'Ian Fleming: The Complete Man' by Nicholas Shakespeare

Red_SnowRed_Snow Australia
in Literary 007 Posts: 2,498
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Release Date: 3 October 2023

A fresh portrait of the man behind James Bond, and his enduring impact, by an award-winning biographer with unprecedented access to the Fleming Archive.

Ian Fleming's greatest creation, James Bond, has had an enormous and ongoing impact on our culture. What Bond represents about ideas of masculinity, the British national psyche and global politics has shifted over time, as has the interpretation of the life of his author. But Fleming himself was more mysterious and subtle than anything he wrote.

Ian's childhood with his gifted brother Peter and his extraordinary mother set the pattern for his ambition to be 'the complete man', and he would strive for the means to achieve this 'completeness' all his life. Only a writer for his last twelve years, his dramatic personal life and impressive career in Naval Intelligence put him at the heart of critical moments in world history, while also providing rich inspiration for his fiction. Exceptionally well connected, and widely travelled, from the United States and Soviet Russia to his beloved Jamaica, Ian had access to the most powerful political figures at a time of profound change.

Nicholas Shakespeare is one of the most gifted biographers working today. His talent for uncovering material that casts new light on his subjects is fully evident in this masterful, definitive biography. His unprecedented access to the Fleming archives and his nose for a story make this a fresh and eye-opening picture of a man who lived his life in the shadow of his famous creation.


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Comments

  • Posts: 2,896
    The Sunday Times has published a review, by Max Hastings. Some excerpts:

    James Bond is the world’s best-known spy hero — but the life of 007’s creator was more like a triumph of failure

    Ian Fleming was the most globally influential British writer of the 20th century. You disagree, citing Waugh, Orwell and Uncle Tom Cobley? In Nome, Alaska, or Ulan Bator hardly a sledge dog has heard of Orwell, but the entire population knows James Bond.

    Yet his creator spent the first 44 years of his life amassing a remarkable record of failures. He left Eton prematurely, fled from Sandhurst, flunked the Foreign Office exam and threw up a promising journalistic career to become an unhappy stockbroker.

    While a whizz with women, he seemed incapable of sustaining a relationship. When once he did so, with his Swiss lover Monique Panchaud de Bottens, he was forced to break off their engagement because his appalling mother, Eve, gave her the thumbs-down.

    ...Nicholas Shakespeare, who wrote the definitive study of Bruce Chatwin, has compiled a monumental record of Fleming’s life: every lover, friendship and (almost) round of golf. The completeness of the book is beyond doubt, although its subject was a heroically incomplete human being.

    ...Shakespeare convincingly shows that Fleming, like many romantics and adventurers, found a personal fulfilment in wartime. But I cannot accept his claim that his man became an important player in the intelligence community and was mistreated by being denied a decoration in 1945. Evidence from both war and peace suggests that while many people found Fleming entertaining, few took him seriously.

    Until, that is, he became a global bestseller. How did he do it? How did he, in the last 12 years of an abbreviated life, invent a world-conquering superhero, boosted latterly by the terrific movies of Harry Saltzman, Cubby Broccoli and Sean Connery, which added jokes to the humour-free stories?

    First, the flipside of Fleming’s delusional make-up was that his narratives were suffused with absolute belief in his ludicrous plots and characters. Next, he was a descriptive writer of the highest gifts. From Russia with Love, especially, still reads superbly. When I research real Russian spies, I am struck by how well Fleming caught the spirit and language of such brutes. And Bond, like the entirely comparable Sherlock Holmes, suspends our disbelief to seem capable of single-handedly saving the Empire.

    His creator conveyed a sense of authority, even omniscience, that was often spurious — for instance, about guns — but fooled most of us. He wrote as a supposed gourmet, but the food at Goldeneye was notoriously awful. Fleming’s fantasy club, Blades, hardly sounds inviting when such arch-villains as Hugo Drax were members, although I suppose that is likewise true of White’s.

    Fleming brought to his tales immense experience of women, although whether he really liked them, as distinct from enjoying sex, is debatable. His 1952 marriage to Ann Charteris, a social lioness with a predator’s taste for human raw meat, brought misery to both.

    ...The last lines of Shakespeare’s book describe how, after Fleming’s 1964 death from a heart attack, aged only 56, a friend discovered the pages of a new, unfinished Bond story and excitedly showed them to his widow. Who promptly chucked them on the fire.

    Shakespeare leaves no future biographer much to discover. Fleming’s place in history is assured. But after viewing his train wreck of a life, no sane person could envy Thunderballs, as Cyril Connolly and Ann Fleming sadistically mocked him.
  • RichardTheBruceRichardTheBruce I'm motivated by my Duty.
    Posts: 13,161
    Oh historian Max Hastings, very familiar to me for The Korean War. It's great he has the interest to opine on the subject and I trust his judgment.

    Seems reviewer Hastings plus author Nicholas Shakespeare have some unpleasant items to share, not a surprise. And not saying they're wrong to do so.

    Even with these short excerpts, revealing.

  • mattjoesmattjoes People's Republic of Matjoeguay
    Posts: 6,823
    Interesting, will consider buying. I'm curious to know more about Fleming's standing in the intelligence community, which the Sunday Times reviewer made reference to.
  • Posts: 1,726
    Does it cover his involvement in the creation of Napoleon Solo, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.?
  • Posts: 2,896
    More reviews are coming in, this time from the Guardian and the Literary Review.
  • LucknFateLucknFate 007 In New York
    Posts: 1,459
    What are the odds any are in a bookstore in Manhattan right now? Anyone know how Id find out easily for pickup?
  • edited October 2023 Posts: 2,896
    Unfortunately the American version won't be published until March 12, 2024! I have no idea why. The British version is being released Oct. 5 (this Thursday) and Americans can buy it from international booksellers like Blackwells (I purchased a copy from there just now--good price and free shipping) or search Abebooks and Ebay.
  • Posts: 2,896
    More reviews are in, this time from The New Statesman and The Spectator.
  • LucknFateLucknFate 007 In New York
    Posts: 1,459
    Revelator wrote: »
    Unfortunately the American version won't be published until March 12, 2024! I have no idea why. The British version is being released Oct. 5 (this Thursday) and Americans can buy it from international booksellers like Blackwells (I purchased a copy from there just now--good price and free shipping) or search Abebooks and Ebay.

    Thanks, as always!
  • RichardTheBruceRichardTheBruce I'm motivated by my Duty.
    Posts: 13,161
    Another edition uses a familiar image on its cover.

    9781854108982-us.jpg
    48592E3C7BE9068D19121F53593D180D7C5008D1.jpg
  • VenutiusVenutius Yorkshire
    edited October 2023 Posts: 2,948
    Max Hastings was Boris Johnson's former boss. He said that Johnson 'wouldn't recognise truth if confronted by it in an identity parade', said he was 'unfit for national office' and that, if elected, Johnson's premiership would be 'shambling from one embarrassment and debacle to another'. So, yes, I'd trust Hasting's judgment too!
  • Posts: 2,896
    A couple more reviews trickled in while I was on vacation...

    After a long summary of Fleming's life The Economist concludes:
    Though there have been at least seven other books written about Fleming, Mr Shakespeare’s is likely to be remembered as definitive, though overlong. What he does not do is make Fleming likeable. Despite Fleming’s patriotism and notable contributions to Britain’s war effort, the picture Mr Shakespeare draws is of an entitled, selfish misogynist.

    Some think the same could be said of Bond as Fleming wrote him. Many people believe that the books, with what one contemporary critic decried as their “sex, snobbery and sadism”, are skilfully crafted but feel very much of their time—and not in a good way. They consider the films, updated to reflect the tastes of their day, to be rather better, in one of those rare occasions where the films outshine the books they are based on. Fortunately for Fleming’s fragile ego, he will never know.

    Fortunately The Economist's critics are anonymous. I hardly need to point out that plenty of Bond films are "very much of their time—and not in a good way."

    The review from the Financial Times is considerably more intelligent and pairs Shakespeare's biography with a recent one of John Le Carre. Some excerpts:
    Ian Fleming: patrician fantasist who peddled macho derring-do and empire nostalgia to the sensation-hungry masses of the cold war era. John le Carré: upright “secular saint” who unsparingly dissected the shabby hypocrisies of his former trade, his reality-averse nation, and the post-1945 global order. Between them, the hedonist and the moralist defined not just the poles of spy fiction but rival visions of Britishness. But, whatever the appeal of the Bond franchise in print and, overwhelmingly, on screen, a critical consensus still sends the latter writer’s reputation to the heights, the former’s to the floor.

    These very different books — one a definitive biography that deepens and reshapes previous versions of Fleming’s life, the other a brief “secret annexe” to Adam Sisman’s 2015 biography that discloses details of his subject’s extramarital affairs — put that accepted wisdom to the test. A literary chasm still yawns between le Carré’s best work, in classics such as A Perfect Spy, and Fleming’s “efficient, spare, masculine, austere” prose.

    As for the men behind the icons, Sisman paints Cornwell not just as a serial adulterer but a chilly manipulator who, one lover wrote, “goes around being other people’s missing halves . . . then slips away”. Shakespeare’s Fleming, though, emerges as “capable of being sympathetic, funny, vital, humane”. A former mistress met him before he died (at 56, in 1964) and readily recalled “the good, fine, courageous and generous things in his character”.

    Both spy writers cultivated their genre patch as a field of national dreams. Shakespeare quotes a former head of MI6 who lauds the “reputational, myth-building” value of 007. Even le Carré’s downbeat work, according to another spy chief, “gave us another couple of generations of being in some way special”. Gung-ho Bond and conscience-stricken Smiley alike did their bit for British espionage exceptionalism.

    However, a gulf divides the real-world records of both men. Cornwell, son of a shameless but plausible criminal conman, achieved respectability as an Eton teacher before passing an “uneventful” few years as an MI6 officer in Bonn; in 1963, his third novel The Spy Who Came In from the Cold launched his full-time authorial career. To Sisman, his mania for applying the rigmarole of the trade — cut-outs, dead-letter drops and so on — to his affairs rescued this “very minor” agent’s self-image as a master of deception, with adultery “an ersatz form of spycraft”. The victims, though, were not KGB killers but Cornwell’s wives, Ann and Jane.

    In contrast, Fleming, the feckless child of privilege, now looks like the real secret-service deal. In Shakespeare’s biography, light-footed and swift-moving despite its copious research, only on page 453 does the subject sit down in February 1952 at his Jamaican home to type the first page of Casino Royale. His writer’s life lasted a dozen years. From 1939 to 1945, however, the effective deputy to the chief of naval intelligence had acted as what his boss, Admiral John Godfrey, called a “war-winner”.

    Shredded documents and service omertà mean that Shakespeare views various incidents through “frosted partitions”. He still stacks up enough evidence to illustrate Fleming at work as a “proxy spy chief”. Fleming was never Bond. Neither was he a paper-shuffling Admiralty drone. Think of him as an assistant “M”, in Whitehall and in the field, plotting to spirit Belgium’s gold reserves from Nazi-besieged Bordeaux or to seize German cipher machines.

    ...Shakespeare’s Fleming rises from these richly textured pages as a more substantial and sympathetic figure than the preening snob of myth. Whereas Sisman’s appendix to his own full-dress life can only tarnish Cornwell/le Carré’s name, with its forensic chronicle of “dishonesty, evasion and lying, for decade after decade”.

    ...Fleming the bedroom buccaneer seems a model of transparent lust compared with Cornwell’s creepy recruitment of female friends, fans and colleagues into his labyrinthine games of deceit.
  • Posts: 2,896
    Three more reviews, and probably the last we can expect until the American publication date.

    The Telegraph gives Shakespeare four out of five stars:
    ...In Fleming’s novel From Russia, with Love, a strategically placed Eric Ambler book prevents an assassin’s bullet from entering Bond’s heart. With a copy of Shakespeare’s biography, 007 could have stopped a cannonball: its size indicates an ambition to become the definitive Life. Yet it doesn’t offer a radically different portrait from those of Fleming’s previous biographers, John Pearson and Andrew Lycett.

    That said, it’s a richer reading experience, written with Fleming-esque brio and insouciance, with a feeling for the tragic aspects of his life as well as the ironic comedy of it. The amount of new testimony Shakespeare has truffled up about a man nearly 60 years dead is dizzying; he has secured fruitful interviews with the often tight-lipped Fleming family...everybody Shakespeare speaks to who knew him well adored him.

    ...[Shakespeare] quotes much praise for Fleming’s books from the likes of Betjeman and Larkin, but conveys little sense of really enjoying them himself, and offers surprisingly little detailed analysis of them. Still, his enthusiasm for Fleming the man, if not Fleming the author, has been sufficient to produce a book so buoyant and delicious that you feel it will be a friend for life.

    Max Hastings, who'd reviewed the book for the Sunday Times, revisits it for the Washington Post, in an article titled "Did James Bond Have a License to…Globalize?":
    ...Ever since the first Bond book, Casino Royale, was published in 1953, intellectuals — including Fleming’s own wife — have derided them. Yet I would argue that the books have real quality; that the author was a remarkably gifted storyteller who deserved his global triumph, though he died too soon — aged only 56, in 1964 — to enjoy much of the cash from them.

    ...In 2009, a pair of American academics, David C. Earnest and James N. Rosenau, made the case that Fleming, through the Bond stories, anticipated globalization and the rise of villainous nonstate actors such as Osama bin Laden and the Colombian drug cartels as threats to Western society: “These groups thrive by exploiting the inability of states to cooperate and maintain control of translational technological, financial, commercial and migratory flows.”

    ...The keys to the triumph of the original books —achieved only progressively, as into the early 1960s each new hit fired readers to backtrack to earlier titles — were, first, that Fleming was an exceptionally gifted descriptive writer. His accounts of 1950s New York, Miami, Las Vegas; of grey and grim Moscow; of smoggy London and exotic Istanbul, are masterpieces of travelogue.

    But more important even than the word-portraits is Fleming’s ability to make us believe absolutely in his own preposterous plots and villains. Putting the book down, we realize that it is an absurd notion that an ex-SS Nazi fanatic, Sir Hugo Drax, could have been authorized to construct a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile in Kent with the aid of 50 other impenitent Hitler fans, which Drax intends to fire at London. That was Moonraker.

    No sane person could credit that Auric Goldfinger recruits a private army of American gangsters to pillage Fort Knox with the connivance of Moscow. But Fleming did. Even in 1955, it was a tad politically incorrect to conceive a black super-criminal operating out of Harlem with an army of voodoo acolytes, looting Jamaican treasure and doing favors for the Kremlin. But that was Live and Let Die.

    ...The worse things get in the real world — the world of ravaged Ukraine, artificial intelligence and climate change — the more we crave the impeccably tuxedoed Bond in his vintage Bentley to solve everything for us. Rationally, we know that we ain’t going to get him. But we are allowed to dream, as did Fleming himself, in ways that continue to give us thrills seven decades on.

    Robert McCrum, who had written positively about Fleming during his stint as the Guardian's book critic, has good things to say about Shakespeare in The Independent:
    Apart from its length (more than 800 pages), this biography, which cheekily declares its subject “the complete man”, would have pleased Ian Fleming, a master of ruthless brevity and peerless storytelling. Nicholas Shakespeare’s Ian Fleming: The Complete Man is a sustained and engrossing homage to the Olympic icon of a beleaguered Britain, and a writer damned to fame. With scarcely a dull page, it’s a chip off the old block.

    ...Follow this self-centred bounder whom nobody quite understands, and you’ll find that to some he’s “a real snob”; to others “a sadist”; and still others, “inimitable and lovable”. It’s here that Shakespeare executes the first of several revisionist deviations from previous versions, identifying a young man with hidden, well-defended ambitions. His would-be writer emerges as “more mysterious and subtle than anything he wrote”.

    ...The war was the making of Ian Fleming, for the present and future. His naval intelligence work with Admiral Godfrey in “Room 39” became the bank of secret service lore at which he could cash cheques of inspiration for the rest of his short life. Shakespeare demonstrates that, far from being the “chocolate sailor” of clubland gossip, Commander Fleming’s gift for covert activity was a “war-winning” contribution. Godfrey’s verdict: “The Allies owe [Fleming] one of those great debts that can never be repaid.”

    ...Fleming wrote his first Bond novel, Casino Royale, in 1952. He was 44. Now, as this gilded life takes on a darker hue, Shakespeare shifts gear into a superb analysis of the way the astounding success of 007 became, like a classical curse, the thing that corroded Fleming’s life and creativity amidst the privations of post-war Britain.

    ...James Bond has many sources. At root, it was a calculated riposte to Britain’s post-imperial demoralisation from deep within the soul of a frustrated man whose other release was sado-masochistic sex. Shakespeare draws on a web of literary connection to explain Fleming’s catalyst of luck: the wannabe writer’s rendezvous with the zeitgeist. Bond was not an overnight success and history played its part.

    ...Only now, 60 years on, can we see his achievement for its charmed rarity. Bond is an immortal of English literature, next to Falstaff, Mrs Bennet, Pickwick, Jeeves and Sherlock Holmes. Whatever Fleming’s bitter late regrets, in Shakespeare’s version, this was a golden guinea of a life.
  • FeyadorFeyador Montreal, Canada
    Posts: 735
    I thought he was well served by the Lycett and Parker books ... but maybe aside from his WW2 career in naval intelligence, I didn’t realize there was much new to say about the man.
  • MaxCasinoMaxCasino United States
    Posts: 4,168


    Raymond Benson has read it, and given it his approval.
  • edited January 4 Posts: 2,896
    A negative review has appeared in The Times Literary Supplement. Some excerpts:
    Since last year marked the seventieth anniversary of the publication of his first novel, Casino Royale, it may be worth taking a necessarily brief look at what Fleming achieves in it.

    The passage of time has not treated it kindly. The creakiness of the plot is all too visible. The initial premiss that the villain, Le Chiffre, an accomplished player, could be best dealt with by being ruined at the baccarat table seems implausible. As is the appearance of the Russian assassin from Smersh as the deus ex machina who saves Bond from certain death. The role of Vesper Lynd, Bond’s colleague and sex interest, is unclear. She provides an unlikely ending by her implausible suicide...Characters are flat and description is uncompelling...There is little dramatic action, largely limited to what occurs at the baccarat table, where Bond’s triumph is a matter of chance. What he mainly does in the novel is experience suffering in both body and spirit. Given such enforced passivity, it may be suggestive that what is probably the most engaged writing is in the account of Bond’s torture by flagellation.

    What was the evident appeal of the book to its first audiences? Possibly an important aspect of the answer lies less in either character or plot than in the nature of the material world Fleming creates for Bond to inhabit. It is a world that is underpinned by its tone of vicarious consumerism, which opened up an exotic world outside the experience of most of his readers. First, most obviously, but significantly, it was Abroad, at a time when there were still severe restrictions on the possibility of getting there...And it was Abroad in a way that insisted on specifying the minutiae of luxury...None of this detail is relevant to plot or character. But it does establish a narrative voice, authoritative, informed and shaped by a sense of what are the good (that is, expensive) things of life, mostly unattainable in postwar austerity England.

    This aspect of Fleming’s prose...shows the historical, cultural and economic distance that separates the modern reader from James Bond’s experience of things. France is an hour away from London; champagne comes from the supermarket. Cigarettes, caviar and expensive cars are politically incorrect; Abroad is an established part of our experience. The element of vicarious consumer engagement that formed an important part of Casino Royale’s appeal for its initial readership has been diminished, the careful calibrations of Bond’s snobbish environment having little relationship or relevance to modern experience...

    ...Fleming was a minor literary talent who posthumously became a cultural phenomenon. For all the scrupulous diligence of Nicholas Shakespeare’s researches, and the detail he is able to amass and make highly readable, he cannot make Fleming’s life or his writings assume great significance. It is the afterlife of the novelist’s alter ego that matters today.
  • DragonpolDragonpol https://thebondologistblog.blogspot.com
    edited January 4 Posts: 17,882
    It's very disappointing for me to see the The Times Literary Supplement take such an unfair and critical stance on Ian Fleming, considering they used to be very favourable to all things Fleming and Bond. Not sure what has happened. Either they have a new editor or the reviewer is not a fan of Fleming. Conversely, Fleming was clearly a fan of the TLS, once writing:

    An essential item in my ‘Desert Island’ library would be The Times Literary Supplement, dropped to me each Friday by a well-trained albatross. If forced to produce some reason for my affection for the journal, I would lamely say that I am nearly always interested by its front page article, by the letters, although there are not enough of them, and, being myself a book collector, by its back page of bibliophily. But, less lamely, I would praise the anonymity of its writers and reviewers which surely lies at the root of the unshackled verdicts that are, sometimes to the point of splendidly savage denunciation, to be found in the T.L.S.

    (Thanks @Revelator )

    I recall the first sentence of that quote being put as a footer at the bottom of issues of the TLS back in 2008, during Fleming's Centenary year. It seems to me that since those days the TLS has taken a retrograde step in its reviews of Ian Fleming.
  • LucknFateLucknFate 007 In New York
    edited January 4 Posts: 1,459
    This aspect of Fleming’s prose...shows the historical, cultural and economic distance that separates the modern reader from James Bond’s experience of things. France is an hour away from London; champagne comes from the supermarket. Cigarettes, caviar and expensive cars are politically incorrect; Abroad is an established part of our experience. The element of vicarious consumer engagement that formed an important part of Casino Royale’s appeal for its initial readership has been diminished, the careful calibrations of Bond’s snobbish environment having little relationship or relevance to modern experience...

    Not exactly wrong, but I'd like to see this same energy invested into also attempting to find redeeming qualities about CR and Bond for a modern audience, because there's clearly something that still speaks to audiences today, for a full critique to be met.

    Do we want to discuss Fleming's ultimate significance in the modern Bond's world? Is he really that important today, if you have to twist his work into something he would hardly recognize for a modern audience to buy a ticket? It's an interesting suggestion. I would point to CR the film to say Fleming still lives on screen, but I would argue by NTTD we are far from Fleming's vision for the character.

    Also, as a car reviewer, expensive cars are not quite cancelled! At least not among their target market and audiences. That is laughable to suggest. I am also interested in @Dragonpol 's perspective regarding editor oversight at publications. Would be happy to dm you about it as I'm an editor! Sometimes I do look to my publication's past opinions on stuff like branding and marketing etc., but we try to keep reviews somewhat personable to the writer and have been moving away from a collective voice in our articles. That can lead to some strong headlines and opinions, but I feel my job as an editor should be to check that before it heads out of the door, so I agree that this pub should be a little more aware of its history and record in order to respect its audience.
  • edited January 4 Posts: 2,896
    Dragonpol wrote: »
    It's very disappointing for me to see the The Times Literary Supplement take such an unfair and critical stance on Ian Fleming, considering they used to be very favourable to all things Fleming and Bond. Not sure what has happened. Either they have a new editor or the reviewer is not a fan of Fleming. Conversely, Fleming was clearly a fan of the TLS.

    I don't think the TLS has had a positive word to say about Fleming in at least three decades. The review of Lycett's biography was also full of distaste for Fleming. As for the current reviewer, he's listed as the editor of anthology of 15th century poetry...which makes you wonder why the editor chose him. Why not someone like Jeremy Duns, who is a spy novelist and historian of spy novels?

    As for the reviewer's objections to Casino Royale, they're easily disposed of. Implausibility? Better arraign Hitchcock and everyone else who's made a thriller as well, since the genre depends on implausibilities. As Fleming wrote at the start, assassinating Le Chiffre would make him a martyr, so better to send the service's best gambler to bankrupt him and force Smersh's hand. The appearance of the Russian assassin, far from being "implausible," had been prepared for since chapter two, when we learn Smersh will certainly kill Le Chiffre if he can't return the money he embezzled.

    Nor is the role of Vesper "unclear." She's been sent as Bond's assistant, was chosen because she's a radio expert and speaks French, and works for the Head of the Soviet Station, who recommended the whole operation to begin with! Did the reviewer skip a few chapters? Nor is her suicide "implausible": she betrayed an organization devoted to hunting down and killing backsliders, she sent her old boyfriend to his death, and she knows she'd have no future with Bond after he learned she was a traitor. Suicide seems like a pretty plausible option!

    Flat characterization? True, it's not deep, but why has the reviewer said nothing about Bond's speech on the nature of evil, his doubts about his job, and how he undergoes a character arc, threatening to turn from a "wonderful machine" into a human being, and then reverting at the end? And while some of the most engaged writing is indeed in the torture section, what about the gambling scenes, some of the most dramatic and compelling in the entire book? Or is all that beyond the grasp of the reviewer?

    The reviewer suggests the appeal of Fleming, supposedly based in consumerism, has faded, thanks to "the historical, cultural and economic distance" that separates the modern reader Bond’s world. By the same logic, we should turn up our nose at the Sherlock Holmes stories, since those also have implausible events, shallow characterization, and take place in a world very far from our own. Look at all the distance between us and 1895!

    But fixating on consumerism blinds us to larger facts. Fleming did not simply list whatever the most expensive goods of any type were. He picked what what he personally thought best or appealing, so the books are an idiosyncratic record of one author's mentality. Beyond that, "consumerism" was merely part of Fleming's larger fixation on objects and detail, which he relied on to give his novels grounding in the real world and suspend the reader's disbelief in more fantastic elements. This focus on detail, whether in operation of a card game or dinner at a casino, allowed Fleming to capture a now lost mid-century world just as successfully as Doyle captured the London of 1895. Part of the modern appeal is precisely in the presentation of a now-distant world. Again, all this seems beyond the reviewer's ability to grasp...
    LucknFate wrote: »
    I would point to CR the film to say Fleming still lives on screen, but I would argue by NTTD we are far from Fleming's vision for the character. Also, as a car reviewer, expensive cars are not quite cancelled! At least not among their target market and audiences. That is laughable to suggest.

    Yes, that bit seemed especially out of touch. If expensive cars are so politically incorrect, why is Bond still driving them in the movies and why are they still selling so well? Even Teslas, which sell like hotcakes, can be pricey. Another sign that the TLS editors chose the wrong reviewer.

    While I wouldn't class Fleming as a great literary artist, I think Kingsley Amis got it right when he said we should place Fleming in the company of Doyle, H. Rider Haggard, Jules Verne, and other classic authors of adventure and enchantment. Yet there are still parts of the intelligentsia that refuse to do so and attempt to reduce his work into dismissable components, or insist that the movies are far more significant. But the most important and influential Bond films, the first four and OHMSS, were close adaptations of Fleming, and even NTTD borrows elements from the books. Anyway, one bad review out of a chorus of otherwise good ones isn't a tragedy. We'll see how American critics handle the book, but I'm not expecting much from them.
  • MrcogginsMrcoggins Following in the footsteps of Quentin Quigley.
    Posts: 3,144
    It's here and available to listen to on BBC sounds
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m001tq7x.
  • Posts: 2,896
    My prediction about the American critics is coming true. The New Yorker has reviewed the book alongside a biography of Franz Fanon, so the emphasis, reductive in the extreme, is on empire. Excerpts below.

    ***

    ...Today, they are probably the most enduring authors on decolonization, Fanon for and Fleming against...They saw the end of empire as a wrenching psychological event. Healing its wounds, both believed, would require violence.

    ...Fleming remained, to use Fanon’s phrase, “sealed in his whiteness.” His novels teem with outrageous stereotypes: Blacks are “apes,” Koreans are “lower than apes,” and the Japanese are a barely civilized “separate human species.” The thought of such people coming into their own was, for Fleming, alarming. The great powers will “reap the father and mother of a whirlwind by quote liberating unquote the colonial peoples,” one of Bond’s allies warns. “Give ’em a thousand years, yes. But give ’em ten, no. You’re only taking away their blow-pipes and giving them machine guns.”

    It’s a fear that haunts Fleming’s novels. Supervillains of complex hues menace the world from breakaway spaces: islands, large ships, secret fortresses, newly independent countries. “Mister Bond, power is sovereignty,” Doctor No, a half-Chinese criminal with a Caribbean island, explains. It falls to Bond to restore No’s island to British rule.

    This was imperialist escapism, and the more territory Britain lost the more Fleming’s sales grew. But Fleming struggled, amid success, to stay upbeat. In the final Bond novel, “The Man with the Golden Gun” (1965), written in the wake of Jamaican independence, the villains allude to a looming “big black uprising,” which Bond does nothing to forestall. He kills a Rastafarian (“He smelled quite horrible”) and forces some Jamaican women to dance naked. Yet he ends the book hospitalized, recovering from poison and, like [Anthony] Eden, “acute nervous exhaustion.”

    ...In the novels, Bond’s personal woes and Britain’s political ones are linked. They are resolved only when Bond, with his license to kill, rouses himself to dispatch the Empire’s enemies. This was Fanon in reverse: bloodshed as balm not for the colonized but the colonizer.

    ...Fleming wrote a terrible Bond novel from a woman’s perspective (“The Spy Who Loved Me”), and Fanon discussed Muslim women who infiltrated settler spaces...Yet, mostly, their protagonists were men, with women serving occasionally as props in men’s psychological journeys.

    ...Both authors redirected violence onto their partners: Fanon publicly struck his wife and Fleming practiced sadomasochism. And both saw women as complicit... “All women love semi-rape,” his lone female narrator explained. “They love to be taken.” After Bond kills Doctor No, his dark-skinned (yet white) Jamaican companion throws herself at him, demanding “slave-time.” Such passages are cringeworthy, but they weren’t misfires. Rape, torture, subjugation—this was empire, red in tooth and claw.

    ...Fleming also inserted references to the real-life C.I.A. director Allen Dulles, a known Bond admirer, into three of the books. Yet this flash of reality only highlights how much of Bond—the shark tanks, the loquacious villains, the endlessly up-for-it women—is consoling fantasy. Perhaps the largest consolation is the idea that, in the actual Cold War, a British spy would be allowed at the adults’ table.

    ...In 1962, the British, in a flurry of self-congratulation, allowed Jamaica to go free peacefully. Fleming insisted that Jamaicans still carried the Queen in their hearts, but the gin-soaked ruling class to which he belonged washed out with the tide.
  • FeyadorFeyador Montreal, Canada
    Posts: 735
    Highly selective and a tad simplistic. The New Yorker writer had a tendentious narrative and just ran with it, while ignoring, or just ignorant of that which might contradict it - or at least make more complex. And assigning comments made by fictional characters to Fleming himself is, of course, a highly dubious take at best. The Parker book instead, while far from an apologia, does a very good job at exploring Fleming in relation to race and empire.
  • Posts: 2,896
    Feyador wrote: »
    Highly selective and a tad simplistic. The New Yorker writer had a tendentious narrative and just ran with it, while ignoring, or just ignorant of that which might contradict it - or at least make more complex. And assigning comments made by fictional characters to Fleming himself is, of course, a highly dubious take at best. The Parker book instead, while far from an apologia, does a very good job at exploring Fleming in relation to race and empire.

    Thank you, I agree with every word! The New Yorker reviewer is not even a literary critic--if he was he might have been more wary of quote-mining, and of assigning comments made by fictional characters to Fleming himself. As you note, Matthew Parker's Goldeneye was far less heavy-handed and belitting in examining Fleming's ties to Jamaica and colonialism.

    The reviewer's strategy of examining the Bond novels primarily through the lens of colonialism doesn't go terribly far in explaining their appeal. Bond might make Jamaica safe for the British in three books, but what about the rest, the majority of the books? You'd have to strain pretty far to present *Goldfinger* as a story about colonialism. It's very easy to say the Bond books are imperialist escapism, yet much less easy to account why they and the films were and are so popular outside the UK.

    But the TLS and New Yorker reviews are valuable in reminding us that those who choose to chalk Fleming's appeal down to a single factor, whether commercialism or colonialism, are missing the bigger picture.
  • FeyadorFeyador Montreal, Canada
    Posts: 735
    Spybrary interview with Nicholas Shakespeare, conducted by Ajay Chowdhury and Jeremy Duns:

  • Posts: 2,896
    Thanks for this!
  • FeyadorFeyador Montreal, Canada
    Posts: 735
    Yes, very enjoyable, with lots of fascinating details & anecdotes ...
  • edited April 3 Posts: 2,896
    Three American reviews have come in.

    Pico Ayer in Air Mail praises the book:
    ...it is the crafty genius of Shakespeare’s surely definitive account to suggest that Fleming had, in spades, the upper-class Brit’s gift for concealing both his talents and his intelligence...Yet even as the scrupulously reticent soul refused to talk much about his greatest achievements, he came to be known for dreaming up a rather empty smoothy who had in fact a far less distinguished career, especially when it came to intelligence, than his maker...At some level, he produced books he could look down upon—his “great annual cowpat” is how he referred to the winter frolic he sent every year to his publisher—so he wouldn’t have to risk looking serious.

    ...Ian Fleming: The Complete Man is spiced with delicious tidbits on every page...Shakespeare is ready to track down the names of 30 people said to have been the basis for James Bond, and to tabulate every other reference to flagellation in the novels. Best of all, he serves up a rich and fully fleshed portrait of the small world of born-to-the-manner Brits who all but controlled a quarter of the globe in the first half of the 20th century, deciding the fate of nations in their London clubs or Caribbean hideaways.

    ...Close friend to John le Carré and sterling biographer of Bruce Chatwin, Shakespeare knows just how to keep up with elusive characters who keep their secrets to themselves. But where le Carré created a kind of ideal father in Smiley (donnish, loyal, and honest), Fleming fashioned a fantasy alter ego. And where Chatwin was an attractive writer undone by all the lies he spun in life, Fleming comes across as a shy writer devoured by the winning character he created on the page.


    James Parker in the Atlantic, who wrote contemptuously about Bond several years ago, enjoyed Fleming's biography but couldn't resist getting in a few digs at the subject and his work:
    ...The weird thing about the Bond books (it may be their secret) is that they read like the work of a gifted and faintly sociopathic fantasist-researcher—somebody with no actual experience of espionage, geopolitics, money, travel, fighting, or, indeed, humans. In fact, Fleming was worldly to a degree and, if anything, overqualified to write spy novels.

    ...Casino Royale is an odd book: oddly written, oddly paced, and suffused with an obsessive, almost sickly sensuality...The action is mostly bungled—until the famous torture scene...And Bond is an odd character, an odd and very modern hero. An automaton and a sybarite. He is mentally efficient, almost clinically so, with an emptiness of head that anticipates Jack Reacher...But he’s also extremely fussy, American Psycho–style—about drinks, cars, what to wear in bed.


    Anna Mundow in the Wall Street Journal is very positive:
    From the first arresting moment in Nicholas Shakespeare’s biography Ian Fleming: The Complete Man it is clear that we are in good hands....world events might well have eclipsed personal biography. Mr. Shakespeare is so adept, however, at distilling complex history and conjuring cinematic images...that entire eras materialize in artful sketches while the portrait of Fleming acquires texture and shade with each trial and triumph.

    Marriage to the abominable Ann, for instance, whose “true interest was herself,” is as riveting a drama as any wartime escapade. The creation of James Bond, occurring late in Fleming’s life, seems almost pedestrian by comparison. Summoning the concision and discipline honed at Reuters, Fleming simply wrote like a demon, flinging each completed page out of sight, until a book was finished.

    ...Whether airborne or underwater, trading blows or banter, the suave Bond was forever Britain as it wished itself to be. Much of the factual detail of Fleming’s life has been examined by previous biographers, notably John Pearson (The Life of Ian Fleming, 1966) and Andrew Lycett (Ian Fleming, 1995), whose work and assistance Mr. Shakespeare acknowledges...Given these previous exhumations, Mr. Shakespeare was cautious about conducting another. When invited to do so by the Fleming estate, however, he was gratified to unearth a fresh specimen. Not, he writes, the “prickly, self-centred bounder” he imagined but “another, more luminous person.” A Fleming of many contradictions consequently emerges: loving yet cruel, arrogant yet insecure, spiteful yet generous.

    ...this jaded cynic remained loyal to his empire, citing its “vast contribution to the health and sanity of the world.” The apparent contradiction is one of many in this remarkable biography.
  • Informe_James_BondInforme_James_Bond Dominican Republic
    Posts: 89
    Do any of you have information about this pic of Fleming, where was it, what year, what was for, etc??

    Whats-App-Image-2024-04-09-at-10-27-22-AM.jpg

    Please, let me know.

    ;)
  • DragonpolDragonpol https://thebondologistblog.blogspot.com
    Posts: 17,882
    Do any of you have information about this pic of Fleming, where was it, what year, what was for, etc??

    Whats-App-Image-2024-04-09-at-10-27-22-AM.jpg

    Please, let me know.

    ;)

    A Google Lens search shows the photo comes from this webpage and it is presumably Fleming in his RNVR uniform during WWII:

    https://www.ianfleming.com/james-bond-war-years/
  • Informe_James_BondInforme_James_Bond Dominican Republic
    Posts: 89
    Dragonpol wrote: »

    A Google Lens search shows the photo comes from this webpage and it is presumably Fleming in his RNVR uniform during WWII:

    That of the uniform and that it was during WWII is something that can be appreciated, that is very clear. I was asking for more information about the place, time or circumstance of the photograph.

    PD: I had already used Google Lens before asking here.

    ;)
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