My wife bought me this book while we were in the UK recently since she thought it sounded fun - a sort of English version of the Stephen Clarke humour novels about France (the 'Merde' series). And judging a book by its cover, it should be. The cover of the updated 2011 edition tells us that it is 'a hilarious blend of cultural history, biography and memoir', 'an entertaining yomp', 'almost ridiculously enhjoyable' and 'a book of eccentric brilliance'. Having completed what became a laborious read of 300 pages, i can assert that it is none of these things. Certinaly, it set out with good intentions - the author said that he would use the James Bond books and movies to illustrate how they reflect the declining British society post WW2 which spawned them. He begins with a charming anecdote about being a 10 year old watching a Bond film. But rapidly, the book degenerates into a disparaging criticism of everything British going back to the start of its Empire days. The only link much of this bile ridden attack has with James Bond is that the author, despite his early statements, apepars to be as derisive of the Bond franchise as he is of Britain. Cahpter after chapter becomes a repetition of these themes, not set out in any particular order or structure. It lurches into a overly long blog that berates Britain and holds up Bond as one of its more ridiculous symbols. This is an odd book, and made me wonder to whom it was directed and why it was written. However, there are clues to be found for both these ponderances.
Firstly, i came to the book not as a particular Bond fan. However, i have read a couple of the Bond books and seen a few of the movies and dismissed them all as pretty harmless, frivolous romps. If the films have one endearing quality, not shared by the books, then it is that they apepar mostly to have been made tongue-in-cheek with a little wink to the audience to reassure us that nobody is taking this too seriously - except Mr Winder apparently. Secondly, I am not British however, I am aware of that common curse shared by many countries in which locals criticise their own country harder than anyone else would dare - as WS Gilbert said in the Mikado, he had such people who celebrate every country or century 'but their own' on his 'little list' of social undesirables. The author of this book seems to be writing for the same sort of person as himself - he is openly left-wing and launches lengthy criticism of every Tory government since the 1930s, while forgiving everyone on the left from the British Labor party to the trade unions to even the IRA as understandable and excusable actors given the mess created for them only by the Tories. Such intellectual snobbery and close-mindedness overlooks the extraordinary popularity in Britain, and elsewhere (which the author begrudgingly and almost increduluosly acknowledges), which assumes that some of his beloved Labor party voters must have enjoyed the Bond franchise as well. But the intellectuals tend to overlook the majority.
There is little humourous in this book. It is a miserable destruction of a society. Clearly its British author has a serious chip on his shoulder about his homeland, so much so that you wonder why he did not join its many emigres if he felt so passionately hostile. Mr Winder certianly writes well and has a nice turn of phrase (although he does repeat certain words over and over, such as 'ersatz'). But his humour lies only in an occasional churlish remark or analogy to something terrible about British society. I wondered whether he was being fair early on once his extreme political leanings were made apparent. It was only on the couple of occasions he dwelled on Australia that it was apparent he was not well researched - it was a Lbour PM here pre-datign Menzies who initiated the White Australia Policy (Arthur Calwell and his infamous phrase 'two Wongs don't make a White' comes to mind) and Perth or anywhere else is not little more than a suburban bliss. The reason no Bond story is set in Australia is not for the reasons Winder argues, but because Australia has never played a key role in any Cold War or similar global showdown, as much as we like to think we are more important on the world stage than perhaps we really are. We have always safely been that far-flung, slightly mis-understood but firm friend of the western alliance, and rather too unimportant to attract much world power attention. Just keep buying our minerals and you'll keep us happy and reasonably affluent.
If Mr Winder has his facts on AUstralia so wrong, I suspect he has other things wrong as well and nobody has bothered to pick him up on these things.
I have wandered streets of London as Mr Winder describes, such as the Strand. It makes me wonder whether he and I were walkign in different Londons, which of course in a sense we are. I love the multi-culturan and central importance of that world city and appreciate its monuments. Mr Winder derides London and sees nothing but dark and hateful images in it, which starts to come across as rather sad by about the last third of his repetitive book.
The key point about Bond that Mr Winder seems to forget, and this also answers how this book made it through the system, is that ultimately the James Bond books and films were only made because people thought they would sell. As much as the intellectual elite would prefer to ignore reality, art has become a commodity a long time ago, if it was not always to some degree. Like the Bond films that he finds so terrible, Mr Winder's book was only published because someone at Picador thought it would sell. And in the front cover we have another clue - Mr Winder works in publishing. So there we have it. And the comments on the cover are all from left leaning publications such as the Guardian. Again, the total destruction of the Tories appeals to them - abuse becomes amusement and hence humour, presumably. So Mr Winder wroite the book just because he thought he would turn a quid ? I think not - there must be some darker, sadder demons lurking within his tormented soul that spawned this ugly work. It is noteworthy that in the 2011 edition, there is a recent postscript chapter, where he admits he received long criticism from the first 2006 release and tries to make up by admitting the Bond films are not as bad as perhaps he stated and that he rather enjoyed the second last one (but not the last one). This is odd as well, since i do recall a negative vibe around the last two Bond lovies that they were taking themselves rather too seriously and lost much of the early, more camp films. So in trying to regather some ground, Mr Winder may be in fact distancing any Bond fans still further, but I am unsure.
I could go on for pages about the hopeless contents of the book, but by now you will have gathered that i found the cover deceptive, the introduction misleading, and would only recommend this book to anyone who hates Britain, derides James Bond and has a distincttly pinkish glow about their intellect & beliefs. For the 99% of the rest of us, ignore the cover and move onto spending your valuable few hours more of life reading something that is not so tainted, hateful, dispsiriting and plainly unfunny. Whatever demons Mr Winder needs to exorcise, this is not the business or bother of the rest of us.