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Bond is back, in William Boyd's new novel 'Solo'

Bond is back, in William Boyd's new novel 'Solo'

September 28th, 2013 by JILL LAWLESS, Associated Press in News

LONDON (AP) - William Boyd has left James Bond stirred, if not shaken.

The British writer has taken on the fictional spy in "Solo," a new 007 novel that balances fidelity to Ian Fleming's iconic character with subtle changes.

Bond fans will find much they recognize, along with some surprises - one of which is that in Boyd's mind, James Bond looks like Daniel Day-Lewis.

Boyd says Fleming once described the spy as "looking like the American singer-songwriter Hoagy Carmichael. Daniel Day-Lewis looks like Hoagy Carmichael."

"Solo" is set in 1969, and takes the suave British spy from London's plush Dorchester Hotel to a war-ravaged West African country and on to Washington on a perilous lone mission.

Boyd steers Bond away from his big-screen action-hero image and back toward the complex and conflicted character of Fleming's novels.

"Even though he's this handsome superspy, when you read the books you realize that he's haunted," Boyd told the Associated Press Wednesday.

"He's not a cartoon character. Fleming gave him all his traits, his tastes, his likes and dislikes - and his complexes. Bond has a dark side. He's troubled sometimes. He weeps quite easily. And he makes mistakes. That's what's so interesting about him."

As the book opens, Bond is recovering from birthday celebrations at the Dorchester. He has just turned 45, and is feeling his age.

"Bond is mature. He's seasoned," Boyd said. "He's lived a lot, he's a man of experience. He may not run quite as fast as he could when he was 25, but he's seen how life has changed and times have changed. It's a good age for him to be."

Boyd, 61, a winner of the Whitbread and Costa book prizes, follows writers including Kingsley Amis and Sebastian Faulks as a successor to Fleming, who died in 1964.

His novel is authorized by the Fleming estate, and was launched Wednesday with fanfare befitting a major British cultural export.

Boyd posed gamely for a photo call - at the Dorchester, naturally - alongside British Airways flight attendants, clutching a copy of the book in a translucent attache case. Seven copies of the books were driven in a Jensen convoy to Heathrow Airport, destined for seven cities around the world with ties to Boyd or Bond: Edinburgh, Amsterdam, Zurich, New Delhi, Los Angeles, Cape Town and Sydney.

"Solo" hits British bookstores on Thursday and will be published Oct. 8 in the United States and Canada.

Espionage is familiar ground for Boyd, whose books include the spy thrillers "Restless" and "Waiting for Sunrise."

He has been a Bond fan since he read "From Russia With Love" in the 1960s as "an illicit thrill" after lights-out at his boarding school. He made Ian Fleming a character in his 2002 novel "Any Human Heart."

"Solo" takes Bond to Africa, a continent he visited just once in Fleming's works. Boyd, who was born in Ghana and spent much of his youth in West Africa, plunges the spy into Zanzarim, a fictional country with similarities to Nigeria during its 1960s civil war.

One Bond uber-fan proclaimed himself happy with Boyd's work.

"It's exciting, it's entertaining, it's fun, it's sexy, it's spectacular," said Ajay Chowdhury of the James Bond International Fan Club. "He's written more than just a James Bond novel. He's written a good, modern political thriller."

Many of Fleming's familiar characters put in appearances, from spymaster M and his secretary Miss Moneypenny to Bond's CIA friend Felix Leiter.

Fans of Fleming's books will recognize Bond's meticulous approach to clothes - in Africa he dons "a cotton khaki-drill suit, a white short-sleeved Aertex shirt and a navy blue knitted tie" - and his fondness for whisky and fine food (Boyd's Bond mixes a mean vinaigrette). And, of course, his love of attractive women.

"Bond is a sensualist," Boyd said.

Although the novel includes two enigmatic female foils for 007, Boyd is not keen on the expression "Bond girl."

"Bond has relationships with women," he said. "It seems to me he wants a relationship - it's not just casual sex."

Boyd also has toned down some of the racism and sexism that can be found in Fleming's books. He says that by 1969 "society was changing," and Bond would have known it.

"I haven't set out to make Bond ultra-modern," Boyd said. "But he's definitely aware of the way the world has changed around him, and his attitudes have changed as well."

Boyd certainly hasn't cut down Bond's prodigious smoking or alcohol consumption. But the writer has dared to deviate in the drinks department.

"There's a recipe for a dry martini in this novel which is my particular recipe for a dry martini, which I've lent to James Bond for the duration of the novel," Boyd said.

Thankfully, it's shaken.