Book Review: Solo By William Boyd

Solo By William Boyd - Header

I really don’t know whether to call myself a huge James Bond fan or not. You’ll be able to see from my blog that I’ve watched all 23 films and currently wait the 24th with anticipation. I also rowed many, many anorexic miles listening to the books of Ian Fleming narrated by a variety of different stars and I’ve even read Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks. Yet I’m not instantly drawn to the character and his stories. I’m interested in them more through celebrity and routine than passion and love.

William Boyd’s attempt at a writing a new James Bond novel has been hailed by many to be a close and fitting tribute to the style and ideas designed by Fleming. And it was also the fourth book recommended to me by my Father on his list of “books I should read”. Everything adding together to bring back to life a character that I enjoy spending time with in a style the fits the mental imagery I already hold. So it’s fair to say that I was actually looking forward to reading it.

Ian Fleming Reading Casino Royale - William Boyd Solo

Reading the opening few pages and every felt familiar. The type of language and the flow, rhythm and pacing all bringing back memories of those audio book stories I had. It was obvious right from the start why the comparisons to Fleming’s work have been made. I will say though, that I found Boyd just lacked the richness that Fleming managed to create. The descriptions just seemed to lack the tactile nature of Flemings work. You’d see the world but you wouldn’t feel it or smell it with quite the strength it used to have.

Turning to the story itself, I have to admit that I found it a bit lacklustre. It all seems a bit too straight forward and linear. Almost unexciting. I think the problem is that too much is given to style that the substance have suffered. The book seems meticulously planned. Everything felt researched, cross referenced and double checked. But that meant it was lacking that slight ounce of spontaneity and passion to really get under your skin. The story never really moved me. It’s not boring, it’s just that nothing really happens in a way that you don’t expect. It’s too predictable. Of course A leads to B and then on to C. How else would it go?

Daniel Craig As James Bond In A Bar - William Boyd Solo

It’s far to say that James Bond is an alcoholic. Yet Boyd somehow manages to highlight this in a way that is not just noticeable but actually damaging. Every event and action seemed precursored by a drink and reviewed with another. Alcohol plays a greater role in this book than any girl, gun or gambit. And I found it totally off putting and destructive to my connection to Bond. I actually started to dislike him. He wasn’t the suave and sophisticated spy we all dream of being slightly inside, but rather a bumbling fool meandering from one scenario to another with improbable steadiness while searching for his next drink. Time recorded not by the ticking of a clock but rather than minutes since his last tipple.

I also found that nothing is ever really expanded in the story beyond a visual level. I remember Fleming being able to make you feel the characters. Increasing your heart beat when needed, attaching their emotions to you, but that doesn’t happen in Solo. William Boyd almost marches without pause through the story in such a way that you just go along for the ride, watching from 2 steps back. I never really got to understand the characters, or see into their eyes. Motives felt inadequate and I felt too removed. Too safe and protected. And this is highlighted by the few moments when something of real emotional turmoil happens. When a situation should challenge a character, and you, to force an emotional response. And yet you just feel numb. The worlds on the page just a bit to stale or short lived to pack the power it needs to make you understand the gravity or implication of the situation.

William Boyd As James Bond - Solo

I have struggled with its plot because for the majority it’s set in a little known African country, gripped by war and influenced by greed and mercenaries. So in my mind, I was instantly drawing a lot of comparisons with The Dogs of War by Frederick Forsyth. And if I’m honest, I preferred Forsyth’s story more. The Dogs Of War is conclusively flawed, as you’d see in my review, but somehow, it felt more dangerous, and more involving. Solo just feels too academic and safe and planned.

There can be no question that this book is fitting and in keeping with the way Fleming wrote technically, but it lacks the true passion for the character and a greater understanding of his world that Fleming, obviously, had. I have been left disappointed by it because it feels like a facsimile rather than a continuation. Tainting my view on the character because I thought it was going to be better than it was, it was Bond in name, but not it nature.

Posted on by 5WC in Book First Edition

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