James Bond: The Authorized Biography by John Pearson
This is a fictional biography of James Bond written as if he was a real spy that Ian Flemming knew. The author, John Pearson is writing from his point of view. He first describes how he discovered James Bond was an actual agent and then how the British Secret Service invites him to write an authorised biography of Bond.
He travels over to Bermuda and meets Bond and the rest of the story is spent finding out about Bond's youth, how he was recruited into the Secret Service and the missions he's taken part in over the years. We also get to meet the supposed real Miss Honey Rider from Dr No.
Most of the novel is a series of short stories from Bond's life intermingled with interactions between Bond and the author as Bond is telling him his life story over the period of several days.
I found it interesting to find out about his youth and facts like he was born in 1920 in Germany, and that he is now 52 years old. (This book was originally published in 1973 but this audio book has been released in 2011).
You get to see a side of Bond not seen in Flemming's novels. This biography doesn't paint him as a superhero. He is shown to be a normal person. I thought he came across as being crueller than in Flemming's novels. There's one little story right near the start, when he killed his lover without much thought, as he believed she was leaking secrets to the Germans. He finds out later on that he was wrong. He seems to mellow slightly as he gets older though. He shows more guilt and disgust for some of the missions he has to do.
He makes a few mistakes over his career as well as bagging major coos. For example, Bond recounts a time when he screwed up, when he was sent to Italy to investigate the accusations of a junior agent against the agent who headed up the Rome station. The junior claimed he was a double working for the Soviets. The head of Rome station is a friend of Bond, and he ends up giving him a clean slate. However, after this, the junior agent commits suicide and it then transpires the agent was actually a double working for the Soviets.
Overall, I thought he came across as being selfish, insecure and arrogant. He likes to eat and drink well and do his own thing. There isn't much humour in the novel and Bond seems grumpy for most of it. He is insecure and uncertain about what he wants to do for most of his life. He wants to lead a 'normal' life but he likes working for the Secret Service as he craves danger. Then in his later years, you find out about his bout of depression and how he overcame it.
I didn't notice this in Flemming's novels but in this he seems to bed most of the married women he comes in contact with.
It is written in an old-fashioned style with words like gay, wretched and bugbear being used. There were a few words in this I wasn't sure about. However, I thought the writing style and vocabulary matched Flemming's style well. Saying that, there isn't the same amount of tension or action in any of the short stories in this as there is in Flemming's novels.
I liked the fact that Bond's background is fleshed out in this. You find out he has an older brother called Henry and that he has a son. This is from his time in Japan when he met Susuki and when he was going after Blowfelt.
The first half of the 'biography' deals with his youth, his time at Eaton and his recruitment into the Secret Service. Bond goes over some of the missions he carried out during the Second World War. I thought these were pretty lame.
Then in the second half of the novel, the author deals with most of the missions Bond does in the Flemmings novels from about 1951 onwards. He fleshes out the details as to what happened before, during and after each mission.
This 'biography' claims Flemming wrote the Bond novels to protect Bond from the Russians and that Vivienne Michelle, one of Bond's many lovers wrote 'The Spy Who Loved Me', as Ian Flemming was recovering from a heart attack at the time.
There are a few extra stories mentioned like the time 'M' Bond's boss went on a nudist beach and Bond corrects some inaccuracies in Flemming's novels. He tells us the real stories behind most of the Flemming's novels, for example Casino Royale when he went to Monticarlo to play against an agent called Shifre.
This is read by David Rintoul and is the unabridged version. It is approximately 10 hours and 41 mins in length. I liked the way the reader narrated the 'biography'. I have listened to him read some of Flemming's original novels so I was familiar with his voice. He speaks quite rapidly in this. Some people may not like this but I felt this gave the impression as if the story was moving along at a faster pace. He was also able to change his voice to the different characters without any problems. He put in the right amount of emotion at key moments like when there was a fight to build up the tension. I think the narrator helps to make the novel better than it is.
== Summary and recommendation ==
To sum up, I would say the narrator does an excellent job of reading this. The biography itself is nothing special. I learnt a few interesting facts about Bond, but knowing this is fiction, I can't say I enjoyed it or I learnt much from it.
It is strictly an average read, that fans of Bond and Flemming's novels may find interesting.
I give this two stars, as I would like to think of Bond as a superhero and not a normal average guy as painted in this, - He comes across as being supercilious and selfish.
James Bond: The Authorised Biography is a 1973 book written by John Pearson. This is an unabridged audio version narrated by David Rintoul. I've never actually owned or read the book so this was certainly of interest to me although I'd heard a lot about it already. The premise of James Bond: The Authorised Biography is that James Bond is a real person and that M asked an author named Ian Fleming to write novels about him to try and make the Russians believe he was a fictional creation of MI6. SMERSH were out to kill Bond after the events of Casino Royale and this ruse was expressly designed to throw them off the scent and make them feel stupid. The book is a biography of Bond from his birth until the events of Colonel Sun (the 1967 Bond novel written by Kingsley Amis). It's just generally a fun 'nonfiction work of fiction', oddity and experiment, an enjoyable addition to the Bond universe. The book weaves in and out of the events described by Fleming and then adds much more detail about Bond's life - the author clearly enjoying himself with this revisionist take on the iconic character. The structure of the book is that Pearson meets the real James Bond when he is on sick leave in Bermuda and Bond duly tells him about his life. 'So this was Bond, this figure in the shadows. Until this moment I had taken it for granted that I knew him, as one does with any familiar character in what one thought was fiction. I had been picturing him as some sort of superman. The reality was different. There was something guarded and withdrawn about him. I felt that I was seeing an intriguing, unfamiliar face half-hidden by an image I could not forget.'
This is an enjoyable listen for anyone interested in James Bond and read in an unobtrusive and pleasant way by the narrator. One of the things I liked about Pearson's work here is how he offers a much more human James Bond and plugs some of the gaps in what we know about him. Not everything works perfectly with this approach but it's always fun. Pearson tells us the 'truth' about Bond's adventures and which of the books were completely made up and had no relevance to anything that happened. He also tells us about assignments and escapades by Bond that we don't already know about and some of these are as enjoyable as anything Fleming wrote about. Pearson is rather impressive coming up with villains and writing about 'lost' adventures that Bond had and anyone who manages to get mutant killer desert rats into the world of Bond deserves some sort of award. We also learn that life for a secret agent can have its more fallow periods inbetween missions. Pearson tells us that Bond has done other jobs too and hasn't always been a spy his whole career. He was a troubleshooter for a group of French bankers for four years and survived on his wits in a far flung locale once by romancing lonely rich women. He once even used his famed gambling skills to get by.
These various digressions are always interesting and we even learn how Bond got his famous scar. Other things thrown up here are that the 00 section was formed by M in 1950 and that there was a 007 before Bond got the number. Bond has a son also named James by Kissy Suzuki and his first lover was a brothel keeper and spy! The framing device of Pearson meeting Bond in a shadowy room in Bermuda is though excellent too and very gripping. 'It was a strong face, certainly - the eyes pale-grey and very cold, the mouth wide and hard; he didn't smile. In some was I was reminded of Fleming's own description of the man. The famous scar ran down the left cheek like a fault in the terrain between the jaw-line and the corner of the eye. The dark hair, grey streaked now, still fell in the authentic comma over the forehead. But there was something the descriptions of James Bond had not prepared me for - the air of tension which surrounded him. He had the look of someone who had suffered and who was wary of the pain's return. Even Sir William seemed to be treating him with care as he introduced us. We shook hands.'
This is a fun postmodern twist on Fleming's Bond and probably worthy of the relatively high reputation it has. I'm not too sure about the depiction of M here but many of Pearson's biographical inventions make a surprising amount of sense! He's actually made an effort here to make Bond much more of a real person than Fleming - even in the midst of his spying capers. This audio cd is incredibly long (goes on for hours!) but probably worth getting hold of if you've never owned a copy of the book and like to have something to listen to on the train. I believe the original book was longer than all but one of Fleming's novels (Goldfinger I think) so it's quite good value. 'But James, you never told me,' says a surprise guest. 'You mean your real biography? Isn't that just what I always said that they should do? I mean those books of Ian's were ridiculous. I never will be able to forgive him for the way he described me in that dreadful book of his.' The narration is quite intimate which helps I think. You feel like you are privy to a detective unravelling a great secret. It's atmospheric too but never too showy.
It goes without saying though that this is really one that Fleming readers will get the most out and a basic knowledge of the original James Bond books and chronology is essential in order to pick up even a fraction of all the references and little in-jokes.