Final week on X (previously generally known as Twitter), Ed West, journalist and everlasting Eeyore of the British proper, shared just a few pages from the newest James Bond novel. He included no prompts to point how we should always really feel about it, or certainly why he had thought it value bringing to our consideration. However the derision it drew was fast. The consensus was overwhelming: it was tripe.
The guide is named On His Majesty’s Secret Service. In case your first response to that title was, like mine, ‘Grasp on, isn’t there one referred to as that already?’, then it’s worthwhile to look once more. This can be a new Bond for the brand new king (he / him). It’s, in a really actual sense, all in regards to the pronouns now.
Certainly, this iteration of the erstwhile queen’s thug got here out again in Could. It was commissioned for the coronation – very very similar to the Charles- and Camilla-approved broad-bean quiche of that identify. However till not too long ago, it had escaped most individuals’s consideration.
The brand new guide presents Bond as a weary Twenty first-century beneficiary of company frequent-flyer schemes. A Bond whose worldview appears extra in step with somebody whose early life had been spent within the BBC’s HR division slightly than in MI6 HQ.
This bond is brooding, although not over murderous supervillains with tell-tale tics and facial deformities or shadowy Asiatic acronyms, however over
the problematic Euroscepticism of the democratically elected Viktor Orbán, the alleged dog-whistle bigotry of imperial weights and measures, and a gathering of barely disguised pro-Brexit, ERG varieties whose chief had not thought to make sure an satisfactory range quotient. Each paragraph groans below the severed heads of the writer’s hobby-horses.
Different elements of it are simply weird. Bond is ready to determine a ‘wise’ Taittinger by style alone, for instance, and observe the value level approvingly (apparently, pay an excessive amount of for champagne and if something, it begins to style worse – who knew?). But he’s by some means unsure if the pastry filling he’s consuming is mushroom. Effectively, all of us have our blind spots.
OHMSS was written – I’m resisting the temptation to sneer, as per Truman Capote, ‘typed’ – by former comic Charlie Higson. And had it been supposed as comedian pastiche – a type of Richard Littlejohn meets Alan Partridge, ‘What subsequent? A woke Bond?’ piece – it could have been completely judged, if a little bit delicate.
Though it could appear arduous to imagine, this isn’t pastiche. This can be a actual guide, an actual Bond, or at the least an authorised palimpsest. And when extracts had been shared on X, they quickly provoked an equally actual and slightly scrumptious effervescent up of laughter and derision, of the sort that restores my religion within the widespread vox.
This was probably the most clunky instance I’ve but seen of a selected flavour of politically motivated refurbishment, addressing what’s perceived to be the drained decor letting down in any other case strong structure. It was a reduction to know others thought so, too.
The brand new Bond will not be an instance of ‘retconning’ (brief for ‘retroactive continuity’) – that’s when publishers edit older books to make sense of errors, inconsistencies or awkwardness, created as typically by authorial carelessness as altering tastes. That is extra a type of software program improve, a nudge that realigns legacy characters with trendy mores, below which they’ll proceed safely into up to date fiction.
This method applies a palatable glaze to problematic texts and gnarly, ornery heroes and retains them morally acceptable, not least to publishing homes staffed completely by simply spooked humanities graduates who rating 11 on neurosis and agreeability, and three on historic perspective.
This course of needn’t be an inherently unhealthy factor. It’s only a query of diploma. By all means, let trendy Bond kick the tobacco behavior, respect girls and even revisit a few of his beforehand unexamined prejudices. However this model furnishes Bond with the type of opinions that might serve him effectively at a barbecue attended by his daughter’s favorite drama instructor. And thus, the lengthy march by means of the establishments has reached the present store, and we will all purchase souvenirs of our new improved reminiscences.
Defenders of the brand new Bond will roll their eyes and patiently clarify that on this case, nobody is messing with Ian Fleming’s previous prose, or watering down his vodka martini. Neither is Woke Bond on the college curriculum, not to mention being learn to toddlers by males with padded bosoms, three-inch eye lashes and towering platform heels. It’s simply being put by the until for just a few weeks, in order that the free market can resolve.
True sufficient. However I used to be happy to see that within the genuinely free market of scorn, Twitter / X can nonetheless operate as an excellent old school city sq., geared up with public shares, buckets and sponges and sturdy ‘engagement’. As a result of On His Majesty’s Secret Service actually obtained the raspberry it deserved.
Higson himself will not be somebody who wants taking down a peg or two, basically. He has – as Ed West acknowledges in a Substack put up on the entire enterprise – vastly elevated the general public inventory of innocent gaiety through the years and has loads of credit score in hand. Although maybe nonetheless greatest identified for his Quick Present characters – particularly Swiss Toni, the deluded would-be Bond-like ladies-man, and Ralph, the tragicomic landed gent, infatuated together with his gardener Ted – Higson is a well-established writer now. And extra to the purpose, a completely authorised Bondsmith, licensed to kill the urbane misogynist of our collective unconscious.
Higson’s Younger Bond guide sequence is just about universally admired. However On His Majesty’s Secret Service was his first likelihood to set out his imaginative and prescient for the grownup market. And I actually hope that he has seen the social-media response for the training alternative it could possibly be.
Likelihood is that he has not, after all. Final week, he was very beneficiant together with his time in answering his critics. Some would possibly say he got here throughout as needled and defensive however, by Twitter requirements, he scored very low on the Dom Joly scale. He did characterise the emphatic Bronx cheer that greeted his shoe-horned speaking factors as ‘reactionaries [throwing] their toys out of the pram’, however maybe on reflection he’ll see that this is unnecessary. Laughter can’t be so simply dismissed as rage.
For the remainder of us, a chance emerged final week to know that we’re not alone. That, based on CS Lewis, was the operate of books. However too typically, studying what will get revealed as of late can reinforce slightly than dispel that very existential worry. Thank God that X / Twitter is there, to permit an area for a grand, collective Sbbbbrrrratt! There may be nothing like singing in a choir for the great of your psychological well being – even a choir of such common contempt.
Simon Evans is a spiked columnist and slapstick comedian.