Customer Reviews: You Only Live Twice (James Bond - Extended Series Book 12)
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on May 21, 2004
"You Only Live Twice" (1964) was published the year of Ian Fleming's death, and, as with its predecessor, the superb "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," it is suffused with doom and death. It is unlike any of the other Bond books, with a pervasive gloominess that was as much the result of Fleming's rapidly declining health and unhappiness with the world around him as it was the result of Bond's clinical depression after the tragedy that finished the last book.
Bond, recovering from the death of his wife, is falling to pieces. Taking the advice of a friend, M sends him on a vital mission to Japan, which he hopes will restore Bond's spirits. What seems at first to be a rather placid visit soons turns dangerous as Bond agrees to accept secrets about the Russians in exchange for carrying out a delicate mission for the Japanese government. What he encounters is the culmination of the previous two Bond novels, and the last half of the novel is virtually unputdownable.
This is the best writing of Fleming's career, and his descriptions of Bond's disintegration are surprisingly moving. The final hundred pages or so are horrifying and gripping; never before had Fleming demonstrated such mastery of his craft or technical skill at setting up a denouement. The tension becomes almost unbearable.
"You Only Live Twice" is not an uplifting book, but it is a vital book in the Bond series, and much better than its successor, the pale and posthumously published "Man With the Golden Gun." Those expecting slam-bang action will have to wait until the middle and final chapters, but the rewards are worth the patience. This is a fine novel, but I wouldn't start here if I were just discovering Fleming's Bond novels.
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on January 27, 2002
Taking place nine months after the tragic ending of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, You Only Live Twice was the last of Ian Fleming's truly completed Bond books. (The Man With The Golden Gun, released after Fleming's untimely death, is considered by many to be only a first draft.) It also served as the conclusion to the trilogy, beginning in Thunderball and continuing through OHMSS, that detailed James Bond's epic battle against Ernest Stavro Blofeld, founder of SPECTRE and essentially the anti-Bond. (Blofeld, we are reminded, refrains from almost all excessive behavior -- even being described as a virgin in Thunderball though he later somehow contracted syphillis in the later books. Of course, while he doesn't smoke or drink, he does seem to spend a lot of time thinking up ways to blow up the world.) While Fleming's prose is better than ever in this novel (showing his uncanny ability to mix sophisticated urbanity with hardboiled cynicism), its still somewhat of a disappointing end to the trilogy.
The plot does start out quite promisingly. Nine months following the death of his wife, James Bond has sunk into an alcoholic wave of depression. M, rather cold hearted in this book after being humanized in OHMSS, comes close to terminating his service but instead, gives Bond a mission designed to respark his love of espionage. Bond is sent to Japan to try to convince the head of the Japanese secret service -- Tiger Tanaka -- to ally himself with the English. These sections of the book are very strong. Bond's mission is believable, the plot (which is quite cynical while detailing how even allies like America and England are actually rivals when it comes to espionage) is compelling, and Tiger Tanaka is one of Fleming's strongest connections. The scenes in which Bond learns about Japanese culture (while containing the well-meaning condascension that of which Fleming -- like most writers of that era regardless of genre or nationality -- was often guilty) are well-written and actually quite interesting. Quite late in the book, Tanaka recruits Bond to investigate the Suicide Gardens of the mysterious Dr. Shatterhand (again, a very promising premise -- Shatterhand basically has constructed a garden of poisonous plants designed to encourage visitors to commit suicide). This investigation leads to Bond's final battle with Blofeld and it is here that the book, unfortunately, disappoints. Blofeld feels like a tacked-on addition and, unlike the previous books, his plot makes absolutely no sense. (Fleming even admits this when Bond concludes that Blofeld's gone insane -- however, his scheme is so ludicrous that it actually detracts from his status as a worthy antagonist to Bond.) Whereas the previous books made Blofeld as fascinating a character as Bond, in this book both of them feel a little bit bland and as a result, their final battle doesn't carry the emotional wallop one might have hoped for.
However, in Fleming's defense, it should be noted that he was quite ill when he wrote this book and it is a testament to his often maligned talents that, even while ailing, he still managed to create a book that -- while uneven as a whole -- still contained some fantastically strong early scenes and a character as vivid as Tiger Tanaka. No, this book is not perfect or even one of the best Bond novels but it will still be enoyed by fans of the original Fleming novels.
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on June 17, 2004
This is Ian Fleming's most mysterious and enigmatic James Bond novel. This is a direct follow up to "On Her Majesty's Secret Service." It starts out as a direct secret service story even though Bond is reassigned to the diplomatic section. As it progresses it becomes almost surrealistic as James Bond tracks down his arch nemesis on the island of Kyushu. This is a very well written and researched novel. The Japanese idioms and depictions of locale are exquisite. When the novel moves to Kuro Island and is on the threshold of Dr. Shaterhand's castle lair, Fleming approaches mythical horizons. I found this absorbing, haunting and prophetic novel very difficult to put down once I started reading it. You get addicted early on to such charismatic characters as Tiger Tanaka and the all too brief Dikko Henderson but it is the narrative of this epic tale that beckons the reader. The new retro-paperback cover is alluring.
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on May 12, 2013
In his last adventure James Bond met with the greatest tragedy of his life. He was able to destroy the base of his enemy Blofeld, but his foe escaped. Then within only a few hours of getting married, Blofeld struck back and Bond's new bride was killed. Back in London Bond has let himself go. He is drinking too much and his mind is not on the game. He was nearly killed when he botched a mission. M believes that he may have to let James go. He is advised to give Bond a task that is impossible, but not dangerous. M decides to promote Bond to the diplomatic mission and send his to Japan. His job is to meet with M's counterpart in Tokyo and try to get access to the Russian signals that the Japanese are decoding. The Japanese have a special relationship with the Americans and they are reluctant to share with others. Bond now has to learn the ins and outs of the Japanese culture in order to win over this reluctant ally. That turns out to be the least of his problems. The Japanese have their own trouble in the form of a foreigner who has created a bizarre landscape full of creatures and plants that kill. The suicide culture of Japan has embraced this new place and it is causing embarrassment to the government. There is nothing legal that can be done, but someone with Bond's particular skills may be able to deal with this in his own way. Bond accepts the trade and is soon involved with an enemy that he knows all too well. He has to pull himself together if he is to survive this mission. The ending is quite a surprise. More great Cold War spy pulp from the great Ian Fleming.
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on September 4, 2001
The Bond movies made a fatal flaw in two BIG ways. One was not putting the film version of YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE after ON HER MAJESTIES SECRET SERVICE, and two was throwing away the superior novel's story. YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE is probably one of Ian Flemings best and his last fully completed novel.
The novel opens with M talking to a doctor about Bond's well being, Bond, after suffering a tradgedy in his life in the previous book, (OHMSS) has his life coming apart. He has botched two assignments, drinking more and losing countless amounts of money at the casinos. M is tempted to fire Bond but the doctor laments that Bond be given an "impossible assignment" one that will wake Bond out of his depression and turn his life around. M calls Bond in and tells him that Bond is going to Japan for his impossible mission; to secure the rights to the "Magic 44" a special coding system of sharing secrets with the USA and Japan. To do this he must make negotiations with Tiger Tanaka, a Japanese official. Bond arrives in Japan and meets Tiger, and the negotiations are going well. Tiger will agree on one condition and he needs Bond's help. Tiger needs Bond to commit an assassinaiton on a man named Dr. Shatterhand. Shatterhand has recently arrived in Japan, took an older castle and turned it into a large "garden of death" full of countless poisonous plants and animals. Shatterhand is under protection by the botanical institute, even though countless Japanesse citizens use his garden to commit suicide (an honorable practice in Japan). Tiger however wants him dead, and Bond even more once he discovers what more is at stake, and who lives in the castle.
YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE is a great read and out of all of the other Bond books, this one is without a doubt the most forboding and dark. Bonds trek into Shatterhand's castle is almost like going through Hell as Bond is surrounded by horrors and danger and inside he will confront a man of true evil, whereas earliar chapters are much lighter and more fun. The book even has some fun observaitons made by Bond and Tiger on the views of East and West civilizations. If there is any problem with the book it is that there is almost no physical action in the book until the last chapter or two ,but the rest of the book is atmospheric and rich with Ian Fleming's touch for details, and the ending has to be read to be believed, you don't see it coming at all. A very good book in short. A Bond fan must read it.
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on June 27, 2000
Japan has a problem. A certain Dr. Guntram Shatterhand and his wife has moved into a old castle on a remote Japanese island. The renown Swiss horticulturist was welcomed at first until he started planted deadly plants throughout the castle grounds and stocking the man-made lake with deadly Piranhas. The island has become a "garden of death" for those seeking to commit suicide.
England has a problem. One of their top spies in the British Secret Service has become a serious liability. Despite his exemplary record, M is all set to fire James Bond, but instead 007 is sent to Japan to help solve their problem.
In an adventure like no other, James Bond is given a suicide mission: eliminate Dr. Shatterhand. Bond prepares for his mission in a lackadaisical manner until he learns that Dr. & Mrs. Shatterhand are none other than Ernst Stavro Blofeld and Irma Bunt! (Fleming is very clever dropping hints about the doctor's true identity, especially the references to his ugly wife!) Bond is now faced with a moral dilemma. Does he reveal his discovery to Tiger Tanaka of the Japan Secret Service or does he go after Blofeld himself to satisy his revenge? Bond chooses the latter and who can blame him? This is Blofeld! The supreme leader of SPECTRE who attempted to blackmail the world with stolen nuclear missiles. Blofeld. The evil genius who attempted to unleash biological warfare on England from his Swiss Resort high in the Alps. Blofeld. The man who killed Bond's wife....
Blofeld has gone into a twisted sadistic retirement. Hiding out in an ancient castle, playing the role of Emporer strolling about his kingdom wearing Japanese battle armor and silk kimonos. Bond is going to take him down one way or another.
The tension builds as Bond prepares to face his hated rival. The gardens are deadly, but so is 007! With the help of Kissy Suzuki, Bond penetrates the castle and faces Blofeld in what will be the ultimate showdown!
A very exciting book! (Especially the final few chapters) Very fitting that the setting was Japan. YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE tells the story of a samurai who has lost his way, but in facing his fears and his enemy he regains his honor and suceeds where others would have failed.
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on July 16, 2016
For many reasons, I consider this the last of the series. Fleming didn't finish "The Man With The Golden Gun" and was ill when writing the rough draft that was left behind at his death. It was simply awful, especially given Cmdr. Fleming's own experience with British Intelligence.
"You Only Live Twice" finds Bond in a slump, unable to recover from the murder of his wife of only a few hours on their honeymoon. He's been eased back into work, but has literally made a mess of 2 missions and M is seriously considering revoking his Double-O status.
The Service consulting physician is fond of 007, and suggests an alternative. He states a man of Bond's psychological makeup cannot rise unless he is challenged against overwhelming odds, so he suggests giving him a literally impossible mission to accomplish and free reign to do it.
Unlike the usual assassination assignments, Bond is asked to travel to Japan and make contact with the head of the Japanese Intelligence Service, a mysterious man of which little is known other than his name; Tiger Tanaka. This is to be primarily a diplomatic mission, and he is to offer to trade British Intelligence resources & information in exchange for the treasure trove of Japan's Russian spy network. It is thought highly unlikely Japan will work with the British and will be a coup if Bond pulls it off. Bond accepts, and begins his adventure to the Far East; another routine assignment with more than meets the eye, scores settled with Ernst Blofeld, ninja training, and a second chance at life.
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on October 9, 2014
The old Bond is back! No more American gangsters. Well SPECTRE is back and the old Bond is hiding in a bottle. This is part of the SPECTRE sub-series and should be read in order after "Thunderball and "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" it is not vital, but will help eliminate any spoilers.

The action in this book is minimal; Fleming takes his time building a Zen garden like picture of Japanese culture after the war. Bond is different too, he mopes and wallows after Tracy's death and is not the same as we have seen in earlier works. This is one case where the movie was so vastly different from the film that the two don't compare which is just fine with me.
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on June 13, 2015
Second to last JB novel my Fleming -- and last in the (so called) Blofeld trilogy. Some may find it a bit of a travelogue (first half), and ridiculously over-the-top (second half), but I loved it. Perhaps a sentimental fave. New Fleming/Bond readers much better served by starting with Casino Royale, Live & Let Die & Moonraker.
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on September 20, 2000
People either are wild about this book or think it's very weak. This is one of those Bond novels that are simply too moody and weird to be made into a popular film, and the movie of the same title shares next to nothing with the book.
There's an advantage in reading all of Fleming's Bond novels in chronological order, because the sum is greater than the parts. They form a loose story arc detailing Bond's growth and changing world it occurs in, from the cold, ruthless, humorless spy of "Casino Royale"--in an age when the British Empire still carried some of its old weight--to the witty, sardonic and damaged agent of YOLT, in an age when British intelligence has to work around(because it's otherwise at the mercy of) the American empire.
This book has been called a an allegory of rebirth and a version of the fertility myth, and considering how weird it gets by the end those remarks are probably true. Bond begins at the most depressed, hopeless stage of his life(Let's see 'em show that in the movies!) and ends as an almost total blank slate--devoid of memory, nationality, and(for a short time) sexual prowess. In between he burns away the grief and rage caused by his wife's death by finally confronting the evil,nearly satanic Ernst Stavro Blofeld. He passes out of this book as a new man, ready to be re-molded. All this would probably distress the fans of Bond who know him more by the movies: actually it would strike anyone as weird, for while YOLT still bears some of the cloak-and-dagger, cosmopolitan sheen one finds in other Bond stories, its final chapters seem as though they occured outside of the modern world altogether and rather in a primordial fog. This contrast between the ultra-sophisticated and the earthy, spartan ways of life is present in most of Fleming's Bond stories, but it takes precedence here.
It isn't a perfect book--much of the center is taken up with a long travelogue of Japan, which is fun but a bit of a sidetrack, and results in the book being broken-backed.(It's based on Fleming's own tour of Japan, and the characters of Dikko Henderson and Tiger Tanaka are based upon the two friends who showed him around) But ultimately it's one of the most impressive Bond novels--deeply symbolic, unsettling and weird in the way Fleming's best work always is. His skill as a journalist-turned-writer is evident. The Bond novels, as opposed to most of the movies, are not simply simple entertainment--what they have to say about affluence, class, lifestyles, and the age they occured in will be of much interest as the years progress, and there's a lot to be discussed. Provided that we realize that Fleming had his predjudices and unsavory sides, the books remain rich and compelling. Unfortunately, Fleming fumbled upon finishing the story of Bond's recreation in the novel he wrote afterwards, "The Man with The Golden Gun," an unfinished, shoddy work that simply reinstates the status quo. This novel however is a testament toward all he worked for, and it seems clear to me that the ending, rather than being jarring and flaccid, is obviously what the entire book works toward, and the final chapters are among the best stuff Fleming wrote.
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