Monday, 27 April 2015

Ian Fleming, "Casino Royale" (1953)

On a lark, I acquired the entirety of Fleming's James Bond novels. I have never read any of these, and have watched only a few of the movies. Nonetheless, I really like the 2002-2003 Penguin release retro covers designed by Richie Fahey. Looking for something light and distracting for bedtime reading at the end of a busy term led me to Bond (James Bond).

This earliest Bond novel surprised me in several ways:
1) Fleming's regular references to Bond's service in the Second World War were a revelation to me. Perhaps it's the cinematic lens (har har) that I was viewing Bond through previously, but I associate him with a more recent type of Cold War modernity than a somewhat grim, post-war emerging hostility between Communism and the West. Casino Royale is definitely set in the latter.

2) I was taken aback by Bond's rather virulent misogyny. Casino Royale's Bond is not the Hefner-esque international playboy heartily enjoying the pleasures of the sexual revolution. He is a lonely, isolated, insecure, suspicious and bitter misogynist. The cinematic Bond is often a suave character who at his core seems generally likeable, if a bit of a hound.

The Bond of Casino Royale oscillates between calling his female counterpart (Vesper Lynd) a 'bitch', then wanting to ask her to marry, and then by the end of the book, returning to his original position even though she had confessed her love for him. Although he admitted a physical attraction to Lynd, he initiates a sexual relationship with her largely to test whether the torture he'd experienced had left him impotent.

3) While concerned with 'products' - quality and exceptional pleasure - the Bond of Casino Royale is not the brand-conscious clothes and technology advertisement of the film franchise. His consumption is more oriented towards 'types' than 'brands' - a particular mix of drink, a style of food, a sort of clothing… not a particular manufacturer or label.

4) I was somewhat shocked by how short the novel was. Perhaps I am unfairly comparing the book to the academic writing I normally read, but this book flashed by in about three nights' reading. It was nice, but left me feeling like there was a lot of depth missing from the story.

Quotations will be posted eventually.

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