The Spider and the Admiral
A grumpy sneer (arguably Flemingesque) at the “instamatic, Doctor Scholl-sandled tourists” aside – John, poppet, we cover production costs by selling cameras and shoes, not mocking them – the curious filler scene in the film where Bond walks past a mime but neglects to murder it, is also a filler scene in the book. Both iterations exude atmosphere, though (one of few occasions when GoldenEye’s tin-eared score helps). “He stood looking down on the harbour… a large pair of night glasses glued to his eyes.” A challenging eveningwear statement, but ouch nonetheless. Equally ouch in the protracted technicals of whatever and thing. Film goes straight for using a camera, rather than a camera in at-length-described disguise; more efficient. Admiral Whassface now “looked incredibly like the long ago murdered Czar Nicholas”; still not seeing it in the casting, unless it’s how he appeared post-murder. Looks more like Edward VII to me (and that’s a terribly clever observation. No, it is ).
Very much filmed as is, with Bond noticing the helicopter which “…in silhouette looked dark” – that’s silhouettes for yer; reliable, that way. “If you cannot recall something immediately, it is probably not worth remembering anyway.” A neat way of avoiding referencing his own series, in which the life of GirlFriend hangs in the balance (the balance being whether we’re interested or not (I’m not)), but if that something is “writing James Bond”, it’s not the most praiseworthy philosophy.
“The launch, leaving a white trail of foam behind it…” Foreshadowing through imagery; they’re not off to play cribbage. I sense filth in the offing. Super-duper.
Instead of sitting in the car in the car park, Bond drives off to sit in the car elsewhere for “the best possible reception”, and the best possible use of extra words, but the worst possible use of screen time and another night-time location shoot and filming permit to negotiate and supporting artistes to wrangle and perplexing hair to comb, all of which come at cost, so the film doesn’t bother. In Role of Honour Mr Gardner wrote with engaging authority about the South of France, one of the rare but very welcome occasions when his sense of place is not itself displaced with abbreviations and traitors and turgid mechanical claptrap, so he’s getting his money’s worth out of that trip by reheating it here: warming-through past glory being so very GoldenEye. The machine-fetishism is not entirely absent - apparently the DB5 has eight speakers, seems unlikely - but one forgets this is no documentary, despite Mr Gardner implicating the Admiral in the Tailhook affair, because… he can? There seems to be a “Rear Admiral” joke missing, which is just as well as it’s not very good. In the film he’s Canadian rather than US Navy and another joke about “Mounties” and “Yank off, then” springs to mind, but again it’s too weak to live.
Why is Bond in the South of France, anyway? Is this how workplace appraisals are conducted by the new M? Was he on holiday and Thingy turned up unexpectedly, like a doping agency come to sniff one’s wee? Most profligate, contradicting this M’s reputation for soulless accountancy. No, we won’t meet in Breakout Space B; we’ll go to, I dunno, The Moon. It’s tax deductible. I accept that it’s no more ludicrous than, say, Thunderball to have Bond just amazingly in the right place at the right time, but there’s an explanation for being at Shrublands, even in the film, whereas here it is awfully, awfully convenient that HR procedures occur precisely where and when a bawdy Russian is about to very-bad-thing do.
“The main stateroom of Manticore was overtly designed for physical pleasure.” The main stateroom of Manticore was overtly designed by Mr Lamont as the inside of a Travelodge. One up to the book, without doubt. Talking of things being up… “…colourful bottles full of brand name oils and unguents…” such a Gardner word, bless his diodes “…including those sensual edible oils sold as sexual aids…” OK, John, we get the picture, you can leave it there…
…Oh dear God, he hasn’t left it there… “…the ones that come in various flavours which enable partners to lick them from each other’s bodies.” One wonders about the depths of Mr Gardner’s research into matters under description; also whether these come in Salt ‘n’ Vinegar. Extra Virgin is unlikely. Best avoid groundnut oil, lest it trigger anaphylactic shock, although that’s a similar sensation to reading the next page. One apologises to that Raymond Benson for accusations of his misunderstanding the yearning-look-don’t-touch of Bond with his lurid conjugal visits; Mr Gardner most assuredly came first, firing off all over the show with the “ultimate pinnacle of your sexual dreams”, “rousing him almost to a frenzy”, and “left with a sense that he owed her a great sexual experience”, by which I assume that won’t be a visit to Chatterley Whitfield Mining Museum and a bag of Skips. “She had slowly undressed for him… with the flair and professionalism of a ballerina.” Not any ballet I’ve ever sat through, although I’m usually asleep by first flounce (technical term). Perhaps I should pay attention, especially if ballet is “…straddling his body and riding him, goading him onwards until their sweat mingled and he was completely at her mercy.” Nutcracker, evidently.
“He cried out as he reached his summit for the third time in two hours…” His summit ? Although the film does suggest Xenia’s “own final and conclusive orgasm” – yes dear, the pretty lady is just happy that it’s bedtime, that’s all – this is both hilarious and oddly satisfying that, after all, Mr Gardner can write with enthusiasm and momentum about anything other than the innards of a photocopier. “A secret weapon like a spider who consumes its mate after the sex act.” You’ll be wanting the Pickled Onion oil for that, m’love. “She swayed to and fro, still rubbing herself against his corpse, moaning and supremely satisfied in her moment of glory.” Is this what Bond meant when he referred to some women as “clingers”? Do hope so. Dear Santa, I have just saw an exciting film on ITV4, they showed it during my teatime. May I have the book for Christmas? Thank you. Willy (aged seven-and-a-quarter). We are now buttered-up, oiled-up, prepared for the impact of the relentlessly seedy sextravagant pornucopia to be waggled our way by the next writer along, and we haven’t even yet reached Anagram-in-Chief Alan Cumming.
A jawdropping work of (relatively) staggering filthiness, to have this poked at us midst a plod of a chuck-it-out narrative, especially unexpected given the onslaught of clumfumble sex in previous Gardners, it’s perversely glorious. That it is so out of sync with his overwrought, over-syllabled couplings of books past confirms this is nothing to do with Mr Gardner’s other Bonds but it is weird to have his most enjoyable park-du-porc in a cash-in novelisation. Perhaps he didn’t have time to consult his thesaurus over the weekend he flicked this one out, and no bad thing. Coming across this here, not literally as it’s a first edition and all that’s being left to the offspring because I’m spending the rest, makes the film look chaste, staid. They definitely missed a trick in not marketing GoldenEye grunt unguents – grunguents – off the back of it. Off the back, the front, various places underneath. I wonder how much was left on the cutting room floor, along with bits of the Admiral. I demand to be told. It isn’t on the deleted scenes and I feel shortchanged. As well as amused, and slightly ill.
“A familiar figure stood in the doorway…” Because the male characters have thus far benefited from nil description, save for this dead sailor of whom we possess surprisingly intimate knowledge, this figure is not one familiar to us. Considering what’s just occurred, one wonders about “…rocked her as one will lull a child into comfort or sleep.” Adds to the delicious wrongness, somehow. Never abundantly clear in either film or book whether this is Ourumov or Trevelyan or some other person. I know Ourumov later turns up in the helicopter but it surely it’s somewhere on a risk scale for a Russian General, however well-bearded (and Xenia would be a spectacular beard), to dress up as the US Navy’s horniest Canadian Admiral. Russian General pretends to be “North American” Admiral who looks like a Russian Tsar and/or British Monarch. No, come on, this book’s awesome .
The Manticore - man-eater, how droll - had the head of a human, a lion’s body and a tail full of poisonous spines, eating victims whole. Reader, I married her. Pity we must disembark Hot Yacht and trouble ourselves once more with Dr Tedious. That James Bond, he’s right wicked and down wiv da kids. So far he’s had a natty coat of many pockets, a smashing cravat and a pullover knitted by his gran, a dinner jacket and, within the next few paragraphs, a blazer, “slacks” and espadrilles. I know bits of the film half-heartedly poke at Bond being anachronistic but John seems to have seized this idea and run with it, cackling wildly that at last the undermining he’s been tickling us with since Licence Renewed, that Bond is a redundant joke, has ironically matured into such richly sour fruit at the optimum moment, the grand relaunch. Hey there, kids of the mid-1990s! Put down those Pogs, they’re saaa-aaa-aad, here’s your latest craze right here, this middle-aged fussy bachelor in his sports casual summer yachting garb! Cowabunga! Riot grrrl! Smells like teen spirit! Smells like embrocation, anyway.
Having been 22 in 1995, I suppose I was at my prime of being targeted by phenomena cultural, that age seeming to be the key target audience for most stuff, sufficiently independently incomed to be pliantly handing over money, sufficiently inexperienced not to realise most stuff’s not worth buying and sufficiently lithe to make clothing worth the effort of putting on (that talent of mine I do miss, although my neighbours miss it more, especially on bins day). As it happened, 1995 largely passed me by, occupied by marriage, work and babies, although that last one might have been rabies or scabies (little discernible difference). Accordingly, and not just to live the dream of being Mr Gardner by filling space with digressive “research”, one turns to the internet to learn of the year’s key contributions. Ah, 1995, killer of Harold Wilson, Sir Alec Douglas-Home and Fred West, birther of Logan Paul, Kendall Jenner and the Miss Ukraine pageant (a fair swap). 1995, a year in which a Michael Jackson apparently had two Number 1s (and, when the rozzers subsequently came a-knocking, a spectacular Number 2). 1995, when GoldenEye was the top film in the UK for two whole weeks, equally the tenancy of To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar; one week in the USA, pacing itself nicely alongside Congo and Tommy Boy (whatever that is).
Well, that all sounds perfectly dreadful.
Consider the success in getting, in 1995, such a ploddy old measle, a post-colonial throwback even when one’s Granddaddy was a nipper, back into the public consciousness, and with more than acceptance; actual renewed enthusiasm. That they have strongly maintained it since, enhanced it and taken it to yet greater success, speaks volumes of determination / zealotry and fundamentalism on the part of the film producers to try to get it right, especially the nerve - the temerity – to make initially unpopular decisions. Tends to put anonymous whining about the next film not being revealed unto us RIGHT NOW in its proper place. Those product placements and cross-media marketing opportunities don’t negotiate themselves, y’know.
The film cuts straight from Xenia, in ecstasy, to a spray of white foam - mm- hm – but in the book we’re going to join Bond for his breakfast in his little villa along the coast. Not a scene filmed and anyone demanding that at some point we should see this timewasting staple of the novels is evidently off their plop. Sit-ups and push ups and coffee in an earthenware jug and Cooper’s Vintage Marmalade and boiled eggs and specific butter and Christ make it stop and look, another five people have left; bet they try to sneak into the Ace Ventura sequel. “He sat for a full hour after eating”. All go, isn’t he? Buy this wristwatch. Poor old sod’s probably a bit egg-bound. Needs a nice sit down. Can’t go charging around too much or his coccyx will burst, or something. Buy this BMW. I accept that the chapter needed to calm down after that demented rutting, but this is daftness in the other direction. To have the one character who sucks out the momentum be the leading man is an odd choice. Of that thin joke, the SIS woman evaluating James Bond’s place in the world just as much as a potentially sceptical audience could have been - it’s so meta -, we are delivered no outcome, no punchline, no final performance appraisal, no SMART objectives. An assessment of “Pernickety dullard” would fit. No wonder I persist with him. Buy these sunglasses.
Bond is struggling to remember something. Probably why he came upstairs. Happens to the best of us, that.
“It was after five in the morning when he finally cast off…” I accept that John is trying to make the chronology work without the sleight-of-hand who-cares trickery of film editing to gloss over such things, but what started as frenzied and orgasmic has ended in a long, hard labour and whilst that’s a natural course of events, I feel as consumed as the time. It’s nearly 10 a.m. before Bond boards the Manticore and it’s just as well that the trip there was “uneventful” as otherwise we’d have been introduced to every little fishy along the way. Back at the film, there’s an alarming moment when The Actor Pierce Brosnan pulls open a sliding glass door in such a posed manner that one wonders if they hadn’t fitted his truss properly that morning, or if he thought that is what Doing Acting is. It’s a brave physical performance choice, nearly as brave as Sean Connery’s decision to disguise himself as a whale throughout You Only Live Twice despite Japanese penchant for the harpoon.
“He was in a bedroom given over to sensuality: a mirrored ceiling, erotica on the walls and the scent of death reaching his nostrils…” Round Chez Jim, that’s usually the tipping point to change the sheets. Or burn them. “…the incoming breeze did nothing to disperse the odour he had smelled too many times in his life…” That’ll be the Boiled Egg oil. John’s not tolerating the silly – but, y’know, funny – way Bond discovers the body, although he has chosen to demote the man to a Rear Admiral (definitely wasn’t that before) which just seems to add insult to catastrophic internal injury. “He could see the ship dressed overall through one of the ports.” It’s that “dressed overall” that irks; I can see why and what it means in the film, but on the prose alone I would have no idea what this is telling me. We don’t yet know that there is going to be an public event there. This is germane to the story but protracted breakfast and footling about in a sailing boat were not. So, ‘tis Gardner after all.
“In that moment, the fact for which his mind had been searching since the previous night came into focus.” He’s left the iron on, the silly old trumpet. “ ‘Of course, Tigre !’ “ Classic Ken Spoon pomposity to whisper this to himself as the French spelling, despite the film, the manufacturer and the doors of the helicopter itself spelling it “Tiger”.
The Tigre’s a Wonderful Thing
Presumably the chapter title is a play on “The Wonderful Thing about Tiggers”, John always having been so bouncy, trouncy, flouncy and pouncy but then one realises this is another emanation of his Disney fixation and gloom erupts. Disperses when one begins to contemplate a flouncy, bouncy ‘chopper.
“He recognised the type. Hoodlums.” He dresses out of the 1940s and thinks that way too. It’s a new world. With new enemies. And an old fart. “…their ‘combat gangs’ that dispensed broken legs and bullets through the backs of heads.” You don’t want to mess with people like that, dispensing limbs through your head and whatnot. They sound terribly rough boys, in their bell-bottomed slacks and soft shoes. “One stood three steps inside the stateroom, the other took one pace inside, moving behind, and to his comrade’s left.” Even though it’s described in words of few syllables, and it should be clear what this means, I just can’t see it. Or summon up the interest to see it.
“In the back of his mind Bond baptised them.” This is a habitual Gardnorm, invariably the opportunity to demonstrate his gadfly wit. “Tub o’ Lard was three steps in, while Big Muscle was behind.” See? I apologise should the splitting of your sides now leave you bereft of ribs. Granted, it is a means of avoiding confusion caused by referring to more than one person just as “the man”. The film sidesteps the issue by taking the revolutionary step of there only being one anyway. This has the additional benefit of not giving the character a name, let alone “Tub o’ Lard”, which would have caused such embarrassment on the convention circuit.
“By this time, Bond had grappled with Tub o’ Lard…” There’s no need for this, there are plenty of oils in the room and they have less saturated fat. And so the fight continues, described to within an inch of its life but impossible to follow other than “Bond wins”, which is all any of us need to know, or tolerate, beyond the concept of a “whoof of pain” which has a pleasingly onomatopoeic quality to it, if nonsense. There’s a curiously distanced manner in how the fight is described. “The various crunches came.” “There was also a loss of consciousness for both of them.” Might as well say “I’m exhausted, this plays out much as you expect, the film will get this over in seconds, on you trot.” John can’t decide on “state-room” or “stateroom” and I can’t decide between sighing or shrugging.
Bond, now operating “at speed”, if not on it, spends “time” - several sentences - hauling a motorboat alongside the yacht and then bumps across the water to the inevitable lengthy description of the helicopter. “…the file had been on his desk before leaving for evaluation in the field.” Hang on, he’s on a mission, is he? Where’d that come from? And why are the French not bothered about having a British Secret Service agent kicking around their patch, in the World’s most conspicuous car? Or, for that matter, put out that the British Secret Service are conducting their training and development procedures there? Deserve to have their helicopter pinched. “ ‘Commander Bond, Royal Navy Intelligence,’ he snapped as though he would personally rip the nose off anyone who doubted him.” There was a spate of Bond threatening nasal mischief in an earlier Gardner, always a ludicrous threat, as ludicrous as announcing himself as a means of moving about “discreetly”.
“…two figures appeared from the crew room which was obviously situated somewhere to their right on the port side.” Why tell us this? Why does this detail possibly matter one atom of one crumb? Few if any characters have been described, we don’t know what Bond’s ectually doing in France, but we have to be told this? Fine, Mr Gardner is dressing a skeletal screenplay at which he was probably given one glance at gunpoint, but the padding is undermining any urgency. No-one else spots that a “slightly built” pilot with a “cat-like tread” isn’t a chap, except Bond. His performance-related pay appraisal should be rewarding high-level key performance indicators like this and, should it not, Bond should file a grievance and demand that it’s redone and this time, what the hell, let’s do it in New Zealand. Send a less equine bit of fluff, though. “There was a pause of maybe three seconds as the two figures swarmed up the ladder…” Can two be a swarm? The swarm of Fortnum & Mason. The swarm of Renee & Renato. The swarm of Purvis & Wade. Think on that; you might need to be sitting down. Odd that the band in the book strikes up “Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines”, given that the plot is about proving British aviation superiority, which this French helicopter thing won’t. Fun quiz time, mes enfants : in that film there’s at least a swarm – triple-swarm, perhaps more– of actors associated with Bond. Enchant all the ladies and steal all the scenes if you can name them. Don’t bother telling me; I already know tiddly-know.
“Bond leaped to his feet and lunged forward, heading straight towards the helicopter.” Bloody British; don’t want anything to do with Europe but as soon as Europe shows its new toy, here they come, demanding to take part. We are to learn that “several” people stopping him amounts to four. Accordingly, several is twice a swarm. Never knew that. “He sucked in air and began to shout again…” He is most decidedly being played by The Actor Puce Binbag. “…he watched the machine take off, lifting very fast…” - very quickly – “…and then going into an almost impossible Rate Five turn, something you did not see helicopters do as a rule.” That, John, is true, and thank you for addressing my limited life experiences so very directly. In due course it will do a perfect “Immelman Turn” but as John’s not directing any comment to me personally about this, I assume this happens all the time. I haven’t lived.
“ ‘You are part of some plot.’ “ Well, marginally, and only by fluke of HR procedure. It’s not as if any of this is happening because Bond is there. We’re on page 48 already and Bond isn’t even an actor (… tempting) in his own story. Curious way to try to convince us of the relevance of James Bond. “…his eyes hard and his face set as though carved in hard stone.” As opposed to what other sort of stone? And is it as hard as his eyes? Today’s Word of the Day is “hard”; use it as often as possible. “ ‘The Russian Janus Crime Syndicate’.” Is the “Russian” bit really required? I suppose it distinguishes itself from the Chichester Janus Crime Syndicate, who are a great bunch of lads and do tend to suffer because of the similarity of name. Bit like my pal Torquil whose Sunday League football side just happens to be called Boko Haram. You can’t imagine the wigging they get on social media. Is Janus much of a syndicate? “Syndicate” suggests the likes of SPECTRE to me, but Janus seems to be Trevelyan (it’s a spoiler but we all know ), Xenia, a dotted line to Ourumov and that Boris, and a few dozen flammable persons in Cuba. Doesn’t seem to have “reach”. Bigger than a swarm, though, I s’pose.
To end the chapter, a scene that finds no place in the film and serves to remind those of us who have been here since Licence Renewed of John Gardner’s fixation with office chairs, and baffle those who haven’t into wondering why James Bond is being offered up as a modern hero when he behaves like this. It is unclear how many days later the scene occurs, but they all roll into one at his age anyway. “There was no rich smell of his pipe…” The office has had a clean. “There was a Scandinavian influence…” Instead of a naval scene, this M has a clipframed 8x6 photo of Benny & Bjorn, a swarm of Benny & Bjorn no less, a suspect decision in and of itself and one that will have a catastrophic influence on the future artistic development of The Singer PiErrrrrrrrrCEEE! bbbrrrrssNAAAAAAN. We’re not told what Bond is wearing, so to continue the mood and liven things up, in this scene he is dressed by Tom of Finland. “…her own chair was not a chair but something into which you appeared to contort your body.” A chair, then. Did John Gardner have something against osteopaths? The fondness expressed for the previous M blithely overlooks that in Gardner’s hands, old M kept trying to have Bond murdered. What hasn’t changed between GardnerBond and a given boss is the timewasting bickering over details. “ ‘It’s a shade too pat for my liking.’ “ One wonders if the author speaks through M here; the plot, such as it is, isn’t as corkscrew as his own efforts and the scene reads both as criticism of the low-level likelihood of what’s happened, and apology-in-advance that this is so linear. Look, John, we need it basic to get the audience back on side within the space of two hours, that’s all they’ll give us. We can’t bore, frustrate and confuse them. Yes, of course we’ll make Icebreaker next. Promise.
“…many said she should really have been assigned to the Inland Revenue Service’s Special Office.” Not with that blind-eye to absurd HR overspend. “Bill Tanner…had almost resigned…” Gave him something to do, then. Tanner’s whole career to date has been a story of “almost”. What an invertebrate.
“ ‘Yes, indeed, the Tigre is a wonderful thing…” Oh Lord, she’s at it too, quoting away at bits from Disney’s mediocre period (1938 to date). Just as well this wasn’t filmed; they’d never have received clearance. The scene does take pains to prod at and then fill a logical gap the film kindly doesn’t worry us with, about how the helicopter could have been pinched and no-one finds it. “Then they simply took off again and did the trip in easy stages.” What trip? At this point, no-one knows where it is. Just as with Bond in France, we’re hanging around here, waiting for the story to happen in the apparent belief that one will . All seems so passive, and hugely coincidental. Energetic thriller GoldenEye, a reinvention of Bond to face the technological challenges of a new age. Which amount to sitting, breakfast, the lack of transparency in workplace procedures, and office chairs. I can see why they left this out: scene tends to undermine the new M, whereas the film does present her more sanely for the long-term as a competent authority figure (with corking legs), and nothing happens here, beyond John sideswiping at story lacunae, that doesn’t happen anyway in the next few bits along.
It also makes Bond look grumpy and unappealing. The film’s gone for a good-looking man in a dinner jacket driving around in an Aston Martin and getting into scrapes with foreign types and then winning at the Casino; all the muscle-memory suggestions of “Bond” in the audience familiar with him (even though those memories lie) and setting up immediate iconography for those new to it. How diverting and glossy it all is, and that’s just the hair. Chap in the book, however, is prissy about his food, and pissy about interior decoration. Can see why the film jumped the way it did. I know they went Full On Frown with Mr Craig in Casino Royale but that’s because for the first half of the film, everything’s his fault (protagonist, not just a hanger-around; see?) and in the second half, his bungles get mashed and his girlfriend kills herself, and both score highly in justifying a fellow being a touch miserable. Bond of (the written) GoldenEye has no such excuses (other than Flicka von BlahBlah being poorly but that’s not something we’re being immediately invited to contemplate, at least not yet). He’s just a sanctimonious know-all, filling his time whining whilst waiting for others to drive the plot. A parasite.
“His intuition told him that the Operations Room had unpleasant news in store…” Pierce, hello mate, that was your agent on the ‘phone, they’re going to try another season of Remington Steele. Yeah, I know, who’d have thought that’d happen again, eh? Sorry, going to need that script back; you know how it is. Pop the espadrilles by the door on your way out if you don’t mind? No, put that girdle down, don’t do anything rash. Oh, cease your snivelling.
James Bond, that exciting, turbo-charged, thrilling avatar of all our transferred wish-fulfilment, might turn up in the next couple of chapters of GoldenEye but it’s looking unlikely. Jacques Stewart is contemplating sexual oils, but is bound to settle on Mazola and unless there is an emergency care intervention pdq, he’ll start necking it from the bottle, the great fat Jabba.