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Published August 22, 2021

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I’ve previously watched all the James Bond movies to date, pending Time to Die, in a big journey from the opening credits of Dr. No to the closing sequence of Spectre. It was a heck of a ride full of highs and lows and good action sequences and questionable moments, and I loved it.

So having completed the movies, tick, tick, tick, what next? I decided I wanted to read the books - a series of 12 novels and 2 collections of short stories published between 1953 and 1966. In my research on the books, I found that Audible had the full series of audiobooks read by an outstanding selection of authors. I mean, just get a look at these names:

  • Dan Stevens
  • Rory Kinnear
  • Bill Nighy
  • Damian Lewis
  • Toby Stephens
  • Hugh Quarshie
  • Hugh Bonneville
  • Samuel West
  • Jason Isaacs
  • Rosamund Pike
  • David Tennant
  • Martin Jarvis
  • Kenneth Branagh
  • Tom Hiddleston
  • Lucy Fleming

Shocked emoji, right? It’s taken me a long time and a lot of Audible credits to get through these but I finally finished the books. Just like the movies, it was quite the ride. I loved the first book, read by Dan Stevens, but then if I’m honest, my concentration wavered a bit through the next few.

However, as the books went on, it felt more and more like an over-arching character growing and developing and taking things that happen in one book as background for future plot points. It started to feel more rounded and dare I say believable, which meant I started to love it.

Just like when I ploughed through the Sherlock Holmes canon, I thought it very odd when there were books that were set up differently to normal. You get used to the structure, so when you suddenly have a book where Bond doesn’t show up until halfway through, or when it’s from a female character’s point of view and in all honesty Bond is just a bystander who happens upon a situation, it all feels a bit odd.

A bonus in these audiobook versions was a five minute interview with the narrator at the end of each. Inevitably they start by saying they hadn’t read the books before but they had seen the films and trying to compare and contrast… which is hard to do. But there are also a lot of the readers who noticed that Bond is a different character in the books. Not always suave, questioning his motives, his own judgement, even the job he’s actually doing. He makes mistakes, he loses his fitness, he lets his emotions get in the way.

Bond is such an interesting piece of culture - loved, hated, revered, reviled, respected and belittled. He’s not always going to be relevant but as a piece of history, as the books now are, it’s a study of the attitudes of the past, not always a welcome result, but perhaps something that can be learned from.

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