I recently finished Fleming's YOLT for the first time and I couldn't find a specific thread for any actual discussion of the novel.
I really liked the book and think that arguably it's Fleming's best work (maybe rivalled only by Casino Royale). However, YOLT is very different from CR which was much more of an espionage thriller. YOLT is much less a thriller and much more of a spiritual mediation on death and tonally is actually quite different from Fleming's previous Bond novels.
I've read a few reviews of the book and most seem disappointed by the lack of 'Bond elements' and even those who do like the novel don't seem to regard it as one of Fleming's more complete works. I personally think it is a very interesting evolution for Fleming to have taken as Bond is anything but the 'hero' that he's usually painted as in the author's previous work.
Bond begins the story essentially broken, he's depressed and is continually screwing up his field assignments. Bond is pretty much only living for his next drink and is likely a fully blown alcoholic at the story's outset. The Bond in YOLT is very different from the man we're used to seeing - his opening scene is on a park bench as he contemplates mortality. He blames himself for Tracy's death and has seen every doctor on Harley Street, it soon becomes clear that he's suffering from a deep melancholy and guilt over the events of OHMSS. Even M hates seeing Bond like this and knows that 007's time with Mi6 is likely coming to an end. I enjoyed the 'impossible mission' angle as it shows readers that M does care about Bond and wants to see Bond come out of his malaise. M essentially wants to bring Bond back to life - 'rebirth' is a big theme of the book (hence the title).
Bond gets his opportunity to resurrect himself later in the novel when he finds out about Shatterhand's true identity. It is at this point Bond can finally muster up the strength and passion to confront death himself and is given a new lease of life.
Bond's trip to Japan has been accused of being slightly travelogue-esque, I in fact liked it a lot. Another big theme is explored heavily in this section - 'death'. The book is rather spiritual in this regard with much time spent discussing the cultural differences concerning suicide; which is a very noble and honourably thing in Japan. I found this entire section fascinating and Blofeld's 'Garden of Death' is really a brilliant creation and perfectly Bondian. The Castle also fits with the macabre tone of the book. What I find interesting about the book is that Bond himself seems somewhat suicidal in the book's opening and is happily drinking himself into oblivion. Furthermore, he seems perfectly content that he likely will not surive his assault of the Castle, and if anything seems rather welcoming of this fact. Even Tiger notices Bond's indifference to life and death at one point and asks him about it. Therefore, it is fitting that the novel's finale takes place in the Garden as Bond seems a fitting person to be on those grounds given his state of mind.
Aside from discussing the cultural differences between Japan and Britain there is also plenty of interesting talk about Britain and Japan's status following WW2.
The characters in the book are also well done. Tiger is a bit more annoying in the book and does grate after a while. Kissy and Bond seem to have a genuine relationship together and part of me is convinced that Bond would happily have stayed on the island for the rest of his life contently. Blofeld (after his dip in the previous novel) is firing on all cylinders this time out. His reasons for creating the Garden are a little sketchy but it dosen't matter really. Blofeld's mad and seems to think of himself as an underapprecaited genius - that pretty much explains away any need for a motive. In addition, Bond strangling Blofeld I found to be a very satisfying way for the character to die.
Personally I think the novel should have ended before the slightly mis-judged final chapter and Bond's obit would have been the right ending to the novel and the Bond series (aside from the awkward mention that Bond's adventures are apparently true stories documented by his friend). The novel could have done with a slight bit of more ambiguity for it's final chapter leaving it up to reader to decide it Bond did die or not.
Part of me wishes that Fleming did not give Bond amnesia and have let him stay on the Ama Island with Kissy as he was clearly happy there. There is a passage in the novel (and it's something of a reoccurring theme throughout the books) about Bond being unable to live a normal life because of his profession. Fleming references this again when Bond is out fishing with Kissy when he states that he wished he could stay with her but knew his job wouldn't allow it. It would have been nice then for Fleming to have given Bond a little bit of happiness and left him on the island with his memory intact where he could have made a conscious decision to leave his old life behind.