Dan Sandman

09: Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

In Books, Fiction, Spy on 28/02/2014 at 12:00 pm

Casino Royale by Ian FlemingLike the overwhelming majority of people in the UK, I do not own a gun or have a licence to kill. Neither do I gamble millions of government money inside swish casinos, or drive fast cars in pursuit of evil enemy agents, nor do I make love to beautiful woman for queen and for country. Basically – I’m not James Bond. Am I?

But who is James Bond and what can the books tell us that the films can’t?

The real James Bond starts out Ian Fleming’s spy stories as a fallible human being. Chosen for the prestigious 007 position because he has dutifully killed two men in previous missions. Bond confides his doubts about killing to his colleague Mathis: –

“History is moving pretty quickly these days and the heroes and villains keep on changing parts.”

Bond is given the Casino Royale job because he is an excellent gambler and because he is accustomed to the life of luxury. But his susceptibility to champagne and lobster, as well as his penchant for beautiful woman, can sometimes lead our hero to loose focus with devastating consequences. Essentially, the first 007 adventure is about how Bond’s character changes, from dutiful agent to vengeful killer, becoming a member of her majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS / MI6) with a personal vendetta against SMERSH. In addition, the experience he has with his female co-worker Vesper will arguably cement his already misogynistic attitude towards woman.

“And then there was this pest of a girl. He sighed. Woman were for recreation.”

This is an example of clear writing that gives readers insight into James Bond’s thoughts. These kind of reflections are more present in the book, whereas in the film Bond’s reasoning is merely implied by the actor. Another rationale for reading the book being preferable to watching the film is that Fleming is a master of detail and suspense. Using an uncluttered prose that is both precise and punchy, this thrilling book brilliantly describes the glitz and glamour of the casino. For example, the rules of baccarat – a card game where the goal is to score a 9 – are given to help the reader understand the plot and to increase tension during the game. Every cigarette, alcoholic drink, car and gun make, piece of clothing, and muscle reaction is deemed important. Fleming’s attention to detail helps create Bond’s world, a fiction based on reality and yet far more exciting.

I think the enormous success of the Bond franchise is partly due to its strengths as an escapist story. Slightly two dimensional heroic characters like James Bond do not really exist, neither do equally transparent evil figures such as Le Chiffre. In fact, the doubts that Bond confides to Mathis, that nothing is black and white, are like the doubts that we as readers may have in regards to the unrealistic parts of the story. To enjoy this book we must be willing to suspend disbelief and simply enjoy a fast ride in a vintage Bentley.

Mine’s a Vesper cocktail – don’t fancy a vodka Martini, shaken not stirred, tonight.


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