Author: Ian Fleming
Finished on: 30 November 2016
Where did I get this book: I have no idea, I have had this book for as long as I can remember
I love James Bond.
The films played a formative role in my childhood. To the point where my sisters and I have dedicated many hours in 2016 to rewatching the entire back catalogue, armed only with a 63 column spreadsheet and industrial quantities of wine, in order to determine once and for all which is the best.
My love for 007 is almost entirely based on the films. I did once read a couple of the books. Many years ago.
But as we near the end of the Bond-a-thon, I thought it would be interesting to compare our findings with the Bond of the books; see which incarnation of our hero most resembles his literary forerunner.
Casino Royale was Fleming’s first Bond book. Published in 1953, it predates the first film, Dr No, by only nine years.
And while Dr No feels, in the main, fresh and brilliant (in fairness, this can’t be said of all the films – especially some of Moore’s outings) Casino Royale the book feels disgustingly dated.
Let’s cut straight to the chase.
The conquest of her body, because of the central privacy in her, would each time have the sweet tang of rape.
Sorry, what? Was that ok even in 1953? I’m not sure it is dated. I think it might just be disgusting. This passage comes as Bond decides to ask Vesper Lynd to marry him. Largely, it seems, because she unpacked his suitcase for him satisfactorily. And because he thought that every time he had sex with her it would feel like rape.
The book is saturated with misogyny, the above being only the most repellent example amongst many, with a good dollop of racism thrown in for good measure. Bond sizes up his competitors in the casino by putting each into a convenient racial stereotype box.
When not being overtly offensive, his character is that of a humourless Bertie Wooster. He is a ridiculous snob, and inept at his job: easily distracted, getting drunk on champagne when he should be on high alert, and consistently underestimating anyone who is female or not English. Despite observing that there would ‘always be a private room inside her which he could never invade’ it never occurs to Bond that Lynd could be anything other that what she appears to be on the surface. She successfully evades his suspicions through the foolproof method of bursting into tears at the right moments, and managing to look ‘splendid’.
It must be said too that Fleming does not convey these oversights as shortcomings; our omniscient narrator seems as enamoured with Bond as he (Bond) is with himself.
Many older books make us cringe when read through the lens of our modern sensibilities. My beloved Titty Walker exclaiming ‘natives’ with disgust throughout Swallows and Amazons for example. I have never worked out how to feel about these worlds colliding; there is no reconciling it to be honest.
But this is the worst example I have ever come across. Fleming, through Bond, dehumanises women completely, even Lynd who is considered to be something of an ideal. The arrogance with which he presumes to understand the world around him through a sneering sense of his own racial and gender superiority is an inherent part of the book. You would hope you could sit Titty down, talk her through the meaning of what she’s saying, and she would be mortified. But there’s no doubt that Bond would just sneer at you too.
It is true that there is racism and sexism in the films. They do vary enormously in these respects (and interestingly there isn’t the consistent improvement over time that you might expect to see – but that is a whole blog post in itself when the Bond-a-thon is complete). But even when they are awful, they are never this bad. Never such an intrinsic part of Bond’s character, and the whole atmosphere of the story.
Maybe I need to read another one to see if this is typical. This might be like judging the whole series of films on Live And Let Die or The Man With The Golden Gun. But I don’t know if I can face it.
I have rarely been so disappointed with a book in my life.
I think we need to award points on our spreadsheet for dissimilarity to the book Bond. He’s ludicrous, offensive and probably worst of all, a crap spy.