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