Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Bond Girls of Trigger Mortis: Pussy Galore, Logan Fairfax and Jeopardy Lane

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

At the end of the acknowledgements section at the end of Trigger Mortis, Anthony Horowitz writes that he "tried to stay true to [Ian Fleming's] original vision and to present the character as he was conceived in the fifties, whilst hopefully not upsetting too many modern sensibilities."

Just saying that anyone familiar with the Fleming originals--and how different their sensibility is from anything that would be regarded as acceptable in commercial fiction--cannot help but be skeptical reading those words, and the book preceding them justifies such skepticism. And perhaps nowhere is this more the case than in his handling of the book's three Bond girls: Pussy Galore, Logan Fairfax, and Jeopardy Lane.

The Return of Pussy Galore
As the novel begins, Pussy Galore is in London with Bond, hanging about his apartment--a completely unprecedented situation for Fleming's hero. Of course Fleming described an unhappy pattern to Bond's relationships in Casino Royale, a "conventional parabola"--
sentiment, the touch of the hand . . . the climax in the bed, then more bed, then less bed, then the boredom, the tears and the final bitterness . . . furtive alibis and the final angry farewell on some doorstep in the rain.
However, in subsequent books the latter parts were not usually mentioned (Tiffany Case in Diamonds is an exception), and just about never dramatized, let alone carried into the next book (the special case of his murdered wife Tracy aside). The result is that when reading the series, after the first, relatively unconventional and grim installment, Fleming's character has his fun and escapes the consequences--indeed, it seems that Bond generally pursues his affairs so as to be able to do so.1

Bond's having to deal with Pussy Galore as the affair palls feels like not merely a novelty, but a concession to contemporary mores far less forgiving of men who have their fun and then move on, far quicker to remind us all of the less happy emotional and other entanglements sex tends to involve, even in a piece of ostentatiously retro escapism heavily marketed as true to the Fleming vision.

This is all the more so as Pussy's attitude toward Bond is a far cry from the "conventional parabola." Rather than tears and bitterness, she makes it very clear that she's ready to go while Bond dithers. As if that were not enough, Bond winds up meeting Pussy again while hoping to seduce the next lady in his life, reduced to "the stale admission of a suburban husband found cheating by his wife," and made to feel all the guiltier because his dithering contributed to a situation which almost got Pussy killed. And after all that it is Pussy who in the end takes the initiative, tells Bond that their time together was a lark ("We had fun, didn't we?"), "But there's no future in it and we might as well pack in before it all goes sour," while Bond can only "shamefully and hypocritically" mumble "Whatever you want, Pussy"--and have her call him a "bastard" and tear into him for the shameful hypocrisy of his not admitting that "It's what you want too."

Speaking of which, she's already onto her next lover, who is not a man, but in fact the very woman Bond had expected to sleep with the night they ran into each other again, Logan Fairfax, whom Pussy, despite being hospitalized with injuries and not feeling or looking her best, seduced instead--not just snatching away Bond's victory here, but in a lot of ways mooting an old one. If the reader thought that Bond had turned Pussy Galore around, so to speak (and this is what Fleming seemed to mean for us to think in Goldfinger), well, that's all undone here. Not only is she just fine without 007, thank you very much, but (as we generally think in the twenty-first century) sexual orientation just doesn't work that way--which gives her a chance to one-up a Bond increasingly one-upped by the women he meets in this particular department, while Bond can go without.

Perhaps wisely, Horowitz does not bother to tell us what Bond really thinks of all this, walking out of the room and in the next scene already in Germany, thinking of his memories of the place, and how the war has colored them.

Meet Logan Fairfax
The third participant in this triangle, Logan Fairfax, is running a training school for car racing enthusiasts where Bond prepares for his mission. Fleming never previously went so far in putting "a woman in a man's job," and still less did he have Bond submit to their authority the way that he has to submit to Logan's during his time under her tutelage.

Moreover, when women were arrogant, prickly, unpleasant, difficult, insulting as she is (and Logan is very much these things), Fleming's Bond did not gracefully endure their idiosyncracies as Horwoitz has him do, but typically had certain choice words for them (even if he tended not to use them to their faces), and received their attitude as a challenge--precisely because alongside the Tiffany Cases and Pussy Galores there were also the Vesper Lynds and Solitaires who threw themselves at him. In fact it can fairly be said that the "strong" women were there, when they were there, as exceptional figures intended to give Bond a chance to show he was stronger, and take that much more pleasure in the conquest when he finally did get them into bed the way he did all the others.

It might be noted, too, that where on occasions Horowitz simply silenced Bond's internal monologue on those occasions when he was likely to say something distasteful (see above), Horowitz pointedly changed the attitude of Fleming's Bond toward women drivers. Watching Fairfax at the wheel prior to their first meeting Bond thinks of her driving as rather distinctively a woman's--remarking "a lightness of touch . . . as if she was flicking ash off the shoulder of a man's coat."

The effect of these words is rather admiring and complimentary--and entirely different from what Fleming's Bond really had to say about women drivers, as expressed in the later Thunderball:
Women are often meticulous and safe drivers, but they are very seldom first class. In general Bond regarded them as a mild hazard and he always gave them plenty of road and was always ready for the unpredictable.
Granted, Domino drove like a man (did a lot like a man, actually, which had him call her a "Bitch" as she drove off in her MG), but the presumption stood, and the contrast here is such that Fairfax's inclusion in the story (set before Thunderball, of course) can fairly be called a continuity issue for the series. And of course, the course of Bond's relationship with Logan deprives him of the usual satisfaction in taking on a strong woman, proving himself the stronger and getting action in the process.

Driving Along Jeopardy Lane
After leaving Galore and Fairfax behind, Bond runs his race and accomplishes his object, thwarting a Soviet plot against British driver Lancy Smith. Afterward, he enters a party packed with race car groupies and thinks to himself "Almost every woman [Bond] had ever known had put up at least some measure of resistance, challenging him to win her round," and that "soft acquiescence" of the sort the groupies had to offer "didn't appeal" to him.

Given Bond's history, of course, this appears complete nonsense--soft acquiescence no barrier to his interest in the past (see above), and arguably yet another continuity break, taken for much the same reason as the prior one, the elision of a certain kind of Bond girl, a certain kind of sexual encounter (the girls who threw themselves at him, the casual dalliances more offensive to contemporary sensibility) within the narrative. And indeed, so does it go with the next woman Bond meets, Jeopardy Lane--similarly difficult and insulting at their first meeting, similarly resistant to his appeal. After fleeing the party with Jason Sin's men on their trail, they wind up drenched in a hotel room where, after she leaves the bathroom, Lane's first words are "If you think I'm going to sleep with you, you can forget it" and, as good as her word, the night ends with her in the bed and Bond on the sofa, thinking to himself that: "He had never slept like this before . . . a few feet away . . . A naked attractive girl."

But then that wasn't the first such disappointment he'd experienced in this book, was it? And making matters worse, she completely dupes him in the aftermath--after which, again, Bond is mad only at himself. This is, of course, the familiar first phase in a dynamic that was to become very familiar to fans of the films from the 1970s on: Bond and a foreign female agent backing into each other in the course of investigating the same thing and having to work together, with much made of her as an equal partner--and Bond accepting it with a grace not to be expected of his '50s-era self ("Jeopardy . . . was taking over the whole operation and being utterly businesslike and unapologetic about it"). He also has plenty of occasion to admire her driving (this seems to be turning into a fetish with him), which saves Bond's life and the mission not once, but twice, over the course of the story. And while Bond and Jeopardy do get together in the end, once again, rather than Horowitz just having them enjoy the moment, much is made of the fact that the moment is all they will have, and again, that not only he but she will be moving on (just like Pussy and Logan, Jeopardy having someone else in her life).

Taken altogether, all this seems less an attempt at a Flemingesque Bond story than a parody of one, and not the kind of self-parody toward which Fleming increasingly tended as the series went on either. Rather it is a twenty-first century parody all the way through--while Bond's reaction to being the butt of the jokes time and again is not slightly altered from what it would have been before, but either elided or changed into something explicitly different from what we saw in the originals.

Of course, that so much is different is in the view of most for the better. (Even those who might wish conventional male fantasy were treated a little more tolerantly in the newer installments of the series probably can't help feeling that a James Bond who calls women "Bitch" as soon as they are out of earshot comes across as a bit undignified and puerile.) But the point is that this was integral to Fleming's conception of the character--in many respects, a reaction to trends in the world that he did not like at all (there were many of them for the Edwardian Etonian in the age of Tommy Steele)--and one cannot toss all this out and at the same time claim to be anywhere near as faithful to the original as the PR so tiresomely assures us. In fact, it may not be going too far to say that Fleming's Bond and the twenty-first century are irreconcilable with each other. And the strain in trying to show otherwise has made the James Bond series as blatant a case of commitment to old IPs for purely commercial reasons as any in our pop cultural life today.

1. Indeed, in Moonraker, we learn that when back in town Bond carries on sexual relationships with three different married women--presumably, his way of limiting such involvements. There is no mention of anything like that in Horowitz's novel.

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The Microeconomics of James Bond
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Just Out. . . (James Bond's Evolution)
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Just Out . . . (The Forgotten James Bond)
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