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How I feel, too. Though I placed it at #9. Nothing wrong with this opening salvo—just that Fleming would take the series to greater, more interesting heights from here, IMO.
Just outside my top 3, and I wish I could place it higher. When it came to his prose and the energy that flowed through his writing, I feel Fleming never was quite so good as when he was writing underwater adventure. This book is pure pulp at every turn. I feel it's where Fleming fully found and embraced the "benign bizarre" that would come to define James Bond's unique place in the spy thriller genre.
YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE
In addition to one gold and one silver medal, YOLT obtained nine more top 5’s, with four 4th spots and five 5th spots.
No-one really seems to dislike this finale to the ‘Blofeld trilogy’, its lowest score was one 11th place, which was the only placement it received outside the top 10.
In total YOLT assembled 166 points.
Of course, it's not without its downsides, the plot was a bit absurd at times and the recovery of a magic 44 seemed like a recycled plot from FRWL (in that, a Lektor machine), and I couldn't blame the others calling this more a bit of a travelogue, that's I think what brought this book down for some, it's pretty inconsistent in some places:
- Bond was supposed to find the Magic 44 with the help of Tanaka.
- Bond and his side grief for Tracy and his revenge on Blofeld.
- It's travelogue writing and introducing the culture of Japan.
- This is the book that it didn't know what to do with itself, does it want to be a revenge plot? A Spy Thriller? Or a Japanese Travelogue?
But anyways, I liked it, but for me when it comes to plotting and characters, Thunderball is still the best of the Trilogy for me.
Is it better than the film? Definitely, there's still a lot of things from this book open for adaptation.
It certainly has Fleming's flair for description, drawing on his own experience as a travel writer. Even if it's a version of Japan which isn't completely based in reality, it still immerses the reader in this world. Alongside the rather nightmarish descriptions of the Garden of Death, the setting evokes a strange, rather alien quality that I think works very well in this particular story.
Even the criticisms about this book's plot misses the point. The idea of a decoding machine being used to move the plot along in these spy stores is nothing new, even to Fleming. In FRWL the decoding device served as the book's McGuffin, pulling the plot along on a practical level. In this one, Magic 44 does that, albeit to a more limited extent. It's almost comical that Bond's mission is described as 'impossible' when all it amounts to is a diplomatic mission, and his 'promotion' by M has an absurdity to it. It's clear the only reason M gives Bond this mission is on the advice of Sir James Molony to snap him out of his depression, giving him a task seemingly important to his country (hardly the best of ways to deal with this, and it does give us a sense of M's coldness in his role). Of course, knowing Fleming's tendency towards cynicism, one gets the sense that it's really not all that important in the grand scheme of things - chasing the Red Indian and all that.
So in this way, YOLT isn't a story about decoding machines, espionage, or even revenge. It's about death and rebirth. Bond of course suffers from PTSD at the start of the book, but he seems to find himself again through his interactions with other characters - Tanaka, Henderson, Kissy. He takes the opportunity to kill Blofeld when he learns that he's the mysterious Dr. Shatterhand (contrived, but it works) but instead of Bond being the one consumed by his anger, it's in fact Blofeld who has completely lost his humanity. He's no longer the ambitious criminal from TB, but a half-mad, reclusive man. In the ashes of his once powerful criminal organisation he still sees himself as this great, almost Napeolanic figure, even justifying his crimes from the previous novels and this one through moral means. It's fascinating to read, genuinely some of Fleming's most gripping writing. Even by the end Bond is seemingly killed in an explosion and rendered an amnesiac. Of course, in some weird way this should end happily for Bond. He should settle down with Kissy (who does seem to love him), have a family, live his life away from the spy game.
But no. As is always the case with Bond he's always drawn back. The final chapter is a great piece of writing on Fleming's part, again some his strongest stuff. It genuinely feels tragic knowing Bond will never, in any life, get a true chance at happiness.
Anyway, this is one I've gone back to again and again. One of Fleming's most unique books, rather underrated I'd argue.
And that ending! It rivals OHMSS.
I wouldn't have stated this after my first read. I always enjoyed the second half but had my issues with the first half. Honestly, there isn't much story going forward in the first half. If you don't expect this and like to spend time with Bond and Tanaka talking and learning more about the japanese culture, the first half isn't only fine, it is really fascinating. And the second half is completely different thing, almost like another kind of book. Kissy is very likeable, the location is exotic and gives me a holiday feeling. The deadly garden is one of the coolest things Fleming ever invented and all the stuff in the castle is a real page-turner. A totally exciting adventure. I would have loved a bit a longer final confrontation with Blofeld but it works fine the way it is.
I enjoyed my last read so much that I even ranked it higher than OHMSS. There really are a few descriptions in OHMSS which could be shorter for my taste, while I didn't felt this way with YOLT this time around.
Among all the death and madness of the book there’s plenty of humanity too, though. Tanaka makes a great verbal sparring partner turned cultural shepherd for Bond and is one of his most memorable companions, and Fleming’s descriptions of Japan are always engaging despite their dubious accuracy. And I really love the island sequence with Kissy before the finale, it has a paradisal quality to it that makes a nice contrast to the descent into metaphorical hell that Blofeld’s compound represents.
DN ended up in no less than eleven top 5’s: three of which were silver medals and two were bronzes.
DN is also the overall highest rated entry that did not obtain a gold medal.
Even more staggering is that we all ranked DN in our top 10, with its lowest rating being one 10th place.
In total DN collected 167 points, claiming 4th place by acquiring a single point more than YOLT.
It had the best Bond Girl though (the winner of Literary Bond Girls elimination game).
Deserved its place.
I'm guessing OHMSS comes next, I'm the one who puts it at #10, expecting it to be lower tbh.
@GoldenGun next time do the Bond Girls ranking next.
Going in, my Top Three are intact.
Fleming's writing during the later chapters is excellent. While I like the film, I don't think any movie at that time was capable of evoking what we get here. Just the idea of DN's lair is strange - this sterile, makeshift hotel, the staff themselves pale and just a bit too cheerful in that 'dead behind the eyes' way. The Doctor himself has this strange, otherworldly presence on the page too with his raindrop shaped head and mechanical claws. Again, as silly as the idea of Bond battling a giant squid and the villain being buried in bird dung are on paper, it never feels throwaway or comedic. It feels genuinely tense, gripping, and even rather dark at points.
It's a great read. Perhaps my only criticism of it is that it romps along rather too quickly during the first third. The film adds a lot to the plot before Bond gets to Crab Key - the driver at the beginning, Dent, Leiter etc. By comparison, the novel feels much more minimalist. We get a couple of near assassination attempts (a poisoned fruit basket which seems rather a conspicuous, almost lazy way to kill someone, and the much more effective planting of a centipede in Bond's bed) but I never truly feel the weight of the situation before we get to DN's base. The film in that sense does a better job of establishing Dr. No as this invisible, but powerful presence. Still, great stuff, always worth re-reading.
Yes, from here on in Fleming focuses on breaking Bond down mentally and psychologically. Though he does come pretty close to physical death in TMWTGG.
And @SomethingThatAteHim sums it up perfectly for me. It is my favourite book for the beach and I would also call it the most readable Fleming novel. The novel I would always be in the mood to read. It is a real page-turner for me. A nice crime story in the beginning before we go to Crab Key and meet the lovely Honey. I love the dinner and all pages with Dr. No and the torture course is crazy in a very good way. The ultimate adventure book. I understand everyone who says that FRWL (and maybe also MR and some others) are better written books but DN is the most entertaining one (imo)
I wasn't aware that the literary Honey is beloved that much among the fans because of her unusual mixture of independency and "childish" behaviour. Nevertheless, I always liked her a lot and it is nice to see that the majority feels the same.
I gave this book the silver medal.
Cheers, appreciate it :)
@MI6HQ You're really not a fan of OHMSS, are you? Haha, I'm actually interested to see where it came in. I wonder whether MR will inevitably beat it for the top spot.
Yes, I have many issues with the book, sure I love the film (in fact it's my favorite Bond film of them all), but the book just didn't do it for me, Tracy is such a weak character she's a damsel in distress, she's not as competent as the other literary Fleming women, she's just there only for Bond to cure her, that's it, they even not convinced me that they're in love because it happened so quick, she's even not on par with Vesper, at least Vesper had relevance to the story and plot, Tracy was just purely in the background.
Add to that was Blofeld's 'supposed to be big plot' but just limited to one country (UK)?
Here's hoping for MR and FRWL, as those two are both Fleming's masterpieces.
Everyone's different, especially when it comes to Bond preferences. I guess we'll get to OHMSS whenever it pops up in these rankings. For what it's worth I put FRWL and MR above it.
When I first read through the Flemings in chronological order, experiencing a number of them for the first time, Dr. No struck me as a real jumping the shark point. I found Bond battling the giant squid absolutely ridiculous. But now I truly appreciate the book's outlandish, pulpy qualities. It's a tropical jungle adventure full of deadly insects and arthropods, and once I learned to embrace the squid I came to have a real blast with the story. Still would never have imagined it would rank as high as #4 on here, but this book never fails to entertain.
From Russia, with Love
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service