Tuesday, 21 March 2000

Peter O'Donnell: Modesty Blaise (1965)

Edition: Pan, 1966
Review number: 458

At one point, I had collected the first four or five Modesty Blaise novels, but I gradually found the increasingly unpleasant violence in the series to be not to my taste. When I packed them off to a charity shop, I retained the first one, on the grounds that it is a better novel and, though violent, less sickening.

The problem I have with Modesty Blaise on re-reading it today is not the violence, though some of its scenes are quite unpleasant. It is with its total lack of verisimilitude. The character of Modesty Blaise is unbelievable: impossibly gifted (her most serious defect is an indifferent palate for wine), unscarred by the traumatic childhood she endured. She was clearly intended as a female equivalent of James Bond, yet she lacks the imperfections of Bond's character and does not come over as even human. (Bond is superhuman in some ways, but his character is distinctly flawed - mostly in ways which suit him for the job he enjoys.) Of the various versions of Modesty Blaise (comic strip, novel series, and film) it is the comic strip version which is easily the best.

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