Man vs Bookshelf

Man vs Bookshelf: Quantum of Solace

This entry is part 42 of 79 in the series Man vs Bookshelf

Recently, I have been going back over the early blogs in this series. The ones written back when the challenge was fresh and exciting – before I had gone through 60+ books and 40+ reviews. Before 2018 had hit like a missile through my fragile productivity. Smashing it into so many pieces.

Those early blogs were fantastic – far better than I ever could have imagined.

I started this challenge as a bit of a fun. As a way to get through all 210 books on my shelf and to give myself plenty of blog content. Something I have always struggled with.

I threw myself into it, but I was not sure it was going to work. I never am.

I’ve had plenty of content ideas in the past for the blog. Most of the time they fall by the wayside after a few weeks or even days. I lose heart because I don’t think it’s good enough or I find I’m not enjoying it.

I didn’t expect Man vs Bookshelf to be any different. Not least because it is my most ambitious blog challenge to date. I thought I would go at it for a few weeks and then give up. Like I always do. Sending another idea to the graveyard of unrealised projects.

I saw my biggest problem being not the reading – I’ve always loved reading – but the review writing – which I’ve always hated.

I didn’t think I’d be any good. I didn’t have a clue what I was going to write.

I suppose I planned to look into what makes a good review before I began the first one but, in the end, this didn’t happen. Instead, I finished the book and threw myself into the review, seeing how it turned out on the day.

In doing so, something amazing happened.

It worked.

My fear of having nothing to say proved unfounded. I wrote and wrote and wrote until I had a review the length of a Harry Potter book. Well, not quite, but you get the point.

And so it continued. My reviews weren’t conventional but I didn’t mind that. I thought they were interesting. I thought they were great in their own special way, even if they wouldn’t have got me an A in GCSE English.

The important thing was I was enjoying them. Enjoying the freedom of it. The freedom to sit and write and say whatever the hell I wanted to say.

Kind of like I am now. I mean, this is a Quantum of Solace review and that’s the first time I’ve mentioned Quantum of Solace.

But it is all relevant.

Sort of.

I mention it because the first book in this series was a short story collection by Anthony Horowitz. Horowitz Horror.

Quantum of Solace, then, marks the second short story collection of this series. This time, it isn’t horror stories for young adults, but the collected short story works of Ian Fleming.

I’ll talk about the relevance of this in a moment. What I thought when I looked back over the first review, but first I should mention my Devil May Care review.

Devil May Care is a Bond story written by Sebastian Faulkner. I read it early on and in it, I discuss my knowledge and relationship with Bond and Ian Fleming. So check that out now before we continue.

In short, like most Britons, I love the EON series of Bond films.

Pierse Bronson is my Bond, and as such has always been my favourite. But I still love the older Bond films and the Daniel Craig outings. (Except for Quantum of Solace, that is).

I have read a couple of the Ian Fleming Bond books in my time. Casino Royale and Live and Let Die for sure.

I thought them easy enough reads, although, in my youth, I don’t remember them blowing me away.

So why not check out my full thoughts on Fleming and Bond here? Go on, you only might regret it, and once that’s done, we can get on with the review…


Quantum of Solace

Let’s start by talking about how much I wanted to read this book.

A bit above I said how Fleming’s books had not blown me away as a youngster. But, for a couple of reasons, I was still looking forward to reading this collection.

First, as a reader. I wanted to see if my tastes had developed enough over the years for me to appreciate the genius of Ian Fleming. I was looking forward to reevaluating the stories years on from reading my last Bond outings.

Second, as a writer. I am always interested to see how successful writers make short stories work. I have ideas about everything I would expect to be in a Bond book and wasn’t sure how Fleming was going to fit it all in.

So, I was looking forward to reading it. And now I have, how am I going to read it?

Review separate, but it’s all the same?

Now we’re back to why that Anthony Horowitz review is relevant.

For my first few reviews, I wrote notes as I went along.

Nothing extensive. Nine or ten points with page numbers attached.

In the main, they didn’t much value, so I stopped bothering after a few books.

With Horowitz Horror though, they were invaluable. This because I was looking at a collection of short stories, each of which I wanted to grant a separate review. Within the larger review, that is.

This meant remembering many names. What had happened in each story. Specific points I didn’t want to get muddled up.

The notes were great for this. They helped me structure the review and it worked. Splitting it down with a small review for each book. It was the best way to do it.

When it came to Quantum of Solace, my initial thought was that I would want to do the same here.

Then it came to reading the book and I fast decided this wasn’t going to be practical.

See, while all the Horowitz Horror stories were horror stories, they varied. Different characters and plots which gave different things to write about each.

With the Bond stories, it became clear these were all, well… Bond stories.

That’s not a criticism. I’m only saying it means they were all similar. Same character. Same feel. Similar plots. They didn’t warrant mini-reviews.

I found this a shame. I had been looking forward to doing another review like that first one. But in the end, you have to do what works best for each book.

So that’s what I did.

Where’s the story?

Let’s talk about substance.

As I said, these stories are short. Usually between 30 and 40 pages. I was interested to see how the Bond model worked over such a short space.

Personally, I don’t think it did.

Each story seemed to have a long set up, followed by a very short mission followed by, if you were lucky, some kind of scuff that Bond would win.

A few of the stories didn’t even have Bond fighting anyone at all. One revolves around Bond being told a story about a couple in which the woman is cheating on the man and no one dies. Another revolves around an abusive husband who is cruel to anyone. Bond finds the husband dead one day and cleans up the body, not knowing who has killed them.

We never find out.

These stories were snapshots. They felt like scenes pulled out of bigger stories, rather than stories in their own right.

I know they are short, and people might say I’m asking too much, but I disagree.

See, I’ve read plenty of short stories where you’re amazed by how much happens.

The Horowitz Horror book was written for young adults, and several of the stories were a little light. But they always felt like complete stories. Beginning, middle and end.

I felt with these Bond stories that they were lacking enough substance to make them a full story. They weren’t quite right.

Bond

One thing that wasn’t lacking, though, was Bond.

I read an article recently comparing Bond to Jack Ryan. America’s Bond.

It claimed Bond an enduring character while Ryan was forgettable. Overshadowed by the actors who played him in a way Bond never was or is.

The article attributed this to Bond stories being character led. Often, Bond is the story. He is what makes it tick. What makes it work.

With Ryan books and films it’s the other way around. The plot is what matters, and Jack could be any character dropped into it.

Nowhere is this more obvious for Bond than in these stories.

As stated, in many of these shorts, nothing happens, but the character of Bond is an ever-present. He’s not just suave and sophisticated. He’s also forthright and funny, interesting and he cares about people while remaining cold in a cool way.

When we think about Bond we remember the wacky villains and the crazy schemes. But it is always Bond that carries the franchise. The character of Bond we come back for again and again. He is unique, and we love him.

It’s perhaps for this reason that EON has plucked segments of these stories for use in various films. None have been directly adapted. But they have all appeared in the Bond franchise in one way or another. Because they use Bond well and remain such strong portraits of the main man.

Time sensitive

Reading stories first published 50+ years ago, there is always going to be bits that are difficult to read.

Casual racism and blatant sexism crop up with alarming regularity. With words you wouldn’t dream of using these days in fiction getting regular use.

Of course, the stories are a product of their era. But hearing Bond – everyone’s hero – being derisory and using casual racist language is difficult to read.

I wish he’d get with the times and just stop it.

Sum-up

If someone was asking me for the Bond book they should read first, would I point them in the direction of this?

No.

Well, maybe, but only because it’s the only one I own.

Truth is I would say anyone looking to get into Bond would be better off going for the novels. Any will do, although it’s always best to start with Casino Royal, where it all began.

These books may be worth looking over at some point. They are certainly easy to get through and offer a strong showing of Bond as a character. But they will always be held back, in my opinion, by weak stories not given enough time to develop.


Next Up

Next up we’re delving into the gritty world of fantasy noir something or other.

It’s a trilogy for adults written by one of my favourite Young Adult authors.

See you next week for the City trilogy.

Series Navigation<< Man vs Bookshelf: Creative WritingMan vs Bookshelf: The City Trilogy >>
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International worst selling author Mark Ayre has been writing since before he could pick up a pen (somehow). Recently he is taking the internet by storm with his Man vs Bookshelf Challenge where he aims to read the 210 books on his bookshelf in 210 weeks, reviewing them on his blog and Goodreads along the way. He is also publishing books on Amazon, his most recent being the family suspense novel, Poor Choices, which you can find here.

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