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The Real Bond: A Flawed, Cold Killer in the Service of His Country
on November 15, 2015
Most of the the one and two star reviewers of this book were sadly disappointed, expecting that the glitzy movie version of Bond would be found in Fleming's actual books. But, with the exception of Sean Connery's Bond in the first three movies, and Daniel Craig's back-to-basics interpretation in the first three of the current series, the movie Bond character for the most part has been nothing more than escapist fantasy. The literary Bond isn't the superhero of the movies. He's a flawed, cold killer in the service of his country in a dangerous time.
Written during the height of the Cold War, Fleming's Bond novels were based on actual people and operations that Fleming had first hand knowledge of because of his highly placed role in British Naval Intelligence during WW II.
Rather than judge Casino Royale, or any of Fleming's Bond novels, by what you've seen in the movies, instead first learn about the real Operation Goldeneye; the real Operation Tracer; the real Operation Ruthless; the real No. 30 Commando Unit; the real Special Operations Executive; the real 10th Light Flotilla; the real "Smyert Shpionam"; the real Dusko Popov. The tradecraft, operations, units, events, and involved individuals were the very real WW II sources that Ian Fleming used in creating Bond and the world in which he moved. In chapter four of "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy", John Le Carre also alludes to a small group similar to Fleming's 00s as: "...about a dozen men, they worked solo, there to handle the hit-and-run jobs that were too risky" for Secret Intelligence Service agents stationed abroad.
Fleming's romanticized works have a ring of authenticity recognizable to anyone familiar with or who may have participated in events that occurred during those times. Read Casino Royale; travel back to a time when French was the only international language; a time when Joseph Stalin and the Soviet NKVD represented a very real threat; a time when people feared that threat; and a time when the governments of the Free World had very real people on the payroll like Fleming's fictional James Bond to counter that threat. Perhaps you'll see the same things in it that caused the first three printings to sell out quickly in the U.K., and that later made it a favorite of a Harvard graduate who happened also to be President of the United States.
At the time of Casino Royale (1951), Bond is about 30 years old and has held the 00 number for about six months. He earns the U.S. equivalent of about $5,600 annually (or about $50,000 in 2016 value), and drives a supercharged 1930 Bentley coupe that can reach 100 mph on a good day.
He spends what he earns. He knows that statistically he will have at least 10, probably 20, and as many as 30 very tough assignments before the mandatory 00 retirement age of 45. Too many. He knows the odds of his surviving the coming ten years are slim to none. And that depresses him. How do I know? Ian Fleming tells us so in Chapter One of "Moonraker" (third book in the series).
That's the Bond that Ian Fleming created. Much more interesting and gritty and real and human. That's the Bond Sean Connery portrayed until the Hollywood idiots ran amok after Goldfinger. It's the Bond Daniel Craig resurrected until the new crop of Hollywood fools screwed it up again with November 2015's Spectre.
I'll stick with the books, thank you very much!
Fleming's writing style, while perhaps not rising to the expectations of modern pedantic poseur literary critics, is easy to read and follow. As would be expected from a successful journalist writing for educated U.K. citizens of the 1950s, his audience would have been quite comfortable with his style; his adding color by use of some French terms and phrases in a novel that, after all, takes place in France; and whom would not have needed sub-titles to understand their context. I didn't find that aspect disruptive at all to the flow of the narrative.
If you want entertaining glitz, stick with the movies; if want something more, read the books! I've enjoyed them all immensely in the context of the time period in which they take place.
Bond fans may want to check out flemingsbond.com, a treasure trove of factual information upon which Fleming relied in writing the Bond novels, and "Ian Fleming's James Bond: Annotations and Chronologies" by John Griswald.