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Saturday, October 12, 2013

Would you like your vinaigrette shaken or stirred, Mr Bond? | David Mitchell

Illustration by David Foldvari. Illustration by David Foldvari.

There's another James Bond novel out. Its launch has been surrounded by a bit of a fanfare, presumably because the publishers hope and expect it'll be bought, and in some cases read, by thousands of people who haven't got any of the Fleming originals. It'll be snapped up by those looking for a recent bit of Bondanalia, some more up-to-date Bond, rather than all that old Bond from the 50s and 60s, which isn't really relevant to a multi-platform media environment.

The fanfare is also a sign that, as a culture, the British are quite proud of the whole Bond thing. It's become a symbol that we haven't let go of everything about the past that was successful. High street shopping, manufacturing industry, free higher education, affordable railway travel and a reliable post office may all have been sacrificed, but at least we've clung on to Bond. Bond has endured – possibly because it's been under foreign management for decades.

Good old Bond. Or new, reimagined Bond. Either's great. We can either enjoy Bond doing the same things again, or enjoy Bond being all different and contemporary. Or bemoan either. But very few of us will bemoan both.

The whole world admires Bond because it represents the key creative discovery that's been made since the turn of the millennium: that it is possible to flog a dead horse back to life. Never give up on a franchise, we have learned. Inject enough energy into its corpse and it'll be up and at you with the strength and tenacity of the sort of zombie that can run.

Where Bond led, Star Trek, Sherlock Holmes, Battlestar Galactica and all those superheroes followed. No franchise must be left unexploited, no film unremade, no TV series unreimagined in our commercial desperation to avoid the undignified recourse of trying to think of a new idea, and then trying to get the public interested in it. Our civilisation echoes to the sound of the bottom of barrels being industriously scraped.

And so, out of the Bond barrel, comes another book – to even out the revenue-stream and give the publicists something to work with during a long gap necessitated by the painstaking process of filming Daniel Craig falling off things. In line with the recent trend, they've got a proper novelist to write it, rather than a hack – which is a bit like paying an actual film star to have sex with you rather than a prostitute. So not necessarily more fun.

Written by William Boyd, the book is entitled Solo and is described everywhere as James Bond's "latest literary outing". I presume a literary outing doesn't form the basis of the plot. "A coach trip to Brontë country goes awry for Bond when al-Qaida laces an eccles cake with plutonium."

Some feathers were ruffled by Boyd's decision to give Bond a new recipe for dry martini, superseding Ian Fleming's one from Casino Royale. But my eye was caught by news of another recipe that 007 shares with readers in Solo: a recipe for vinaigrette. "That vinaigrette," explains Boyd, "which is precisely detailed, is my vinaigrette which I've lent to James Bond." He sounds worried about getting it back.

This is no work of fan fiction. This is an officially sanctioned addition to the Bond canon. As a result of his own work, William Boyd can now truthfully boast that he dresses a salad like James Bond. But I worry that this takes Bond's already slightly grating clothes, cocktail and wine fastidiousness a stage too far. He's now getting all prissy about his salad dressing. He should be shooting men and shagging women – and then maybe shooting the women afterwards. By pausing to drone on about walnut oil, he may be pushing his luck.

Then again, perhaps I'm out of step with new Bond. I'm the dinosaur that Judi Dench accuses Bond of being in Goldeneye, while 007 is thoroughly up to speed with modern gastro-Britain. If Paul Hollywood can refer earnestly to creme patissiere without anyone casting aspersions on his masculinity, then surely Bond can pull it off. (Now there's a piece of fan fiction waiting to be written.) We all have to eat. We all like to eat lots of different things. Why shouldn't Bond immaculately dress a salad in between killings? Its very incongruity is what makes it real.

Here are a few culinary gems enjoyed by some of the nation's other favourite characters when they allow themselves to be "off message" just for a moment.

The world's first consulting detective devised this recipe for the New England classic when, having successfully resolved the "Case of the Disappearing Billingsgate Swordfish", he was paid entirely in seafood. Watson was suspicious as Holmes cooked it in the same boiling flask he'd recently used to study the effects of hydrochloric acid on human hair. But Holmes rejected the criticism, claiming that the "funny taste" Watson referred to was "nothing more sinister than parsley, you idiot".

As the symptoms of type 2 diabetes became more evident even to Pooh's very little brain, he began to look for dietary alternatives to hunny. "It was Eeyore who first told me about havver-car-doh but I don't think he expected me to like it," explained Pooh. "In my first batch I actually put a little bit of mole in it, before discovering that Mole was one of Rabbit's Friends and Relations."

"Aunt Dahlia was always talking about the Quorn Hunt so I became determined to catch one myself," Wooster explains. "Then Jeeves told me they lived in main sewers and looked exactly like sofas. Many long and smelly nights later, I returned in triumph with an arm and half a cushion that, when boiled up with a ton of rice, hit the spot like concrete being poured on to a corpse."

"It appeals to me because it sounds like the sausage has been murdered," the sleuth told the Observer, "which, in terms of cuisine, it has. I first encountered one many years ago when Captain Hastings showed me his. He could take it down all in one go. The things they learn at the English boarding schools never cease to amaze me. My recipe includes a pinch of paprika in the batter so that it tingles."

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