Monday, September 15, 2014

Book Review: Solo by William Boyd

Though appropriate to the story, I thought the title was clichéd. Solo by Rana Dasgupta, a brilliant literary novel that won the Commonwealth writer’s prize is still fresh in our minds, and if you go to a bookstore asking for Solo today, chances are you might be shown Rana’s. At least in the commonwealth nations. 

That said the language is effortless, with short sentences and to-the-point approach with a sense of urgency that is essential for thrillers. Though I found the first half tauter and more reader friendly, the rest of it, when Bond goes solo, seemed laboured with awkward twists. This led to a climax that was far from satisfying and the reader in me was left to deal with a rather lengthy conversation between Bond and a CIA agent called Felix through which the author chose to plug gaps in the plot as they finished a bottle of Gordon’s Gin in Zanzarim, the fictional African country where the book is set.

The plot is interesting, though the treatment is not. Set in the late 60s, Bond is deputed by M to Zanzarim to infiltrate a small region within that nation which is acting independently ever since oil has been found there. The area is being led by a local leader called Brigadier Solomon Adeka who belongs to the tribe which populates the region and believes the new found wealth truly belongs to them. Bond’s mission is to weaken the leader so that the country is taken over and the civil war is ended. But his arrival is not taken lightly by those who have vested interests in the new found wealth. Bond is shot and left dying as the handlers of the regime fly off minutes before the Zanzarim army takes over. Bond is lucky as he is discovered by a white journalist and recuperates in a military facility at Edinburgh which he is briskly moved. 

Once he has recovered, he wants revenge and it is only possible if he goes solo. Bond’s pursuit takes him to USA where vested interests of many organizations, both corporate and governmental, are unearthed. He ends up thinking that he has killed the man who had shot him, a Rhodesian white mercenary called Jacobus Breed. 

Bond’s going solo seems justified to a degree, but there is hardly any rebuke from M let alone a disciplinary action when it is all over. I thought that was a serious flaw. Second, the mystery surrounding Breed's death is kept alive, which looked far-fetched because of the time Bond had taken to kill and the brutality he had used. 

This book has fallen short on my expectations. A tighter narrative, more pragmatic events and plausible assumptions would have helped the plot better. 

Rating: 3 / 5. 

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