MI6 Community Novel Bondathon - Reborn!

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  • edited February 16 Posts: 684
    Right. I'm through the first two novels and a third of the way into MR. Some brief thoughts on Casino Royale and Live and Let Die. (I’ll do the remaining books in groups of three, I suppose).

    Casino Royale

    The thing I might look forward to most about the Bond books is their marvelous tempo. We know Fleming cranked out his drafts; it shows in the best way. The balance between more objective journalistic staccato and his own special flowing musicality breathes a freeness of spirit into the text that pairs well with Bond’s focus on living in the moment, the attention he pays to the details of life, to savoring food and drink and women. The way form reflects content and content form elevates the experience of reading these books, and what makes them such a joy to come back to.

    In CR this is not simply the tempo or cadence of the words and sentences, but of the paragraphs and the chapters and the characters and the plot. CR is perfectly measured at all turns. For a story centered around a simple card game it’s amazing that it moves the way it does, always progressing and building. I love how the book drops us into the action from the first chapter then pulls us back a bit to M’s reading of the dossier and Bond’s being given the assignment. It's the perfect maneuver to have the pace slow up just after it begins—so that we're not too bogged down at the start. Then we're back at the casino, and each chapter up to the baccarat game is giving us something fresh and captivating on which to focus our attention. With fifty pages to go we’re in just the right spot. And here when the tangible stakes are over, and our hero has 'won,' Fleming brings Vesper alive.

    I've always found her a very dull presence in the book. Stock. Boring. Plain. This time, for some reason, I localized that impression to the first half. And I’m considering how much that was by design. The way she’s introduced, for example (by Mathis in the story and also by Fleming)—or rather not introduced.

    Bond's eye was caught by the tall figure of Mathis on the pavement outside, his face turned in animation to a dark-haired girl in grey. His arm was linked in hers, high up above the elbow, and yet there was a lack of intimacy in their appearance, an ironical chill in the girl's profile, which made them seem two separate people rather than a couple. Bond waited for them to come through the street door into the bar, but for appearances' sake continued to stare out of the window at the passers-by.

    'But surely it is Monsieur Bond?' Mathis's voice behind him was full of surprised delight. Bond, appropriately flustered, rose to his feet. 'Can it be that you are alone? Are you awaiting someone? May I present my colleague, Mademoiselle Lynd? My dear, this is the gentleman from Jamaica with whom I had the pleasure of doing business this morning.'


    It's almost an aside from Mathis to Vesper. "This is the guy I was telling you about." Mathis and Bond chat as Vesper sits in silence. (Sidenote: Fleming's great at capturing the ebbing and flowing detail of mood that a conversation and the people involved with it can create). Until Mathis makes his excuses, Vesper exists as a pure physical presence. It adds to Bond's anticipation of her, and his fascination. That she comes as slyly into Bond's life as the book's, and exists as a purely physical piece for a lot of the time is, I think, what always put me off. But know I see how it lets him do what he'll continue to throughout the novel: fill in the blanks about her.

    In previous readings I might have been too focused on Bond to notice how tragic a figure Vesper really is, and the subtlety of how Fleming handles it. I’ve always taken their ‘love’ as a given; but this read I saw a lot more falsity in their relationship. I see a lot of guilt from Vesper and from Bond a strange boyish innocence. A sort of "Too young to know what love is" type deal. This is accentuated else throughout the book — i.e. how apt Bond’s mood is to accelerate and decelerate and whip this way and that. Vesper is very much caught in that whirlwind, especially after Bond's recovery. Had Bond not been tortured, would he look on Vesper differently? I think so. He himself admits that, owing to his injury, he cannot enter into the usual pattern of his trysts. Reading the book in this light, Vesper comes away at points as more pitiable and pitying—of Bond and of herself. Their relationship ends up being built not only on an overt deception but also a lot of self-deception.

    Favorite chapter: "The Nature of Evil." By far. The core of all Bond. The conflict there, the back-and-forth between Bond and Mathis, is great, and is the same which drives the rest of the books.

    Never noticed: This line from Vesper in "Pink Lights and Champagne:" 'And, by the way, if you hear me scream tonight, I shall have sat on a cane chair.'

    Better or worse: The novel was already great for me, but it somehow got better. It's always gotten better with each read.

    Live and Let Die

    Once again, we’re dropped into the assignment from the first and then shuffled a bit back in time for the details of the assignment. The pace for these first chapters is equally as good as CR’s — but then the scope of the book widens. Fleming wants to pull off something more ambitious than CR, and I think this comes at the cost of some of the intimacy and simplicity and focus that worked really well for CR. I love that the story spans a large geography, and that there's a heck of a big dose of raw Fleming imagination (voodoo, gold, pirates, etc.) involved, but I'm not sure he got the balance right. The narrative really dawdles by the time we get to Florida, although the finale in Jamaica is wonderful, and Fleming seems totally in his element.

    I've not read CR and LALD back to back (I've never done the novels in order), but I was taken by what different creatures they are. LALD is so much more in the spirit of adventure novel; is it fair to say the B-movie schematics are more apparent? (The Big Man’s ‘puerile tricks,’SMERSH seems to become more of cartoonish, the voodoo and gold and pirates I mentioned above, etc.) If I was entirely unfamiliar with the films and books, and I read CR and LALD back to back, then I might wonder what exactly was Fleming’s conception for what a Bond story was.

    I find Solitaire intriguing but ultimately less interesting than Vesper. She’s less helpless, more proactive, smarter — she even has a more interesting background on a conceptual level. But Fleming never seems to flesh that background out satisfyingly, nor the character herself. Before re-reading CR I might have said Vesper and Solitaire were on par, but after this read I do think Fleming managed to inject more depth into Vesper.

    However, of Le Chiffre and Big, the latter is the more captivating villain. I enjoy the gamesmanship between he and Bond. The two are against each other the whole time. Bond is dancing with the villain here, unlike in CR where Bond seems more of a pawn, or up against forces to which he has little significance (which is one of the things that works about CR, and the opposite works equally well here, having Bond be able to poke and prod and react and make mistakes, etc.)

    Favorite chapter: "The Undertaker's Wind:" "Never before in his life had there been so much to play for. The secret of the treasure, the defeat of a great criminal, the smashing of a Communist spy ring, and the destruction of a tentacle of SMERSH, the cruel machine that was his own private target. And now Solitaire, the ultimate personal prize. The stars winked down their cryptic morse and he had no key to their cipher."

    Never noticed: The slim relationship between this quote from Mr. Big: "It has become almost a mania with me to impart an absolute rightness, a high elegance, to the execution of my affairs" and the following by Bond in CR: "I take a ridiculous pleasure in what I eat and drink. It comes partly from being a bachelor, but mostly from a habit of taking a lot of trouble over details." Fleming comes across as a man who would agree and practice that attitude of exactness and attention to detail, and I think it's interesting what parts of himself he injected not only into Bond but also into his villains.

    Better or worse: This is only the second time I’ve read this one. I didn’t find it that remarkable on my first read many years ago, and though I still find it inferior to Casino Royale, I came away with lots more appreciation for it.

    ---

    Trying to keep the word-count sparing going forward (else I won't have time for the reading bit). I haven't had a chance to review earlier comments as I'd planned, but hopefully I can get to that at some point. I'll keep going until I either hit a wall and burn up or catch you all up.
  • BirdlesonBirdleson San Jose, CA
    Posts: 24,335
    That was great @Strog ; your excitement shows through. Very nice observations and reflections as well. I'm so glad that you've decided to jump on. With this and @Agent_99 putting up her YOLT review, I feel like were back on track. And it's also exciting that you are reading them for rode for the first ti,e. I'm sure that, like most of us the first time we did so, you will be surprised at how many themes and small plot lines carry through our resurface in the series. The doubt, pain and resolve Bond expresses in CR are played with and brought to such a natural conclusion that it's hard tp imagine that Fleming wasn't, as least vaguely, thinking of the character's arc all along (despite running low story ideas in the late '50s).
  • edited February 17 Posts: 684
    I'm glad I managed to convey my excitement, @Birdleson! I am really glad to be finally getting through them in order. And I'm having a whale of a time so far. The pages are flying by, and I've just fallen wholly into Fleming's world. Really looking forward to catching up.
  • Agent_99Agent_99 Enjoys a spirited ride as much as the next girl
    Posts: 1,621
    Welcome, @Strog! That was a great review - I'd never thought of Bond and Vesper's relationship that way, and it makes a lot of sense. And reviewing the novels in groups of two or three is going to throw up some interesting comparisons.
    I am a Horse. That is the best YOLT review I have read.

    Neigh, surely not!
    Revelator wrote: »
    His thoughts on sloughing his skin and replacing it with a yellow one are prophetic, if a little bit racist.

    Mitigated perhaps by Bond's genuine enjoyment in being a Japanese fisherman.

    And he aways gets on well with people who are decent human beings and despises the awful ones, regardless of race and despite his product-of-the-times views.
    Revelator wrote: »
    Blofeld has obviously had this all planned out, with money and cover stories set aside for emergency. “He’s completely mad,” you think, but when he’s faced with Bond, the author of all his pain

    I saw what you did there!

    Guilty. I could not resist.
    Revelator wrote: »
    Especially because she's now in a romantic relationship with Blofeld. Surely one of the ghastliest couples in fiction!

    Yes - I didn't really cover this because a) it's so horrible, and b) we don't get that much information about it.

    Oh, I've just noticed that the very last sentence explicitly says Bond loves Kissy - not a state he's allowed to get into often, even though he drops it all in a heartbeat for his Quest.
  • Agent_99 wrote: »
    YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE

    The villain

    It’s the retirement every bad guy dreams of: finally, you can stop pretending you want to take over the world and admit that you just enjoy killing people.

    Ha! How true.
    Agent_99 wrote: »
    It’s incredibly satisfying to watch Bond kill Blofeld with his bare hands. The castle blowing up and Bond’s getaway by balloon are spectacular, providing a suitably filmic climax, but it's the raw, visceral strangling that gets me.

    It's a tremendous catharsis for the reader. I'm so glad Fleming did right by his creation and brought a powerful and fitting conclusion to his Blofeld "trilogy."
    Agent_99 wrote: »
    The girl

    How lucky for Bond that there’s a girl to help him out who’s familiar with Western ways, but also pure and unspoiled and gorgeous!

    I’m not fond of Kissy Suzuki; I’ve always thought that praying she'll get to keep Bond with her, and then doing so when he loses his memory, is selfish and morally wrong. And why on earth doesn’t she tell him the truth after he takes it into his head to go to Russia, where she must realise he’ll be in terrible danger - if he even manages to get there on his own?

    (I will grudgingly concede that she saves his life.)

    Oh yes, she reads as enormously selfish and her actions are unquestionably morally wrong. But I think Fleming redeems her somewhat in a variety of ways. She does help Bond on his way in the end, despite the blow to her own happiness. And let's not forget that the life she gives him is in fact Bond's dream—if not his drive. So she allows him, for a time, to live a blissful sort of dream apart from the horrors of his profession and the tragedy of Tracy and the malaise that sets in for him between assignments. And apart from her decision to keep Bond's real identity from himself, she comes across as sweet, resourceful, smart, brave, and deeply caring—all qualities to be admired in a girl. Perhaps most importantly for me, Fleming makes her interesting and takes the time to really flesh her out on page. Can we forgive her for wanting to keep Bond to herself? For perhaps not having the wisdom or the fortitude of Vivienne Michel in being able to let Bond go and carry on with just her memory of him?
    Agent_99 wrote: »
    These larger-than-life sets definitely feel as if Fleming, by this point, is thinking in terms of how his books will look on film - but they also have the effect of suggesting that the whole adventure is something Bond dreams under sedation in the aftermath of Tracy’s death.

    There is something very fantasy-like about You Only Live Twice. Everything about the book—from eating live food to storming this terrifying Dracula-esque castle to pink dragonflies and man-eating piranha—is so bizarre and surreal. It reads like a fever dream.
    Revelator wrote: »
    Agent_99 wrote: »
    There’s even a hint of the supernatural in the Six Guardians.

    Yes, that might be the most explicit nod to the supernatural in the otherwise very secular world of the Bond books (regardless of all the St. George mentions). Also interesting that it's Eastern polytheism that gets the nod rather than Western Christianity.

    I do always find that odd—that moment where Bond (or the book asking in Bond's place) fleetingly wonders whether the Guardians did in fact nod their heads. You would think Bond would be immune to that, despite occasionally having thoughts having to do with Western Christianity. But then again, he is under a great deal of stress with what he's been through in life and what he still has to face at this point. Maybe he's not quite himself here—the combination of the setting and the stresses he's been through compounding for him.
  • Agent_99Agent_99 Enjoys a spirited ride as much as the next girl
    Posts: 1,621
    Can we forgive her for wanting to keep Bond to herself? For perhaps not having the wisdom or the fortitude of Vivienne Michel in being able to let Bond go and carry on with just her memory of him?

    Well, when you put it like that...

    I guess I formed many of my Bond opinions when I was a teenager, morality was still black-and-white and I liked to think I would do The Right Thing when called upon to do so. These days I am more forgiving of failings and weaknesses, because goodness knows I've got plenty.
  • Agent_99Agent_99 Enjoys a spirited ride as much as the next girl
    Posts: 1,621
    Via Twitter, the café at London Airport, now Heathrow, in 1956. Thought you guys might also get a kick out of this, seeing as Bond spends so much of his time there:

    DXDtV5HW0AI35dM.jpg
  • Posts: 969
    He's probably the guy in the blue suit with his back to the camera.
  • BirdlesonBirdleson San Jose, CA
    Posts: 24,335
    Agent_99 wrote: »
    Via Twitter, the café at London Airport, now Heathrow, in 1956. Thought you guys might also get a kick out of this, seeing as Bond spends so much of his time there:

    DXDtV5HW0AI35dM.jpg

    That certainly alters my mental mage of those scenes! So bright and blue.
  • Agent_99Agent_99 Enjoys a spirited ride as much as the next girl
    Posts: 1,621
    Revelator wrote: »
    He's probably the guy in the blue suit with his back to the camera.

    I'd have thought he'd have a better haircut than that.
  • 0BradyM0Bondfanatic70BradyM0Bondfanatic7 It was this or the priesthood.
    Posts: 28,232
    Awesome picture, @Agent_99! Such striking colors.
    Revelator wrote: »
    He's probably the guy in the blue suit with his back to the camera.
    Bond has never struck me as a photographer, but maybe he snapped this one before jetting off to more danger?
  • edited March 3 Posts: 684
    It turns out that due to the timing of when I was able to start writing my thoughts up, I'm not covering three of the books this time. I'm doing five. Thoughts on MR through GF below.

    (Will try and do three next round, especially as six turned this into a rather lengthy post.)

    --

    Moonraker

    To start I'll mention that, at least prior to this re-read of the series and after revisiting the first three novels in the course of it, Moonraker is my favorite Fleming. There are many reasons, not the least of which is nostalgia. This was the first Bond novel I ever read, ever bought, when I was 12, over my first summer vacation as a Bond fan. Having discovered DR. NO the previous Thanksgiving via TNN's holiday marathon, I at once became obsessed, and immediately began going to Blockbuster each weekend with my dad to rent a pair of fresh Bond flicks. I came back with MOONRAKER after one of my first excursions—it was an easy choice. Because of Star Wars, I loved outer space stuff, so I knew I'd love that one. And I did. The gondola, Jaws in love, the theme to MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, all the silliness went over my head. It was just Bond.

    So when on a night in the summer that followed, on vacation with my family, we wandered into a bookstore one night after dinner—the first time I can ever remeber being in a book store, actually—I made a beeline straight for the Fiction section and the Fs. There I discovered, to my delight, a large chunk of shelfspace given over to the Bonds. These were the then-current Penguin paperbacks with the retro covers. These ones. They are still the editions I read today (and now they're worn so their conditions match the cover style). I can't imagine ever getting rid of them.

    I remember very clearly taking each one off the shelf turning it over in my hands. Genuinely, each one felt like it had a thousand amps coursing between its covers. For half an hour I pretended to debate which one to get. It was always going to be Moonraker. Not because of the film. The film got me to the book, sure. But what got me buying the book was the cover and blurb. The Moonraker on the cover was no space shuttle. It looked straight out of the past's future—some kind of gleaming, fantastical 50s sci-fi contraption. And the blurb, it mentioned card cheating and an ICBM. Whatever the book was, it was very clearly not the film. I was curious. What was different?

    Finding out how was a joy. The way the book made me feel then mirrors how it makes me feel now: lost in someone's great imaginary world, in the midst of some great adventure. Back then I loved the card game, the cliff detonation, the car chase, the Nazis, the submarine. I thought the rest of it was just there to string these 'important' bits together. Now I see the rest of it as it, too, as that which allows the adventure to work as well as it does. I love 'meeting the family' at the beginning of the book, the detail of Bond's day-to-day, having more than a minute to sit down and get to know and to like M. I love watching M watch Bond at work, hearing about the way Blades works and operates, reading the sorts of files Bond has to familiarize himself with.

    Live and Let Die has its own collection of boys' own narrative toys: voodoo, pirates treasure, sharks, etc. but it lacks such stuff as Fleming binds the narrative with here. Casino Royale contrariwise offers a corner of the same intimacy as Moonraker but without the high adventure gamepieces. Moonraker is a fantastic compromise on the first two novels. I wouldn't necessarily expect a 12 year old to love CR. I could see loving LALD at that age. But if there was any Bond book I'd expect to feel the same as an adult about as I did a kid, I think Moonraker would be it. The adventure and the intimacy. Two halves worth loving.

    Favorite chapter: "A Golden Day" - It's been "Cards With A Stranger" but this time around it was Bond and Gala's trouble on the beach. The descriptions which start the chapter off are lovely, and I especially enjoy Bond and Gala's getting to know one another.

    I haven't said anything about Gala yet, so I'll just say now: she's the first Fleming heroine who actually seemed to come alive for me beyond what was on the page. She definitely comes across as some kind of an achievement he had been building towards (though perhaps not so much as, or perhaps merely in a different way than, Tiffany will be shortly).

    Never noticed: "They consider he's one of them, but a glorified version. A sort of superman. He's not much to look at, with all those scars from his war injuries, and he's a bit loud-mouthed and ostentatious. But they rather like that. Makes him a sort of Lonsdale figure, but more in their class."

    Better or worse: I'm going to go with better, just because it's been too long, and it seems to me that if it wasn't worse, it's always better. ;) Besides which, for some inexplicable reason this time around, I was picturing Peter Dinklage as Drax, which was most good and worked really well in my head!

    --

    Diamonds Are Forever

    The characters are what I love most of all in this one. Wint and Kidd, Shady Tree, the Spangs — each of them colorful and oozing off the page. Tiffany Case, too. To this point in the series she's my favorite of Fleming's girls, more than Gala. I find the two of them, Gala and Tiffany, much better on the whole than Vesper and Solitaire, who felt rather more like story pieces than people (although for their stories it worked; they were dreams...)

    Gala and Tiffany are alive, though. I buy into them more. The reason I prefer Tiffany slightly, I think, is because I find her history more engaging. Though Gala feels genuine, I'm not sure Fleming explores her in the same way.

    Now, for all this talk of life, what doesn't come to life are the locales. This might be the only Fleming where the world doesn't pop off the page for me. It's like Florida in Live and Let Die, except for the whole book. I also get the impression that the story wanders away from Fleming as it did in that earlier novel, but not so detrimentally. I think he's a better writer here—or a more experienced novelist, perhaps—and like I said his characters are really the blood of this one, they really pull the thing along of their own will.

    I love how Fleming plays with diamonds as a vehicle for death and sex, and I love how that plays into the somewhat hard-boiled world Bond gets tossed into. I also really do like the final two chapters, even if the final one's execution feels somewhat jarring and a little out of rhythm with the rest of the book. More specifically I like how the arc of Bond's character plays into things. Take:

    "He sighed and shrugged his shoulders. And now to take the sheets and get Tiffany back to his cabin without being seen, cut down the rope dangling from his porthole, throw it out into the sea with the spare magazines for the Beretta and the empty holster and then, at last, an age of sleep with her dear body dovetailed against his and his arms round her forever.

    Forever?

    As he walked slowly across the cabin to the bathroom, Bond met the blank eyes of the body on the floor.

    And the eyes of the man whose Blood Group had been F spoke to him and said, 'Mister. Nothing is forever. Only death is permanent. Nothing is forever except what you did to me.'"


    And:

    "So this was the end of the diamond pipeline. And the last page on the file. He took a deep lungful of smoke and let it out between his teeth in a long, quiet sigh. Six corpses to love. Game and set.

    [...]

    So this great red full stop marked the end of the Spangled Mob and the end of their fabulous traffic in diamonds. But not the end of the diamonds that were baking at the heart of the fire. They would survive and move off again across the world, discoloured, perhaps, but indestructible, as permanent as death.

    And Bond suddenly remembered the eyes of the corpse which had once had a Blood Group F. They had been wrong. Death is forever. But so are diamonds."

    Bond dropped down off the truck and started walking slowly towards the leaping fire. He smiled grimly to himself. All this business about death and diamonds was too solemn. For Bond it was just the end of another adventure. Another adventure for which a wry phrase of Tiffany Case might be the epitaph. He could see the passionate, ironical mouth saying the words:

    'It reads better than it lives.'


    Great ending.

    Favorite chapter: Probably "Love and Sauce Béarnaise" - Of all the characters in this novel, Bond and Tiffany are at the forefront and their conversation over dinner in this chapter is wonderful.

    Never noticed: You guys are right in that reading these in orders makes connections more apparent: "The black frogman's suit fitted tightly. It hurt everywhere. Why the hell hadn't Strangways made certain the Admiralty got his measurements right? And it was very dark under the sea and the currents were strong, pulling him against the coral. He would have to swim hard against them. But now something had got him by the arm. What the hell...?" Never made the connection to Live and Let Die. Nor the one to this moment in Doctor No.

    Better or worse:
    I'm going to go 'better' simply because reading them in order does enrich the experience. If I had just picked this one up cold, I don't know.

    --

    From Russia With Love

    I had a very good time reading this one. My most enjoyable read of it, for sure. The first time I tried reading it years ago I barely managed to get through the first hundred pages; my second reading some time later gave the thing a boost into good to very good territory; now this revisit, my third time through it, completely captivated me, and I'm firmly in the excellent camp.

    I tore through this book in a day. This has kind of become my base metric in evaluating the novels this time through: can I put it down? With LALD and DAF I could. CR, MR, and now FRWL, I couldn't.

    Why now and not those other times? I think, partly, because reading the books in order, sticking so closely to Bond, that it was nice to finally escape him for a while and get into the head of some other characters. I'm sure Fleming was feeling the same way.

    Bond is in a right funk to start this one off. I think it's interesting that his and Tiffany's year of domesticity would have pretty much been exactly the same he wanted to have with Vesper. And what does it do but dull him to the extent that he never figures out the trap. There's something going on, in general, involving the ease with which Bond 'falls in love,' the part of him that wants to escape into love, the part that hates killing in cold blood — but then too the other part, the one that needs the job to feel alive, the part that isn't really in love but is using woman to inspire himself towards great acts of courage. Sex and death and love and life are all in some big, inseparable stew. And Kronsteen's plan preys upon that — using the idea of falling in love as a means of death for Bond. Love as a means of death. At the beginning of the novel this is metaphorical. It soon becomes literal.

    Before moving on, I also have to comment on Kerim. Fleming's finest creation so far. Some of what he says is obviously terribly dated, but the absolute light and love of life emanating from him is so captivating that it radiates beyond all that. Has anyone read any Nikos Kazantzakis? I think his Zorba and Kerim would get along.

    Favorite chapter: I'm not sure I can pick one. "The Slaughterer," "Darko Kerim," and "The Killing Bottle" all come to mind.

    Never noticed: In my response to Live and Let Die above I said:
    Strog wrote:
    Never noticed: The slim relationship between this quote from Mr. Big: "It has become almost a mania with me to impart an absolute rightness, a high elegance, to the execution of my affairs" and the following by Bond in CR: "I take a ridiculous pleasure in what I eat and drink. It comes partly from being a bachelor, but mostly from a habit of taking a lot of trouble over details." Fleming comes across as a man who would agree and practice that attitude of exactness and attention to detail, and I think it's interesting what parts of himself he injected not only into Bond but also into his villains.

    Right before that quoted bit from LALD is this:

    'Mister Bond, I suffer from boredom. I am a prey to what the early Christians called "accidie", the deadly lethargy that envelops those who are sated, those who have no more desires. I am absolutely pre-eminent in my chosen profession, trusted by those who occasionally employ my talents, feared and instantly obeyed by those whom I myself employ. I have, literally, no more worlds to conquer within my chosen orbit.'

    And here in FRWL we have:

    At 7.30 on the morning of Thursday, August 12th, Bond awoke in his comfortable flat in the plane-tree'd square off the King's Road and was disgusted to find that he was thoroughly bored with the prospect of the day ahead. Just as, in at least one religion, accidie is the first of the cardinal sins, so boredom, and particularly the incredible circumstance of waking up bored, was the only vice Bond utterly condemned.

    Again, there's the impression of Fleming suffering from this same accidie, injecting it into both his hero and villains, thereby also connecting Bond with what he fights. It's also interesting that where Big was the one who was "pre-eminent" in his chosen profession, by FRWL it is Bond, and that's what ultimately puts the target on his back.

    Better or worse: Better. Much better.

    --

    Doctor No

    I like the balance this one provides to From Russia With Love. A far less complicated plot that opposes the intellectual and moves towards instinctual, the mythic. The first half comes decently enough; it's more engaging than either LALD or DAF, partly because I think Fleming's writing is sharper here, but it's merely a decent setup for an extraordinary second half. Once Bond is on Crab Key, this turns into top notch stuff.

    Part of that is down to Honey. She's a fully realized blend of Vesper/Solitaire's dreaminess and Gala/Tiffany's genuineness. It's nice to see Quarrel return, and Fleming handles his death quite well. You have to regret sometimes knowing ahead which characters die and such (even from the first reading, if you watch the films). I wonder how much more moved I would be otherwise, especially here with Quarrel and with Kerim in the last one.

    I found the opening scenes fascinating. The thought that Bond strolls into the office, as usual, even after the ordeal at the end of FRWL, loyal to M to the point of being ready for whatever assignment awaits is jolting; made even more so by M's dismissal of the issues raised by the doctor. Then made doubly so as we begin to see how M treats him. It jolts Bond, too. This read it struck me that perhaps M isn't upset with Bond so much as he's feeling guilt himself.

    Is there some parallel too between the way M 'uses' Bond and Bond later 'uses' Quarrel—exploiting his loyalty to a degree? And if this parallel is valid, it then makes me wonder if M knows more at the start than he lets on, too. As Bond burns the telegram and the newspaper which would announce the danger Quarrel would face, perhaps M knows something treacherous is afoot upfront at the very start but needs Bond, his best man, there, and so keeps him in the dark. Bond's holiday in the sunshine to Quarrel's tropical picnic?

    Favorite chapter: "The Long Scream" - I love, love the obstacle course. I hope it makes it fully into the films one day, squid and all. It's so fantastical.

    Never noticed: This feeds into the thing I never noticed about DAF—namely the nightmare Bond has of his swim from LALD. The fact that he has nightmares about it gets a mention here that I never picked up on:

    "They came to the gate leading to the bungalow. Quarrel got out and opened the gate, and Bond drove through and pulled up in the yard behind the white single-storeyed house. It was very quiet. Bond walked round the house and across the lawn to the edge of the sea. Yes, there it was, the stretch of deep, silent water--the submarine path he had taken to the Isle of Surprise. It sometimes came back to him in nightmares."

    Better or worse: I'll go better simply because I appreciate the first half more. It's decent, but it does what it must quite well. Again, reading in order helps appreciate it. This was another book that I couldn't put down.

    --

    Goldfinger

    I've read this book twice before. It's the longest Fleming yet it's flown by each time, and here again too. I've always loved the film, and same thing with the book. I can just slip into it, and away we go. Not as much goes on plot-wise as in some of the others, but I still never do seem to want to take a break from it. Unlike Doctor No I'd say here that the first half is better than the second. However, I think, like the film, the atmosphere the story takes place in counts for a heck of a lot more than the story itself. Fleming's writing makes it an easy ride, too.

    Bond seems different at the beginning. In my mind's eye I was picturing for the first time a noticeably older figure than I have been. I'm not sure what triggered this particularly. Bond's recounting of the death of the Mexican, perhaps. That—and his questioning later of his 'going soft'—certainly carries more weight here than it has ever done. It's always seemed a character flourish localized to this narrative, to do something different and add some interest, but I can see now how Fleming's been building to it.

    Encountering Auric for the first time, I have to say that Fleming does a remarkable job keeping his villains distinct. Goldfinger feels fundamentally different from No, as he in turn does from Grant, the Spangs, et. al. Reading the books out of order, I think it's easier to imagine the villains as being more 'stock' than they are. But reading the books back to back has revealed the opposite. I think they each hold their own quite well.

    I will say that the finale fell a little flat for me this time. It's compelling enough to get through, simply to see how things turn out, but I was a bit disinterested in the how of it playing out. The whole thing gets rather complicated and I don't know if Fleming manages to throw all the balls up and catch them satisfactorily.

    Favorite chapter: "The Cup and the Lip" - The gold match is a highlight of the entire series, and I love Bond delivering Goldfinger his second comeuppance.

    Never noticed: "Bond glanced at the Miami Herald. The front page was devoted to yesterday's failure of an American ICBM at the near-by Cape Canaveral and a bad upset in a big race at Hialeah."

    Two news items that would surely have proved interesting to Bond on two particular past cases!

    Better or worse: I'm going with 'stay even,' which isn't n option I've given myself but there you have it. (Have yet to his a 'worse' though Diamonds came close. This re-read is going great, and I'm having a ball.)
  • Posts: 684
    Agent_99 wrote: »
    Welcome, @Strog! That was a great review - I'd never thought of Bond and Vesper's relationship that way, and it makes a lot of sense. And reviewing the novels in groups of two or three is going to throw up some interesting comparisons.
    I was hoping it didn't sound like nonsense, so I'm glad to have your support, @Agent_99! Of course Fleming himself admitted he wasn't writing Shakespeare, so I don't imagine he was trying to do anything too deep with their relationship. In the end, as Vesper says in her note, she did love Bond. But paying attention throughout to what body language Fleming provided her was, I thought, revealing.
  • BirdlesonBirdleson San Jose, CA
    Posts: 24,335
    That was some excellent reading @Strog , your enthusiasm comes through clearly. I also love the format of your reviews (I actually never caught that last bit from the Miami Herald, myself). If you've gone back and read through this thread, you'll know that you're far from alone in favoring MOONRAKER, it is the quintessential 1950s' Bond novel.

    I also read these books (and watch these movies) with those boyhood first experiences right there watching with me and through me.

    I look forward to seeing the next set of reviews. I'm going to get around to putting my thoughts on COLONEL SUN up here (overwhelmingly positive).
  • Posts: 684
    Thanks @Birdleson! I really am enjoying myself immensely.

    I'm pleased the format is working for you. I was slightly worried initially about not being able to delve as deeply into the commentary as this thread seemed to. But it's worked out for the best I think. Keeping each brief has helped me streamline my thoughts. I'm planning on doing some responses to some past comments once I get caught up, at least, and most certainly those involving Moonraker.
    Birdleson wrote: »
    I also read these books (and watch these movies) with those boyhood first experiences right there watching with me and through me.
    It's a beautiful thing!
    I look forward to seeing the next set of reviews. I'm going to get around to putting my thoughts on COLONEL SUN up here (overwhelmingly positive).
    I'm quite looking forward to re-visiting Thunderball more than any of them. That was the one that always rivaled Moonraker for my affections.

    As for Colonel Sun, I look forward to hearing your thoughts...and to reading it. I have to confess, I suppose: I've never gone beyond Fleming. But I'm totally up for it. I suppose I shall have to find myself a nice edition and buy it soon. I should be on TMWTGG before I know it.
  • BirdlesonBirdleson San Jose, CA
    edited March 4 Posts: 24,335
    COLONEL SUN (along with, a bit less enthusiastically, the two Christopher Wood adaptations) is the only continuation novel I can heartily endorse. Kingsley Amis had been somewhat sanctioned by Fleming (with his earlier Bond related works), he wrote it in the '60s (it picks up right where Fleming left off in real time), and it is a great book in its own tight; far better than it's closest competitor.
  • Agent_99Agent_99 Enjoys a spirited ride as much as the next girl
    Posts: 1,621
    I loved reading your reviews, @Strog - especially Moonraker, because that's always been my favourite too. And what a great memory of picking it up for the first time!
  • edited March 3 Posts: 2,464

    I do always find that odd—that moment where Bond (or the book asking in Bond's place) fleetingly wonders whether the Guardians did in fact nod their heads. You would think Bond would be immune to that, despite occasionally having thoughts having to do with Western Christianity. But then again, he is under a great deal of stress with what he's been through in life and what he still has to face at this point. Maybe he's not quite himself here—the combination of the setting and the stresses he's been through compounding for him.

    There are plenty of Westerners for whom Christianity is a poisoned vessel and they have thoroughly rejected it. Still, the human instinct toward spiritual belief is a strong one, and these types of folks sometimes end up embracing -- or at least, remaining receptive to -- Eastern spiritual systems. I always suspected that Fleming was one of these, and so he made Bond in his own image in this regard.
  • Agent_99Agent_99 Enjoys a spirited ride as much as the next girl
    Posts: 1,621
    Bless me Bondians for I have sinned, it has been two months since my last book review.

    THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN

    Edition I read: Pan with the Raymond Hawkey cover. There’s an ad in the back for two Modesty Blaise novels: ‘A girl who eats James Bonds for breakfast’. Cheek!

    Where I read it: Underwater! A brief spell of unseasonably lovely weather got me hopping on the Eurotunnel to spend last Sunday motorcycling around northern France, and TMWTGG passed the time I spent under the Channel. (When I wasn't embarrassing myself in front of the guy who was checking tickets and had a ridiculously sexy French accent.)

    James Bond

    Bond can bounce back from anything, whether it's his wife's murder or Soviet reconditioning, and the cure is always a bit of action. I'd have liked to have seen a bit more evidence later in the book of how the past year has affected him, but it's nice to see him back in the game, and by this point he's probably got pretty good at blocking out unpleasant memories.

    I love the bit where his gun hand twitches like a dreaming dog’s paw.

    The villain

    Scaramanga makes rather a dull villain, which is a shame given the tremendous potential he has when introduced: the marksmanship! The signature weapon! The third nipple! All that, just to spend most of the book dealing in real estate with a bunch of shady characters who themselves are mere shadows of the hoods we meet in DAF or GF.

    He displays incredible lack of caution and poor decision-making over Bond, but then Bond does the same for him.

    It's only in his death scene that Scaramanga really comes into his own as a stone cold killer, eater of snakes and all-round devious bastard. One feels that Bond's code of honour goes a little too far in letting him live as long as he does.

    The girl

    I can see why Bond falls hard and fast for Mary Goodnight. A part of his comfortable, secure past turns up unexpectedly in an exciting new setting (and exciting new clothes). As his secretary, she was off limits, but as someone else's, she’s fair game.

    Fleming’s description of her dress is my favourite piece of writing in the book: ‘a one-piece short-skirted frock in the colour of a pink gin with a lot of bitters in it - the orangey-pink of the inside of a conch shell’.

    Other cast

    A great look at what goes on behind the scenes at the Secret Service when they have to deal with loonies, which must happen with tedious regularity, and a reassurance that M, Tanner and Moneypenny care deeply about Bond.

    Sir James Molony must, at this point, think 'oh no, not him again' whenever the subject of 007 comes up.

    I’d forgotten Felix was in this! He and James really do adore each other, don’t they? Fleming draws a veil over what happens after their initial meeting, but I bet it involved a big old manly man-hug.

    Special mention to the policeman who goes into a swamp after two armed men with nothing but a nightstick and the knowledge that killing a police officer is a capital offence.

    The plot

    This has to be one of the best openings, full of mystery and suspense. We've leaped forward from where we last saw Bond, sailing away from Japan towards the USSR, and now he's back in London but something feels off...

    You wonder how Bond is going to claw his way back from his reprogramming and the attempted murder of M, but it seems remarkably easy to undo, and he's back to his old self again.

    From here, the plot is pretty straightforward and a little slight: Bond is asked to carry out an assassination, Bond carries out an assassination, with his usual combination of good luck, bad luck, and poor decision-making.

    The location

    It’s mostly Jamaica, which feels like a nice little holiday for Bond, returning to his old haunts, and means Fleming doesn’t have to do too much hard work on the research front.

    (Bond recalls the events of Dr No and then gets to drive a Sunbeam Alpine, which is surely a callback to the film. And how ungrateful of Honey not to write to him! Not even a Christmas card?)

    Fleming really goes to town describing the train, right down to the old advertisements on the platform and the typeface used for the name of the station. It’s weird and surreal and the perfect place for a climax.

    Food & drink

    Pretty slim pickings unless you're a kling-kling - and they, poor things, have to pay a high price for their supper.

    Bond starts hallucinating a banquet while he's chasing Scaramanga in the swamp. Usually his thoughts turn to girls when he's confused and delirious.

    I bet he really missed fine dining while he was in Russia. In fact, tempting him with a decent meal is probably how MI6 got him back on side.

    Miscellany

    I went into this one with a sense of trepidation, but I ended up enjoying it more than I had before. I still think YOLT would have had more impact as a final novel, and TMWTGG is unlikely to trouble my top five, but it is a short, sweet coda to the original Bond series. 007 is back; all is well. I'd like to think that’s how Fleming wanted to leave things.
  • ThunderfingerThunderfinger He is SOMEWHERE!
    Posts: 29,742
    @Agent_99 , I enjoyed reading that.
  • Agent_99Agent_99 Enjoys a spirited ride as much as the next girl
    Posts: 1,621
    Thank you, @Thunderfinger! I enjoyed writing it (as you can probably tell)!
  • BirdlesonBirdleson San Jose, CA
    Posts: 24,335
    Agent_99 wrote: »
    ...but it is a short, sweet coda to the original Bond series. 007 is back; all is well. I'd like to think that’s how Fleming wanted to leave things.

    Me too.
  • Creasy47Creasy47 In Cuba with Natalya.
    Posts: 30,648
    Fashionably late to the party, but I'm going to do a ranking anyway as I've been working on the novels since earlier this week. Two down already, on to MR.

    As much as I like CR the film, the novel is just so vivid and attention-grabbing to me, especially in those last 70-80 pages which was when I really took off and couldn't put the book down. I wouldn't have minded the film adaptation going that way; would've been slower paced and without a grand, explosive finale, but still, I thought it was a lot more personal and emotional, the angle Fleming took.

    LALD was fairly solid - didn't necessarily wow me, a bit sluggish in parts (mainly from the time he dispatches The Robber to when Bond and Quarrel are prepping over that week period), but a good cast of characters and some very rich detail made it a joy, as all the novels likely are. Reading through Bond and Leiter's trip through Harlem was so well done that it felt like the closest to 1950's club hopping as I'll ever get to experience.

    2018 Novel Ranking:

    1. CR
    2. LALD
  • ThunderfingerThunderfinger He is SOMEWHERE!
    Posts: 29,742
    @Creasy47 , is chapter five called "Seventh Avenue" in your edition?
  • Creasy47Creasy47 In Cuba with Natalya.
    Posts: 30,648
    @Creasy47 , is chapter five called "Seventh Avenue" in your edition?

    I have the Penguin Edition, and it retained the original 'Nigger Heaven' chapter title. I just looked into it, had no clue the chapter was renamed in the American version, though that's not surprising.
  • Creasy47Creasy47 In Cuba with Natalya.
    Posts: 30,648
    Moonraker

    DAMN, was that a good novel (finished it a couple days back, forgot to post). I went into it knowing my expectations of the film, and I was delighted to find the whole novel felt very contained around Drax's estate and the Moonraker launch site; felt akin to a proper detective mystery, with all the Bond flair and extravagance tossed in for good measure. Comes close to rivaling CR for my favorite thus far, a cracking good time. DAF is next, think I'll start that one tomorrow.

    2018 Novel Ranking:

    1. CR
    2. MR
    3. LALD
  • Agent_99Agent_99 Enjoys a spirited ride as much as the next girl
    Posts: 1,621
    A popular choice in these parts, @Creasy47! Glad you had a good time with it; it's my favourite, followed by CR and OHMSS.
  • Creasy47Creasy47 In Cuba with Natalya.
    Posts: 30,648
    It very well could topple CR for me, I haven't decided just yet. They're both excellent.
  • ThunderfingerThunderfinger He is SOMEWHERE!
    Posts: 29,742
    MR fights with GF for being my fav.
  • Posts: 684
    MR fights with GF for being my fav.
    For me it's between MR and TB.

    MR seems to just always edge it.
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