License to Fret

For several nights in July, the thrilling, testosterone-laden notes of the James Bond theme music filled our family room, as my husband and I and whichever of our boys (twelve, sixteen, and eighteen) happened to be around took in “The Bond Marathon” on Encore. It was the cinematic equivalent of a good beach read, and I enjoyed escaping with my guys into the glamour, adventure, and criminal chicanery of Dr. No, From Russia with Love, and Diamonds Are Forever.

I am hardly a Bond connoisseur, however, so I was startled to read in the Wall Street Journal recently that those swaggering, manly opening notes were drawn from a song composed by Monty Norman for an aborted musical called A House for Mr. Biswas, based on the novel by Nobel Prize–winner V. S. Naipaul.

Mr. Bond and Mr. Biswas? How could this be? What have these two in common other than an initial? Mr. Biswas, born six-fingered and “in the wrong way,” with an unlucky sneeze to boot, bumbles his way through poverty and the depredations of life in the Indian immigrant community in Trinidad. As a child he unwittingly causes his father’s death, as a youth he makes spectacularly clumsy job errors, as a man he is trapped by marriage to his wife and her sprawling, chaotic, and indifferent family. Only the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius bring him comfort.

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About the Author

Elizabeth Kirkland Cahill, a frequent contributor, is the co-author (with Joseph Papp) of Shakespeare Alive! and a 2010 graduate of Yale Divinity School.