Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming wrote Casino Royale, the first of the Bond novels, when he was 52 years old. At that time, Fleming had retired from the British Navy, and was living at his estate, Goldeneye, in Jamaica. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the book. Many of the movies have a campy, comic-book feel to them—Xray glasses, jetpacks, villains with weird powers/ailments, etc.—and I was wondering how much of this came from the books and how much of it was simply created for the movies.

The character that Fleming created is dark and rather cold (props to Timothy Dalton). The Bond that we know from the movies is nothing if not a male chauvinist, and he is the same in the books. I’ll give you an example. Bond has just found out that he must work with a woman on his assignment, and this is his response: “He sighed. Women were for recreation. On a job, they got in the way and fogged things up with sex and hurt feelings and all the emotional baggage they carried around. One had to look out for them and take care of them.” But at other points in the novel, Bond’s feelings about women are borderline misogynistic. Perhaps the best (or worst, depending on how you look at it) example of this comes toward the end of the book. “And now [Bond] knew that she was profoundly, excitingly sensual, but that the conquest of her body, because of the central privacy in her, would each time have the sweet tang of rape.” Double O, no he didn’t! It is the word “sweet” that makes this sentence so creepily offensive. Without it, the statement would be a little weird, but not nearly as cringe inducing as it is in its current form.

One could make the argument that Fleming simply created a character that is misogynistic, which in no way implies that Fleming condones this kind of thinking. After all, Nabokov created Humbert Humbert; Salinger created Holden Caufield. As I see it, the difference is that Fleming consciously constructed a smooth, debonair, character—one that would be idolized and prized for his coolness. Bonds misogynistic tendencies are not presented as a character fault, but simply as another part of his persona, just like his black hair, crisp suits, and luck as a gambler.

Casino Royale was very much plot driven, but there was more character development than I expected there to be. As for the relation between the book and the movie, Le Chiffre does torture Bond in the same way that the character did in the movie, but he does not cry blood from one eye. Bond is cold and exhibits none of the witticisms so characteristic of his silver-screen counterpart. The charming, charismatic Bond, and the over-the-top villains appear to be creations of the Broccoli brothers.

Casino Royale is different enough from the Bond films, that being a fan of the movies will have little bearing on whether you will like this book. It was a very easy read. After finishing it I had no strong desire to continue the series. Although, I may read another at some point to see how Fleming develops his James Bond character.


Carlton said...

"Every muscle in Bond’s body responded to his command. He could feel the cold, rough steel biting into his hands as he strained to open the hatch to the cargo hold. Sweat ran down his face, mingling with the wispy hairs of his mustache, and finally dripping onto his crisp white shirt. In this humid engine room, it felt as though this shirt were attacking him, trying to suffocate the life out of him. Bond tore off the shirt in one fluid motion, revealing a sinewy, acne-scarred back. He gripped the metal bars once again, doubling his efforts."

Nihil Novum said...

Apparently Ian Fleming was gay.

Christopher said...

Uncalled for.

Carlton said...

I was planning on starting off the review by saying that the Bond in the books is vastly different from the one in the movies, then fabricating large, extremely-odd-sounding quotes such as the one above. I decided against that.

Nihil Novum said...

So I evidently just misidentified the homosexual. My bad.

Carlton said...

I am the gay.

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