Friday, January 11, 2013

First Read Friday - Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

     Title: Casino Royale
     Author: Ian Fleming 
     Publisher: Penguin 
     Published: 1953 
     Number of Pages: 181 
     Genre(s): Thriller, Action, Suspense
     Date Read: January 11, 2013
     Acquired: Waterloo Public Library

His name is Bond, James Bond. He's slick, suave, and dashing; also ruthless, cold and calculating, all of the ingredients that make a spy like 007 good at his job. If you happen to be the head of British MI6 and you have a job that needs doing, you call on James Bond because he's the best. That's exactly why M chooses him for a very important mission at the Casino at Royale in France. MI6 has the chance to bring down a big fish in the Soviet intelligence network, Le Chiffre, but only if they can beat him at one of the things he does best; gambling, in this case baccarat. Bond is the nine up M's sleeve, the best card player in the service, so he sends him in to clean Le Chiffre out. 

You'd think from all the boozing and gambling that Bond was on a holiday, but he wants you to know he's very serious about his work. Royale isn't all fun and games, there are dangerous Soviet spies running around with bombs and guns hidden in ordinary every day objects! His room is being bugged! He's not in the game alone though, Mathis the French agent is at his side, along with another British agent, Miss Vesper Lynd, who is so beautiful, composed, and focussed on the mission that Bond names a drink after her and then falls for her, but only after the job is done! He also meets his American counterpart, and future best friend, in Felix Leiter, who gallops in on a white steed to save Bond at his hour of need right when he's about to fail his mission. With the help of these three he manages to fulfil his mission parameters but then he is betrayed, and captured, as one would expect from a spy novel. 

There's a twist at the end, and it's as bitter for Bond as the lemon twist in his signature Vesper martini.

The character of 007 is one of the most well known literary and film characters in existence. Almost everyone knows at least one thing about James Bond; even if it's just the catchy tune they created for the theme of the movies. I'm young enough that the first James Bond I ever knew was Pierce Brosnan. It wasn't until late 2012 though, thanks to the 50th anniversary hype, that I decided instead of just knowing trivia tidbits about James Bond I should probably watch the movies, so that's where I started. I grabbed 3 of the movies that I could get my hands on through the local public library and I watched them. I was immediately hooked. The films are fun and entertaining to watch; so I went out and bought all of them and spent December working my way through them. Halfway through I figured that since I was enjoying the films so much I should probably give the books a try.

That was how I came to acquire Casino Royale from the library. I like to start at the beginning of things and this is Fleming's first Bond adventure. It's well written and it's what one expects from a spy thriller, especially when one remembers that Fleming and Bond helped set the tone for all of the espionage and political thrillers that abound in the reading market today. Is it perfect? Of course not, if you analyse it through the lens of 21st century values, morals and culture, like the vast majority of the reviews on GoodReads seem to do unfortunately, it falls apart. But good literature analysis practice dictates that you have to analyse the book according to its context which means that you must think about the book in terms of the values, morals and culture of the target audience at the time when it was written. I find it supremely disappointing that this guiding principle has gone out the window with this particular book.

 It is a good book in my opinion, but my opinion takes context into consideration. If I take context out of the equation, then I am left with pure hatred for the literary Bond; the character is a brash, boorish, racist, sexist, arrogant pig of a man that defies all aspects of being a decent human being in our society. That's the key, in our society, Fleming's Bond doesn't live in our society, he lives in 1950s, Cold War era, Britain; in a time and place where his behaviours and attitudes were still considered normal by most and ideal by some. The target audience for Bond's escapades saw the type of man Bond is as the model of masculinity and there's nothing wrong with that because those were the values and beliefs of their time. Values and beliefs change over time because we as humans assimilate knowledge and information to grow and change. The producers knew that and that's why they toned down the silver screen Bond, somewhat, when compared to the literary Bond. 

So the lesson here is take it for what it is, judge it based on its context and you'll find it an enjoyable read, try and force it into the lines of the 21st century value set and you're going to have a bad time.

And talking of bad times? I am firmly of the mind set that both Fleming and the producers all missed out on a chance to make Bond truly timeless and immortal. The Bond character should have been like the Dread Pirate Roberts from The Princess Bride, it should have been a job title (007) and code name (James Bond) that went along with the job instead of having James Bond be a real man. Think how epic that would be?! Especially in terms of the movies! Instead of trying to suspend our disbelief whenever a new actor takes on the roll and completely changes the character, or wrestle with believing the fact that supposedly Bond's apparently been in his 30s for the last 50 years, we could have been happily enjoying the premise of each new actor being a successor to the previous James Bond, taking over the title and code name upon the death or retirement of his predecessor. 

Seriously, think about it!



  1. YES! I am totally with you on the last point as I tried to convince Andy of the same thing on our last outing to a Bond movie!

    1. Let me guess he didn't budge an inch? Our vision would have been perfect, maybe I'll write my own spy series with this type of premise :).