BUILD­ING A BOND GIRL

For his de­but James Bond novel, Wil­liam Boyd re­flects on the mythic sta­tus of femmes fa­tales.

Harper’s Bazaar (Malaysia) - - Talking Points -

When you write new James Bond novel, you are very aware of both the her­itage and the ex­pec­ta­tions. There are cer­tain givens in a Bond novel, cer­tain nec­es­sary re­quire­ments that should be ful­filled and ac­knowl­edged. Meet­ings with M, ban­ter with Miss Moneypenny, a con­cen­tra­tion on pre­cise types of mo­tor ve­hi­cle, clearly spec­i­fied weaponry, a suit­ably psy­cho­pathic vil­lain – and, of course, the Bond girls.

In fact, I’m some­what re­sis­tant to this term, as it’s as­so­ci­ated with the Bond film fran­chise. The James Bond of Ian Flem­ing’s fic­tion – 12 nov­els and a num­ber of short sto­ries pub­lished be­tween 1953 ( Casino

Royale) and 1965 ( The Man With The Golden Gun) – is far more in­trigu­ing and com­plex than his cel­lu­loid coun­ter­part. Also, Flem­ing – in­ter­est­ingly enough for a man of his class (wealthy English es­tab­lish­ment) and time (born in 1908) – was un­usu­ally con­scious of fash­ion and dress sense, very aware of a woman’s style as it was man­i­fest in her whole look. He gave th­ese ap­pre­ci­a­tions to Bond. Bond knows how clothes are cut; he can iden­tify types of ma­te­rial – silk, jersey, organza, taffeta – and he’s con­scious of hair­styles, of per­fume.

One of Bond’s foibles, to give an ex­am­ple, is that he doesn’t like nail var­nish; he’s at­tracted to women with sim­ply man­i­cured short fin­ger­nails. He’s also drawn to women with well-cut hair – blonde or brunette – and the heartier the ap­petite they have for food and drink, the bet­ter. Bond is a gourmet, and he likes women who like to eat.

The Bond girls of the films are shad­owy sim­u­lacra of the real women in the nov­els. Bond isn’t in­ter­ested in arm candy or onenight stands with anony­mous bim­bos – his love af­fairs are al­to­gether more in­tense. The women who at­tract him – and vice versa – are flesh and blood and three-di­men­sional. Ves­per Lynd, Hon­ey­chile Ry­der, and even Bond’s very short-lived wife, Tracy di Vi­cenzo, for in­stance, led trou­bled lives them­selves – Bond saves Tracy from com­mit­ting sui­cide – and some­thing in Bond’s dark and un­usual per­son­al­ity sets off the ini­tial fris­son.

So, of all the chal­lenges of writ­ing a Bond novel, the fe­male char­ac­ters present a sin­gu­larly stim­u­lat­ing one. My own Bond novel, Solo, is set in 1969 and be­gins in Swing­ing Lon­don. The sex­ual and so­cial mores of 1969 are wholly dif­fer­ent from those that were preva­lent when Flem­ing pub­lished his first Bond novel in 1953 – eight years af­ter the end of World War II. My Bond (born in 1924, ac­cord­ing to Flem­ing) is cel­e­brat­ing his 45th birth­day in 1969. He’s a ma­ture man, a fact that must be taken into ac­count when imag­in­ing his love af­fairs.

In the end, I cre­ated two women for my James Bond to fall for. One is much younger than he is, al­most half his age, and very much a woman of the 1960s, with all the feisti­ness and in­de­pen­dent spirit of that era. The other is closer in age to Bond – a meet­ing of equals: a woman and a man, both worldly and ex­pe­ri­enced. Th­ese two women are highly fash­ion-con­scious in their in­di­vid­ual way – the Flem­ing model – they know what clothes to wear and why they are wear­ing them. I didn’t try to ref­er­ence pre­vi­ous women in the Bond nov­els; I was 17 in 1969 and re­mem­ber the year vividly. The key chal­lenge was to cre­ate women who seemed real flesh and blood. They have strong per­son­al­i­ties, and Bond is pow­er­fully at­tracted to them both. But, need­less to say, no­body lives hap­pily ever af­ter.

So­phie Marceau as Elek­tra King op­po­site Pierce Bros­nan as James Bond in The World Is Not Enough (1999)

Solo: A James Bond Novel by Wil­liam Boyd

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