Thursday, August 15, 2013

"Bond. Hamish Bond."

Oh, sorry, rowing nerds. Did you see the title and come here thinking this post was about the New Zealand athlete of the same name?

I guess we're even, then, since my searches for the character of Hamish Bond from the Anno Dracula series kept turning up information on his performance at the World Rowing Championships.
Not a spy

Now that we're settled, allow me to segue into a long digression.

When I was younger, I thought I was on a trajectory to become a science fiction author, since they all seemed to have these careers of oddball jobs with no connection to each other: "Spunky Q. Prunewhistle has been a fusion rock guitarist, brain surgeon, towel folder, ballerina, large animal veterinarian, marmoset wrangler and a mime, but now lives at home with his 19 cats and writes science fiction."

One of my odd jobs was a direct care provider for a developmentally disabled man. I worked a couple standard shifts and then one marathon sixteen hour shift from 3 PM Thursday into 7 AM Friday. (That was nothing compared to the 40 hour shift handled by the woman who worked the weekend.)

It was asleep overnight, meaning that I could sleep once my other responsibilities had been discharged. I did, eventually, but seldom well, because I always find it difficult to sleep in a different bed.

Fortunately, there was an outstanding used bookstore on my way into work. (I happen to think used bookstores are, by definition, outstanding, but this one was especially good.) I'd like to link to them to give them a little more press, but since the person for whom I was a caretaker still lives nearby, I don't want to give away any information that could serve to identify him.

That was the place where I rounded out my Zelazny collection. They had a huge inventory of books that was constantly changing. Among the many books I acquired there and read during my overnight shift were Ian Fleming's original James Bond novels.

Now I grew up with the James Bond movies. The series has been going on for decades, now. I never thought they were high art (not even Goldfinger, which might even improve on the book), but they were always entertaining.

But after I read the books, I couldn't take the movies seriously. Fleming has said that he wanted Bond to be "a blunt object" and by god, that's what literary Bond is, an amoral thug, a high-functioning psychopath who found an acceptable outlet for his anti-social impulses.

And I don't mind that. I've said elsewhere that that I like anti-heroes as long as the author isn't trying to pretend they're something they're not. Bond does a bunch of shitty things in the service of a good cause and Fleming is pretty up front about that.

So, that's my conception of James Bond these days. Daniel Craig comes closer to that, but as he took the role that should have gone to Clive Owen, I am obliged to hate him. And the last time I sat down to Roger Moore, with his wiggly eyebrows, terrible puns and pigeons doing double takes, I just couldn't get through the movie.

And this extremely long tangent explains why I liked Dracula Cha Cha/Judgment of Tears the second time around. I heard it read by William Gaminara, whose performance was next to flawless, except when trying to perform American accents, which he couldn't quite seem to manage. It's not that Brits can't manage to sound like us, I think Hugh Laurie is particularly good, but there is just something I couldn't articulate about Gaminara's performance. I described it as sounding like Hugo Weaving as Agent Smith in the Matrix to my friend Greg, who is a doctor of some unspecified discipline and knows quite a bit more about linguistics than I do. This is how he replied and he was kind enough to give me permission to post it here:

I haven't seen Weaving in particular doing an American accent in quite some time. I'm thinking of the scene in The Matrix where he as Agent Smith is interrogating Neo / Tom Andersen. In my opinion, Weaving is trying very hard to reproduce an American accent in this scene rather than actually doing it. He's enunciating an awful lot more than a speaker with a native accent would. You can hear it in words like "fresh start" where he really draws out the [sh] sound. He also says [two liFes] instead of [two liVes], which always struck me as odd. Now, I do know a bit about how voicless [F] changes to voiced [V] there--it has to do with the fricative coming between two vowels in English--so I'm guessing Weaving is being rather conservative in his pronunciation, to the point that it sounds funny to me. And that could be the way a South African would normally say the plural of life, but I'm only guessing. Still, I think some of the oddities I've brought up get at what you're asking. Going with my last point, I think Weaving's cadence, rhythm, and pace are more like how a South African person would speak (or I'm guessing--not much experience with South African speakers though some) but that his accent is American. I think perhaps that incongruity between inflection and accent might be throwing you.

And Josh is distracted yet again from the body of his review! Let's see if we can get back on track! Despite what the summary implies, Hamish Bond is not the main character of the story, that honor goes again to Kate Reed and Geneviève Dieudonné, but he's instead, the lead of the B-plot, which weaves in and out of the primary storyline.

Hamish Bond is kind of an idiot, and my dissatisfaction with the book the first time around grew out of that. He's constantly fucking up. But here's the thing. So was movie Bond. He was a sexist jerk (I just watched Goldfinger the other day, and I think the sound effects guys used the crack of a bullwhip for the slap on the ass he gives the woman at the pool) and, well, he's not always that great at his job either.

The book hangs a lampshade on this. Bond careens around Rome, using his real name, smoking his extremely distinctive cigarettes in his extremely distinctive sports car, and everyone in the book knows he's a spy.

The thing is that the Bond parts of the book were substantially more interesting than the other parts. Bond might be a jerk and a fuckup, but he's an extremely entertaining jerky fuckup.

The other main reason I liked the book more is that I knew what to expect. It goes off in a very different direction than I was expecting with regards to Dracula, and I was initially very disappointed with what happened. It wasn't at all the book I was expecting. This time, knowing the twist, I was able to appreciate the book for what it was, instead of being disappointed for not being what I expected.

I still think it's the weakest of the series, but it's a worthwhile read anyway, if only so you can be caught up for the fourth book, Johnny Alucard, coming this September!

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