James Bond Novels
I recently started reading fiction again after spending half a year focused upon academic subjects and ploughing my way through numerous non-fiction books. I’ve always been a fan of the Bond franchise so decided it was time to familiarise myself with Ian Flemings’ the source material. The results so far have proven to be quite surprising and not at all as I expected. I managed to purchase the first seven novels in the series from a second hand book shop and have so far completed five of them. I also have audio book version available of the all of Fleming’s stories should I need to consume them in such a fashion.
One of the first things that stands out when reading Fleming’s novels, is how the books notably vary from the films. The stories are often quite minimalist and not especially as epic in scope as the movies. The content is often quite adult and very much reflects the mood and prevailing sensibilities of the times. Remember that Fleming created these books during the 1950s which were a particularly hard time for the United Kingdom. The country was virtually bankrupt and dealing with the demise of its Empire. America was in ascendancy, both politically and economically and the Cold War dominated international foreign policy.
The Bond franchise focuses of many things that would appeal to the reading public of the time; namely the glamour and opulence that was missing from their lives. Fleming is a master at describing exotic foreign travel, fine cuisine and “playboy” lifestyle. The depiction of sexual activity is quite candid for the times, although it betrays the patronising attitude prevalent to women during that era. There are also a lot of themes that will strike today’s reader as simply xenophobic and racist. Context in key in not allowing such elements to impair ones enjoyment..
“Casino Royale” and “Live And Let Die” are both fairly straight forward thrillers. The events are far from incredulous and the stories progress at a rapid pace. The use of violence is striking and well written. Bond being tortured by having his genitals beaten still has the power to shock. But it is not until “Moonraker” that the books truly hit their stride. The storylines have become a little more complex and you feel that this is the Bond that you remember. “Diamonds Are Forever” and “From Russia With Love” further demonstrate this. The style is very compelling and the characters are well defined. The locations and organisations that feature are meticulously researched. Fleming shows a knack for maintaining tension.
The modern spy or espionage novels owe a tremendous amount to the legacy of Ian Fleming. His own experiences in Naval Intelligence and as a journalist afforded him the ability to create credible and absorbing stories. His own personality trait, such as his penchant for women and the “bon viveur” lifestyle, permeates his writing. For British readers enduring the hardship of the post-war austerity years, he gave glimpses of the world beyond their shores and a lifestyle they could only dream of.
It may be difficult for modern readers to connect to the world in which Bond exists, as it is now removed by several generations. It lacks a lot of the technology that people now associate with the franchise due to the movies. The books also showcase a lot of social conventions and geo-political outlooks that contemporary audience may struggle to identify with. However for those who are prepared to look beyond these points, and embrace the culture of the times, Fleming work provides an intriguing insight into post-colonial Britain that has long gone. He also still offers robust and entertaining spy yarns, especially in the later novels.