05 January 2016

Review: Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

Over at Unreality SF, I've got a review up of Series Nine of Jago & Litefoot, which came out back in April I think! So much Big Finish product, so little time! There have been two J&L releases since then, geeze.

Mass market paperback, 213 pages
Published 2006 (originally 1953)
Acquired November 2014
Read December 2014
Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

I've long been attracted to the Penguin editions of the James Bond novels, longingly gazing at their delightful retro covers by Richie Fahey. I've seen a random assortment of the films (though I only became dedicated enough to go to the theatres regularly when Daniel Craig took over), but never read the books, and in the end, I decided to work my way through them, reading one volume every four months.

Casino Royale is an interesting book. I was surprised how interesting Fleming could make a game of baccarat, and I was surprised at how low-key most of the novel is. In contrast to the Bond films, where it's one death-defying escape after another, most of this book is spent with Bond sizing up the opposition; all that really happens in the first half is that someone tries to kill Bond and fails due to their own incompetence!

As a portrait of masculinity, it's fascinating. The body, face, and clothing of Bond's love interest Vesper Lynd is described in precise detail (and Fleming is actually quite good at this sort of thing), and I soon realized that it wasn't just women that were described this way, but four things: women, meals, technical devices (including cars), and Bond's physical opponents. Nothing else is worthy of concentrated attention, but these things are worth lavish detail that delineate them with utter precision. Sex, women, gadgets, violence-- what else does a man need?

The last couple chapters of the book, where James and Vesper live together while they recuperate and fall in love, and Bond knows something is wrong but won't let himself admit it, is surprisingly effective, as is the sudden emotional turn Bond makes when he discovers Vesper's secret: "Their love and his grief were relegated to the boxroom of his mind. Later, perhaps, they would be dragged out, dispassionately examined, and then bitterly thrust back with other sentimental baggage he would rather forget." James Bond may want to love, but if he is to do his job, he cannot afford to let himself do so.

Next Week: James Bond hits the United States and eats lots of fried chicken in Live and Let Die!

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