Sunday, May 29, 2011

James Bond:The Authorised Biography - John Pearson

A Fictional Biography. ( From the inside cover ).

 I went to library yesterday because I was absolutely slogging my way through T.H White's, The Once and Future King. I read it ten years ago and thought I do so again, except after the first two books I ground to a ignominious halt!! With only Charles Dickens' Bleak house left fiction wise, and utterly unwilling to delve into that tome at this stage, I felt I needed something lighter to read. I was overwhelmed in the library, and quite literally pulled out the first three novels I saw, then escaped before the choice became too much. I read a review of this several years. I think it was re-issued to coincide with Daniel Craig's Casino Royale. Well being a Bond fan I thought I give this novel a whirl.

 You would have to have spent your life in a cave or with your head up your...umm..yeah, I think you get the drift, not to have know the name, James Bond. 007, shaken not stirred, Connery, Lazenby, Moore, Dalton, Brosnan, Craig, and so and so forth. He is a literary, and cinematic giant, that has sold over 100 millions novels, and is the highest grossing franchise in cinematic history with over US$8 Billion.  It is an instantly unidentifiable name that brings so much, to so many, in so any different ways.

 Of course he is the figment of Ian Fleming's imagination. Fleming himself served in British Naval Intelligence during WW2  in both Britain and Washington. Due to his wartime experiences Fleming came up with the idea of James Bond and the rest is history. Many believe Bond is modelled on Fleming himself but this is unlikely as Flemings wartime role was nowhere the life led by his famous creation. John Pearson in turn has written a biography of  Fleming called Life of Ian Fleming. It was published in 1966 and was the first biography of Fleming ever written. It is now a collectors item and a must have by all Bond aficionados.

 Pearson wrote James Bond : The official Biography in 1973, nine years after Flemings death. He is the third official Bond novelist. In this Bond novel, which has divided Bond aficionados opinions, Pearson takes an auto-biographical look at Bond. It is a very clever piece of writing in my opinion, and in the process added a new and unique look at the character.

 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:

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