Today sees the release of the new James Bond novel – Solo – by William Boyd. It is a special year for Bond books, as 2013 is the 60th Anniversary of the original publication of Casino Royale in 1953.
I got the chance to go along to The Dorchester for the launch yesterday to hear a little more about the book and even pose a question to the author himself.
The location was no accident: Solo opens with Bond celebrating his 45th birthday with breakfast at The Dorchester, consisting of bacon and scrambled eggs (more on that in another article).
William Boyd’s association with Bond and Fleming goes back to his childhood when, at boarding school, he and his fellow classmates used to read aloud From Russia, With Love after lights-out – seen at the time as an act of rebellion.
In preparation for writing Solo, the author studied Fleming’s life (Boyd had already featured Fleming as a character in an earlier book, Any Human Heart) and re-read all of the Bond books. The result is that the Bond in Solo seems to be a combination of both literary Bond and real-life Fleming (as many would argue Fleming’s Bond was), with a dash of Boyd’s own personality and experience for good measure. In true Fleming style, Boyd has incorporated some of his own thoughts and recipes for food and drink items in the book.
At the launch, Boyd read a little from the new book and then took some questions. I was interested to hear that one of the main locations for Solo, the country of ‘Zanzarim’, is fictitious, but, as such, gives the author a little more scope for fantasy. This is in a similar vain to Charles Dickens’ Coketown in the book Hard Times.
Boyd also stated that he thought that Bond “wants a relationship, not just sex” and that, despite modern views on smoking and drinking, Solo was “un-sanitized”.
I had the chance, as “Drinks Correspondent for The James Bond Dossier”, to ask William Boyd a question of my own:
DTS: Brands and drinking styles have changed since the 1960s; so, when writing Solo, did you also look at 1960s drinking, or did you just rely on the information from Fleming’s books?
WB: You quarry your own imagination and I grew up in Africa and there were very heavy drinkers in Africa in my childhood. My father, for example (as a doctor, for heaven’s sake), would come from his clinic in Africa and have two very large pink gins before lunch. I didn’t think there was anything out of the ordinary in that, but then he’d drink whisky in the evening. So I remember how people drank then and, of course, I’ve written many novels mainly set in the 20th century, so I’m very familiar with the habits and customs and things that passed for normal.
So it was a question of research and, in a way, everything you need is in the Fleming novels: there is an incredible, rich-seamed mine; so, if you ask what whisky does Bond like to drink, it’s Dimple Haig. I don’t know if that brand still exists, but I remember Dimple Haig in shops in Africa. It was that combination of going back to the source and using your own imagination.
After the launch, William Boyd signed the first seven copies of Solo (001-007), which were then dispatched in seven vintage Jensen FF Cars (Bond’s new motor in the book) to Heathrow Airport to be flown to key international locations by British Airways (whose precursor, B.O.A.C., was often used by Bond).
All of the locations have significance to the world of James Bond:
001 – Amsterdam: home of the publisher who first translated James Bond into another language;
002 – Edinburgh: reflecting the Scottish roots of both Bond and Boyd;
003 – Zurich: Bond’s mother was Swiss;
004 – Los Angeles: visited by Fleming in ‘Thrilling Cities’;
005 – Delhi: Fleming spent time here during the Second World War in 1944;
006 – Cape Town: reflecting Boyd’s long association with Africa and how it features in the book;
007 – Sydney: Fleming visited Sydney following his trip to Delhi.
I’ve read the book now in its entirety and I won’t give away any spoilers; I’ll simply say that, personally, I really enjoyed it and the reason why was the Bond/Fleming/Boyd mix for 007 – it was classic, but, at the same time, felt original.
Could Solo pass as a long-lost Fleming manuscript?
Not quite, but it isn’t very far off.
David T Smith runs the blog Summer Fruit Cup, looking at all things related to drink and drinking. Topics covered include tasting and reviews, cocktail history and vintage bar-ware.
Photos copyright David T Smith. Please do not reproduce without written permission.