William Boyd is stirred, not shaken.
The British novelist has just been chosen to write the latest installment of the apparently immortal James Bond series created in 1953 by Ian Fleming.
Since Fleming’s death in 1964, a number of authors have reanimated 007, either by creating new stories or “novelizing” the popular movies. Boyd was invited to take up the dashing secret agent by Fleming’s estate. (Kingsley Amis wrote the first post-Fleming Bond in 1968; Jeffery Deaver published “Carte Blanche” in 2011.)
Boyd, whose sexy World War I thriller “Waiting for Sunrise” will be published next week, expects to bring out his Bond novel in 2013 — 60 years after “Casino Royale.”
I corresponded with him today by e-mail at his home in London:
What’s your first memory of James Bond? And was it through the books or the movies?
It was the novels — my father gave me one to read (he was a great reader of thrillers, detective novels, spy novels, etc.). It must have been in my very early teens. I then read every Fleming/Bond I could lay my hands on.
Your novels seem more substantive and serious than Fleming’s. How do you go about adopting another man’s characters and atmosphere?
The great attraction of the so-called “continuation” novels is that the Fleming estate invites and allows another writer to apply his sensibility to the character of Bond and the Bond-world. You are given a very free hand. So, although my novel will indubitably be a James Bond novel, it will also indubitably be a William Boyd novel. The mesh of the two should be very intriguing — or so I hope!
Who’s your favorite Bond villain?
Rosa Kleb in “From Russia, with Love” (1957).
What’s the secret to the longevity of the Bond franchise?
Very difficult question. I think the first thing to do is to separate the Bond movies from the Bond novels. The “literary” Bond is a far more intriguing and nuanced character than the cinematic version. He is more troubled and flawed, and because he’s in a novel — and not in some cartoonesque action-movie — he seems far more human. I suspect at the end of the day, the basic answer is some sort of transference and wishful empathy. Bond has adventures and encounters and lives his life in a way that makes the vicarious experience of it frightening and beguiling, audacious and compelling. In fact, that may be the key to all successful fictional characters. Readers enlarge their own experience of the human condition through the lives of the characters they engage with — whether Bond, Mr. Pickwick, Maggie Tulliver, Philip Marlowe, Sherlock Holmes, Augie March, Becky Sharp, Huckleberry Finn, Mrs. Dalloway or whoever.