and is uncomfortable with them as he feels it isn't really him. He calls Sean Connery, ' That Connery fellow', and although agreeing with the need to write the books, he dislikes Fleming for altering his persona so much. He feels his life, and his very 'self', are no longer his own. The real Bond is a womanizer but not the smooth one we know him as. Bond is somewhat insecure with woman and yet needs their 'company'. He certainly gets it, and in bucketfuls. But he is a character who wants love but cannot settle down to provide it. He has several close marriage calls but they fail because of his job and inability to give want he himself wants to receive.
M. as a character is much more a cold hearted bastard that what the books and movies portray. In fact he and Bond are both quite hot headed and have quite a few heated arguments. M. isn't a likable fellow and is quietly envious of Bond and his success as a 00. Bond does admit that M. was the man for the job, and has respect for him, even though he doesn't really like him personally.
The other clever bit of writing Pearson does is have Bond talk as little as possible. He starts each chapter with Bond initially talking and then fades into his own words to describe what Bond had told him. It is quite a clever bit of literature and I think lifts this novel in stature. It isn't a masterpiece of Charles Dickens stature, but it is extremely clever in its premise and delivery. Bond purists may not like the Bond Pearson meets and describes but that is not the point. The point is that the Bond Fleming wrote about is nothing like the Bond he is based upon. It is like the skin of an onion as there are several layers going on here. It is fiction within fiction and that is its cleverness. As a novel it is unique way of bringing another angle, and piece of reading to the world of James Bond
In short then this is a good novel. The premise is superb and a new take on a great literary character. I just marveled at the idea of writing a spoof type fictional biography as an actually biography of a real man. It is the classic example of fiction within fiction. John Pearson does a brilliant job in 344 pages in bringing to life a real character, then infusing him with Fleming, and the character he created from Pearson's own James Bond. It is almost a reverse look at Fleming and Bond. I couldn't help but think of the movie Inception with its byline 'A dream within a dream'. Pearson has done the same thing with a fictional character, and written a novel that is fiction with fiction. Clever, very, very clever.
Recommended. It is an easy read without being overly simplistic, and a great premise. And even though it was written nearly forty years ago still feels fresh and doesn't suffer from a feeling of datedness. A good read for anyone even remotely interested in James Bond.
Click here for some more on the novel, and some useful links to other Bond/Fleming facts:
Monday, May 23, 2011
The idea of the occult and satanism itself has always fascinated me. I'm a strict atheist and yet the idea of the Devil unsettles me. That is why say Paranormal Activity is so scary because it is all too believable. It beats hands down cute girls being butchered by a masked maniac in the endless stream of slasher movies. Demons, possession, satanism, is much scarier, and far more unsettling, than a knife wielding Jason Vorhees or Michael Myers could ever be.
Denis Wheatley in 1975.
|The poster for the movie|
Thursday, May 19, 2011
From the back cover of the novel.
In my last Colin Dexter review, well it was more of an appraisal than a review, I pretty much summed up all I had to say on the Morse novels in general. Or did I? After finishing The Dead of Jericho early this morning I now find myself in the position of being able to add some more. After my last review, er, appraisal, I didn't think I'd bother with reviewing, oops, appraising the next two Morse novels I was to read.
Again I find myself unable to quite separate the novel from the TV series. The interesting thing here is the very first episode was based on this very novel. It first aired in the UK in January of 1987, six years after the novel was published. It wasn't the first Morse novel Dexter wrote ( Last Bus to Woodstock has that distinction, being written in 1975 ), and I have no idea why this was selected first for adaptation. I note too that some of the names in the episode were changed from the novel. Again, who knows why.
I have also fallen over myself here somewhat. In my appraisal of Nicholas Quinn I stated that I was unsure if Dexter wrote the novels in a way as to be unsolvable by the reader. I also clearly stated I'm as a rule untuned to crime writing. Well as I read this Morse novel I found myself gathering my suspicions about whodunit. By the time Morse had it sorted out and done the arresting I was pleased to note I had been on the right track, albeit in a muddied type way. I certainly didn't get it spot on, but I certainly was on the right track. So chuffed with myself I was!!
I also stated that so far I haven't really got a favorite Morse novel as such. Well I can now confirm that this one is undoubtedly a favorite!! It has got to do with almost having solved it, and by doing so appreciated Dexter's cunning and devious writing skills even more. I also like how in this Lewis is the one who really cracked the case and not Morse. Morse knows Lewis done so but doesn't actually acknowledge as much to him verbally. It is a rare thing in a Morse novel to see Lewis get his due for once. This is after at one stage Morse has a serious temper explosion at him for sloppiness in his reports. Again I can't help but feel Dexter himself is highly egotistical, knows it, and is able to so faithfully replicate his vanity in Morse.
In this novel too Dexter displays his personal knowledge thorough his creature, Inspector Morse. Dexter had been a senior classics teacher in Northamptonshire before his retirement due to deafness. In the novel Morse has a theory that is similar to Oedipus Rex by the Greek tragedian Sophocles. It is quite an interesting discourse as Morse attempts to convince a somewhat uneducated and baffled Lewis. Lewis brings out Morse's ego by calling him educated which Morse replies egotistically 'By right I am!'
So The Dead of Jericho is another very good Morse outing. I liked it more than any other Morse novel I have read, mainly because I came close to solving it! I also like how Lewis was given credit for once and looked like the good copper he his. Morse gives him grudging praise after his tantrum by saying they were a team. So much of Morses' success is off the back of the drudgery he sends Lewis off to do. Yes, this is a good crime novel and I again liked Dexter's knowledge, deviousness, and use of obscure words in bringing to life the intriguing, flawed character of Morse.
It is actually difficult to write a strictly novel review in this case without referring to the series. After Morse was killed of the series was kept alive with Lewis for sixteen more episodes. I felt that the series tempered both Morse and Lewis somewhat. In the novels Morse is bad tempered and snaps at Lewis a lot. Lewis and he aren't quite as chummy in the novels either. Morse is too egotistical to ever think much of anyone else but himself, and is quite dis-missive of Lewis. This adds so much interest to the novels as Morse and Lewis are like chalk and cheese. As you read them you sympathise with Lewis and feel angry at Morse's treatment of him. Morse is also somewhat crude and lewd, almost a dirty old man. Thaw was nothing of the sort. The Lewis in the series is a real wet blanket where as in the novels he maybe isn't quite the brightest bulb in the box, but he is methodical and respects Morse even though he hates him at times. I feel in the series he was too dim witted, where as in the novels he was actually a bit sharper.
As much as I like the TV series I prefer the novels. Morse is a more interesting character than that portrayed by Thaw. He is a man you are both intrigued by, and yet have reservations about. Lewis finds him un-necessarily crude at times and he is. Morse is a show off and his crudeness is just to ruffle people up. He is also a raving egoist. He quite often tells people he meets that he ' has the best mind in Oxford'!! I mean come on! How egotistical can you get. For me that is why I like Morse. He has many dualities to his make up which I both admire and loath him for. Certainly Colin Dexter has put great thought in creating Morse by giving him great strengths, particularly of mind, but deep flaws as well. He has given Morse a literary face.
I can't help but feel with Morse though that Dexter has put alot of himself into the character. I'm not just talking about Dexter's own interests such as ale, English literature, cryptic crosswords, etc, but his characteristics and personality. I think Colin Dexter is a vain egotistical man with an extraordinary intellect who knows it. Just as his creation does. Dexter reminds me of Samuel Pepys. In his diary Pepys wrote his own thoughts on himself mentally and of his personality etc. It was an extra- ordinary self examination and in Morse I feel that Dexter has done a similar thing all be it in a fictionalised way. Some how as you read Morse you feel you are inside Colin Dexter himself and not a character of fiction. Morse/Dexter knows his faults but is unable to apologise for them. Raving egoists are simply unable to do that.
In this particular novel too we get a character who Dexter is able to give credibility to through his own life experiences. Dexter was a teacher who had to retire because of deafness. He took up a position at UODLE in oxford. In this novel we have Nicholas Quinn who is accepted into a similar position even though he is almost totally deaf. Later in the novel Morse finds out that Quinn was an exceptional lip reader. Dexter goes into how Morse finds how how certain letters are difficult for lip readers to distinguish between. He arrests the wrong man and then realises that because of the similarity between the actual murderers name and his arrestee he has the wrong person. As I read this I was amazed at Dexter's knowledge. It was only reading about him on wikipedia that I saw how and where the idea for the novel came from. Quinn is a quiet representation of Dexter himself and his own deafness.
That is the crux of why I like the Morse novels. It is Dexter's knowledge that is more personal than researched. He knows Oxford, and I love being guided around that most famous of university cities by him. He is very clever as in each novel he never revisits the same parts of Oxford. Occasionally a main thoroughfare, such as Woodstock Road, is mentioned, but never the same buildings, pubs, or suburbs, etc.
As I have previously stated I very rarely read crime novels. Dexter is apparently a devious crime writer and I have yet to figure out 'who done it' yet from any of his novels. I'm not sure if it is because Dexter intentionally writes the novels in a way as they can't be figured out, or if I'm just not attuned enough with crime writing to do so. Either way I still enjoy the Morse novels and give each one as much thought as I can in figuring out the ending. I notice though that Dexter has never had a butler as a murderer!!
So far I haven't read a Morse novel I liked over another. They are all devious and riddled with red herrings. Morse is an intriguing character and I read these novels more for him than for the crime genre per se. As novels they are eminently readable with many interesting and obscure words thrown in. They are generally only about three hundred pages long with medium sizes print. I can knock a Morse novel out in about three hours reading time. Sometimes I can read them too fast and miss important facets of the plot, which catches me out towards the end as Morse is unravelling it all too the reader and a flabbergasted Lewis.
The Morse novels are great reads. I enjoy them and can't escape the feeling they are written by a towering egoist!! Morse as a character is one of the more memorable I have come across in a franchise. I like him because he is so interesting and flawed in his own way. He may be vain and intellectually blessed but he is also human. That for me is why Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse is so believable, because like you and me he has his strengths and weaknesses and knows what they are.
Click here for a short biography of Colin Dexter and information on the Morse novels:
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
I like the way Jones has shown how each man tries to deal with his experiences in their own way. They are individual to each and mirrored the real mental traumas suffered by returning wounded from the battle fields of WW2. Jones has canvased so much territory and written it brilliantly into his four characters. I like how he has Prell as a very reluctant Medal of Honour recipient and the politics behind his award. He was severely wounded in both legs which weren't healing. The doctors said they'd have to amputate one to save his life. Prell refuses and we see how his decision may affect the outcome of his medal. It is deemed that it isn't in the public interest to see a Medal of Honour winner with only one leg. Political chicanery at its worse as opinion is valued more than the individual soldier and his well being.
Prell himself is unsure of his own right to be awarded the medal. He feels he didn't deserve it because he was still alive and believes only those who are killed should be awarded it. He starts to heal after one of the other characters intervenes and helps him with some unflattering comments. He does walk again, gets married to a girl he gets pregnant and goes on a country wide War Bonds trip. He is successful at it but slowly his nightmares start and anger builds in him which he can't explain or rid himself of. He also starts to fight and is killed in a drunken bar room brawl.
This is the heart of the novel. How the four of them quickly unravelled once they were taken out of the security of their company in the Solomons. It shows the paradox of wanting to escape the fear and death, and yet how once out, the inability to adjust to new surroundings. Jones subtly shows how the army de-humanises its soldiers to the point of the needed discipline to function. But by doing so fails to recognise that the same men need rehabilitating at some stage, and how there is no system in place in which to do so. They are sent home, hospitalised, cured, and then either reassigned or discharged. The army is shown to not realise the men had come to rely heavily on their units, and comrades, that by separating them they quickly felt isolated and alone.
The comradeship inherent to a units performance is important and without that shield the four feel naked and abandoned. Also with their experiences they find there is little or no support for them in dealing with what they have seen and been through. We see one killed in a fight he started, one ends up in an army pysch ward because of his nightmares that cause him to crack, and two commit suicide. Jones may look melo-dramatic in killing off all four but by doing so he is making his point across a wide spectrum of what many returning soldiers experienced. I think this wasn't a problem many knew existed during WW2, and was only recognised after the Vietnam war as a real condition that needed to be taken seriously.
For me From Here to Eternity didn't really say anything. Maybe when he wrote it Jones wasn't aware of far he was going to take things, and didn't envisage a trilogy. I didn't really like Eternity but I'm mightily impressed by the next two novels. I'd go are far as to say forget Eternity and just read Red Line and Whistle as they are the more potent and intelligent books. Jones has superbly put the reader into the minds of men who have witnessed the horrors of war and uncompromisingly shown us, who haven't, what it does to the minds who have. It is a brutal and frank appraisal of not just war, but the armies who send these men out to die, and the almost unbending bureaucracy that sees them relegated to automatons. As automatons no thought, or systems, were put in place to pick up the pieces, and give them the opportunity to readjust to life inside or outside of the army.
For me Whistle is the best of the three novels. Jones has been through what he writes, and though he never expresses anger ,the reader can feel it through his characters. This is a unique novel because very few novels, or for that matter works of non-fiction, deal with the effects of war on those who experienced it. It was a subject that was quietly swept under the carpet, and any man who was mentally scarred treated with derision and seen as a pussy or unheroic who needed to 'harden up'. It was disgraceful treatment and luckily a syndrome that is much better understood. There are quite a few good movies and books coming out recently that highlight it. ( The Hurt Locker is a good example ).
As a stand alone novel I don't think Jones succeeded in his desire. It is definitely a follow on from The thin Red line and reads like it. I don't think you can read Whistle and get the most out of it without reading Red Line first. It is a brilliant expose of combat fatigue. I like how Jones has shown in Red Line the why and in Whistle the result of the why. These men came back not only damaged in body, but more importantly in mind. Jones goes inside those damaged minds from which the reader can only sympathise with there plight, and almost callously say to themselves, 'thank god that wasn't me.
James Jones didn't actually finish Whistle. He died with the last four chapters uncompleted. He left enough notes though that another author was able to write short sketches of each chapter. They provide enough so the reader gets a rough idea of how Jones was going to wind things up. He died at the age of 55 from congestive heart failure. He must have known he had this illness because Sgt Winch in Whistle has the same condition.
Whistle is a grammatical improvement on From Here to Eternity and hence much easier to read. My only criticism is that Jones has an annoying obsession in Whistle with oral sex. I don't know why it is relative to the core message but he goes into oral sex too much. While I'm not a prude I felt it unnecessary, and left me wondering, why? It almost gets crude to the point of crudeness for crudeness sake, and it doesn't fit the novel at all. In Eternity there are no sex scenes but in Whistle they are explicit and all involve 'cunt', 'cock', 'come', etc. It is an unfortunate diversion from where the book was going. But if you can see past it and understand Jones' appraisal on the damaged minds of soldiers you'll be alright.
Definitely worth a read if you want to understand what returning soldiers go through in trying to readjust to an old way of life that they no longer identify with.