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review 2017-04-04 22:13
The Man with the Golden Gun
The Man With the Golden Gun - Ian Fleming

M.’ s voice was gruff. ‘007 was a sick man. Not responsible for his actions. If one can brainwash a man, presumably one can un-brainwash him. If anyone can, Sir James can. Put him back on half pay for the time being, in his old Section. And see he gets full back pay and allowances for the past year. If the K.G.B. has the nerve to throw one of my best men at me, I have the nerve to throw him back at them. 007 was a good agent once. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t be a good agent again. Within limits, that is. After lunch, give me the file on Scaramanga. If we can get him fit again, that’s the right-sized target for 007.’

The Chief of Staff protested, ‘But that’s suicide, sir! Even 007 could never take him.’

M. said coldly, ‘What would 007 get for this morning’s bit of work? Twenty years? As a minimum, I’d say. Better for him to fall on the battlefield. If he brings it off, he’ll have won his spurs back again and we can all forget the past. Anyway, that’s my decision.’

 

There was a knock on the door and the duty Medical Officer came into the room. M. bade him good afternoon and turned stiffly on his heel and walked out through the open door. The Chief of Staff looked at the retreating back. He said, under his breath, ‘You cold-hearted bastard!’ Then, with his usual minute thoroughness and sense of duty, he set about the tasks he had been given. His not to reason why!

It is with a little bit of sadness as well as a little bit of relief that I am jotting down my notes on The Man with the Golden Gun, the last novel in the original Bond series.

 

The sadness is most definitely a result of reading the series with an awesome buddy, who never lost his patience when I needed to rant about the stupidity of the main character or of the author or both, and who is one of these awesome fans of the franchise that impart additional information about Fleming and the books, who was (at least seemed) happy enough to just geek out on some of the aspects of the stories, and without whom I would not have continued the series.

 

The relief is largely caused by the fact that, on the whole, the books are not great, and in some cases are just pure terrible and made me wish for brain bleach. 

Of the 13 novels and 2  short story collections, I would only recommend two of the novels (Diamonds are Forever and Dr. No) in addition to the short stories to unsuspecting novice Bond readers.

(Although, saying that, I recommended Dr. No to a colleague and he DNF'd it...because the racism was too much - I'm glad he didn't try Live and Let Die...) 

 

Anyway, what about The Man With the Golden Gun?

 

 

Well, the book Scaramanga is no Christopher Lee and there is no Nick-Nack (at all!!), but let's start at the beginning:

 

The Man with the Golden Gun was the last book written by Fleming and it appears that his writing process was to jot down the major plot, some random ideas and topics he may want to pick up on or not, depending on how he felt during the next rounds of edits. During subsequent revisions, he would perhaps also add the descriptions of characters and their natural surrounding which are always highlights of the Bond reading experience.

 

Unfortunately, Fleming died after he finished his first draft, and before he could add edits. I am not sure to what extent his publisher edited Fleming's text (there is one sentence about an em-dash which made me think an editor inserted it as a joke), but the book reads really disjointed. Well, like a rough draft.

 

Other parts read like Fleming - uncut:

"Distinguishing marks: a third nipple about two inches below his left breast. (N.B. in Voodoo and allied local cults this is considered a sign of invulnerability and great sexual prowess.) Is an insatiable but indiscriminate womanizer who invariably has sexual intercourse shortly before a killing in the belief that it improves his “eye”. (N.B. a belief shared by many professional lawn tennis players, golfers, gun and rifle marksmen and others.)"

This leaves us with a story of different parts. I believe there is a distinct difference between the first part in which Bond returns to London after being MIA. 

This part includes a quite thoughtful discussion of the Cold War, and especially of espionage during the time.  

‘Well, if you found these people so reasonable and charming, why didn’t you stay there? Others have. Burgess is dead, but you could have chummed up with Maclean.’ ‘We thought it more important that I should come back and fight for peace here, sir. You and your agents have taught me certain skills for use in the underground war. It was explained to me how these skills could be used in the cause of peace.’

Fleming knew the Cambridge Spies, or at least he was friends at school with Kim Philby, but it is a reasonable assumption to say the Cambrigde Spies scandal was on his mind, considering he even put Bond in a situation where he, too, could be a double-agent.

 

And maybe it is this turn where Fleming chose to show M's true character (see opening quote), which by the way was so well played by Dame Judi Dench that I now cannot see anyone else in the role of M.

 

 

So, shorty after his return, Bond is sent to investigate the villain of the piece Francisco Scaramanga. Unlike the suave, intelligent villain portrayed in the film, the book Scaramanga is a modern day version of a Wild West gun slinger.  And this is where the book quickly loses its original promise and descends into the Western genre, complete with the following scene:

The Rasta quickly pushed up the lever and the speed of the train gathered back to 20 m.p.h. He shrugged. He glanced at Bond. He licked his lips wetly. ‘Dere’s white trash across de line. Guess mebbe it’s some frien’ of de boss.’ Bond strained his eyes. Yes! It was a naked pink body with golden blonde hair! A girl’s body! Scaramanga’s voice boomed against the wind. ‘Folks. Jes’ a little surprise for you all. Something from the good old Western movies. There’s a girl on the line ahead. Tied across it. Take a look.

Yes, you read that right.

 

So, why did I still enjoy the book?

 

My main reason is that this last work of Fleming is so incredulously craptastic that I could not take it seriously. It is such a spoof Western that it was quite fun to try and predict which cliches Fleming was going to throw in there. And for this alone, I liked it.

She went towards him like the Queen Mother opening a bazaar, her hand outstretched. 

But other than this, the book suffered from the same problems as any other Bond novel: The portrayal of women, Jamaicans, .... well, anyone who is not white, straight, male, and British or American is just plain awful.

Now it may only be myth, and it is certainly not medical science, but there is a popular theory that a man who cannot whistle has homosexual tendencies. (At this point, the reader may care to experiment and, from his self-knowledge, help to prove or disprove this item of folklore! C. C.)’ (M. hadn’t whistled since he was a boy. Unconsciously his mouth pursed and a clear note was emitted. He uttered an impatient ‘tchah!’ and continued with his reading.)

But since I cannot take this book serious AT ALL, I am going to say that the main problem with The Man with the Golden Gun is that it lacks a certain Nick-Nack.

 

 

What can I say, I'm glad I've read them, and I have had fun with the gifs, but I look forward to kicking Bond into touch.

 

For anyone, who has not lost the will to live yet after this meander of a "review", I'll update my Bond Project page shortly with all the relevant links to reviews. 

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text 2017-03-27 15:19
Ian Fleming: The Man with the Golden Gun - Reading progress update
The Man With the Golden Gun - Ian Fleming

We've just started the buddy read for last original Bond novel, ya'll.

 

This feels weird.

 

 

 

 

 

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review 2017-03-23 12:01
You Only Live Twice
You Only Live Twice - Ian Fleming

"The Superintendent went to the bottom of his file and extracted what looked like a blown-up copy of Doctor Guntram Shatterhand’s passport photograph and handed it over. Bond took it nonchalantly. Then his whole body stiffened. He said to himself, God Almighty! God Almighty! Yes. There was no doubt, no doubt at all!"

You Only Live Twice or, as I really want to call it, On Her Majesty's Secret Service - Part Deux, because I can't help seeing parallels to the second Hot Shots! movie, deals with a James Bond that has been broken after the events of On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

 

Bond has lost his interest in his job, is depressed, puts missions and lives at risk, chases pleasures aimlessly, and is on the verge of being fired. The only reason he is not is that M is persuaded to set Bond an improbable task that has no other aim than to make Bond realise that he needs to step up his game.

 

What M does not know, is that the investigation into the strange goings on on a Japanese island will play right into Bond's troubles.

"Bond held the pictures, not looking at them, thinking. Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Irma Bunt. So this was where they had come to hide!"

You would think that this set up of Bond being sent to investigate something far away from his usual life would provide some opportunity for Bond to reflect or try to deal with his own losses, you know, to make Bond grow as a character. But no. Instead, Fleming decided to use this book as an opportunity to showcase his own interest in all things Japanese and use Bond as a tool for comparing Fleming's understanding of British and Japanese cultures.

This part of the book is fun. It might, with good reason, make you doubt Fleming's research. There are at least two eye-roll inducing assertions in Fleming's portrayal of Japan - and one of which, about sumo wrestlers, seems to have become a myth that has transcended the Bond franchise.

 

Never mind, eh?

 

As this Bond buddy read comes to a close (only 2 books left, one of which is a re-read of a short story collection), I have come to really ask myself why I stuck with the series and had not abandoned Bond's exploits after From Russia With Love, which was one of the very worst books I have ever read. Ever.

Well, I have to admit that Fleming's attempts at dazzling his readers with bullshit are one of the reasons this series has been fun. I don't mean Fleming's xenophobia, sexism, homophobia, snobbishness, ... I really mean the times when Fleming tries to persuade the reader of facts that are ... wrong. The series is riddled with mistakes about biology, history, physics, chemistry ... anything that can be researched. Yet, Fleming talks about this stuff with so much conviction that reading a Fleming novel inevitably makes you question your own knowledge. It is fun to discover the errors or to learn something you didn't know by looking at topics that Fleming discusses with enthusiasm which just don't sound true. (Even more so if you have a patient reading buddy who doesn't mind sounding out some of the ideas with you.)

 

On the flip side, what I haven't enjoyed so much are the plots of the Bond novels. There are exceptions of course: Casino Royale, or Dr. No come to mind here, but overall the plots - reading in today, that is - were quite simplistic and often boring.

In You Only Live Twice, I would even go as far as to say that there is no real plot. Or at least, there is nothing that makes the plot interesting: There is not even an evil master plan to overthrow. We meet Blofeld and Bunt again, but they are mere mad shadows of their characters from On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Where is the fun in this?

 

So, overall, this is an interesting novel for getting to know a little bit more about Fleming and his estimation for Japan, but it is an utterly boring Bond adventure, that ends with a weird variation on Madama Butterfly.

 

Such an odd novel.

 

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review 2017-03-14 02:20
On Her Majesty's Secret Service
On Her Majesty's Secret Service - Ian Fleming

 Bond stubbed out his cigarette, gave a quick glance round their trysting-place to fix its banality in his mind, and walked to the door, leaving the fragments of his old life torn up amidst the debris of an airport breakfast.

I have been dithering about writing a review for On Her Majesty's Secret Service. You see, I absolutely adore the film. It is the perfect Bond movie in my book (yes, even with THAT Bond).

Screenshot_image2-On-Her-Majesty-s-Secret-Service-1969

It has a great story, fantastic cars, superb banter, evil masterminds, ridiculous evil plans to hold the world ransom, the typical Fleming level of fantastical "scientific" dazzle (of bullshit), dedicated hench(wo)men, ....

ohmss_m16

 

It had only been a try-on, to see what form the negative answer would take. But, as Bond followed her into the dining-room, it was quite an effort to restrain his right shoe from giving Irma Bunt a really tremendous kick in her tight, bulging behind.

 

 

 

lots of action,...even tho it's none of this:

tumblr_inline_nxetfwTl8K1t0ijhl_500

 

and lots and lots of lovely scenery:

 

pizgloria_ohmss

 

I love, love, love that movie. I'm sorry if I am going over-board a bit with the images, but what is not to love about the photography in this film, right?

 

The great thing about the original novel is that it actually is very, very close to the film. (I should say the film is close to the novel, but I think we have already established that I came to the book through the film.) Of all the Bond novels, I've read so far, this one was the one that most satisfied my expectations. And, with respect to the plot, the book was actually better than the film because we had more page time to explore the background to several scenes that don't necessarily make sense in the film such as how come that Blofeld's lair is in the middle of a ski resort? Or, why does Bond impersonate a Scot? Or, is there a reason for Tracy's manic-depressive behaviour at the beginning of the film?

 

The novel provides answers to all of this and really fleshes out the story beyond what the film could ever try do, but that is what is inherently magical in books - they allow for changes of perspective and inner monologues to be woven into the narrative.

on-her-majestys-secret-service-45

 

He felt deeply protective towards her. But he knew that their relationship, and her equanimity, rested on a knife-edge which must not be disturbed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

However, even with the additional detail, I still could not love the book as much as I do love the film. Having thought about it for quite some time, I've come to the conclusion that there are three distinct reasons why the book did not quite work for me:

 

1. Fleming's attitude
Yes, while both the book and the film are definitely a product of their time, Fleming's novel includes a few more scenes that are just insupportable, such as that women may have a "subconscious desire to be raped" or that a woman who suffers from depression can magically snap out of it if only she meets the right man. Truly Fleminesque what-the-fuckery! I've said this before, and I'll say it again, Fleming was a sexist douche-canoe.

 

2. Bond
Gee, I don't like the man. While the book's insight into the motivations of characters could be of benefit, the film greatly improved Bond as a character by leaving out some of the inner monologue... 

 

ohmss

Bond awoke, sweating. God Almighty! What had he done? But no! It wouldn’t be like that! Definitely not. He would still have his tough, exciting life, but now there would be Tracy to come home to.

 

All the right reasons, right?

 

However,  I do have to hand it to Bond, he does make a stand when it comes to being paid by Tracy's father to take her off his hands. Bond sniffs at a million pounds in gold in order to stick with  his principles. And, by the end of the book, Bond is truly shaken.

 

3. Tracy
The character of Tracy, played in the film by the incomparable Diana Rigg, is fabulous. Tracy's got some issues (which are explained in the book but not in the film), but she takes no nonsense, stands up to people, kicks Bond's butt at car racing, and saves his hide from Blofeld.  Yet, compared with the fabulous character in the film, book Tracy is a mere shadow of Rigg's depiction. There is a particular part of the dialogue in the book that has not transferred into the film, where Tracy relinquishes her independence.

 

While the scene and thought is appropriate for the time of the book's publication, it is still sad to see Tracy clip her own wings like that.

"She looked seriously at him, at every detail of his face. Then she leaned forward and they kissed. She got up briskly. ‘I suppose I’ve got to get used to doing what you say.'"

As you may have noticed, I haven't said much about the plot. As any other James Bond plot, it's ridiculous and outlandish. In particular, I didn't want to mention the completely daft idea of treating allergies with hypnosis. Oh, and Blofeld - besides wanting to take over the world - is looking into improving his family history with some certified connections to aristocracy. Again, ... not the most plausible in my mind, but oh well.

 

The main part of this Bond instalment is the love story, and the impact the encounter has on Bond. I have watched the film countless times, so the end of the book was no surprise. Still, the ending of the book, actually reading the lines, really got to me.

‘It’s all right,’ he said in a clear voice as if explaining something to a child. ‘It’s quite all right. She’s having a rest. We’ll be going on soon. There’s no hurry. You see –’ Bond’s head sank down against hers and he whispered into her hair – ‘you see, we’ve got all the time in the world.’

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text 2017-01-30 23:30
Bond Does Romance...
On Her Majesty's Secret Service - Ian Fleming

Bingo.

 

All right. I needed diversion and maybe this will make you smile, too. 

 

I'm not taking part in the Romance Bingo but I love reading everyone's updates and look forward to those fab bingo cards being filled in. Also, I keep wondering about whether whichever book I'm reading would fit into any of the categories. And then it hit me hard:

 

While reading the latest James Bond - On Her Majesty's Secret Service - I kept picturing the bingo card and kept filling in different categories, which leads me to this: 

 

On Her Majesty's Secret Service expressed in Romance Bingo markers.

 

 

Are you ready for some VERY tenuous links between the bingo categories and the book???

 

 

1. Insta-love - Check!

I'm not sure which one to give you here Bond or Tracey, but Tracey - in a suicidal mood - pretty much decides that Bond is the one man who can save her after they spend an hour (that is one hour) in bed together. Btw, that hour happens within a short time of them exchanging their first words with each other. I'm sure no one is shocked by this - this is Fleming after all.

 

2. TSTL - Nope.

(Inconceivable, I know, but there are no TSTL characters in this one. Apart from the girl with the chicken allergy maybe. I'm giving her the benefit of my doubt, tho. She may have had hidden depths. We never get to find out.)

 

3. "Headless" Woman - Nope.

(Again, chicken lady notwithstanding...)

 

4. Love is Murder - Check! Check! Check!

It's very dramatic and very sad. If you've seen the film, you'll know that there is no happy ending.

 

5. New Adult - Nope.

(Thankfully, the genre wasn't in vogue when Fleming wrote this.)

 

6. Young Adult - Nope.

(Again, thankfully so.)

 

7. Regency Romance - Nope.

(Although, the idea would have been fun...)

 

8. Eyeshadow and Heaving Bosom - Nope.

(Unless, I've missed this. Hm...)

 

9. Virgin - Best First Time - Check!

Ok, tenous, because as we know neither Bond nor Tracy are virgins but there is a bizarre scene where Tracy wishes she had been one for Bond. I cringed so hard at that but Fleming just was full of such lines...

 

10. Gothic Romance - Nope. 

(Again, this might have been fun.)

 

11. Blown Away - Check!

Most absolutely! There is action in this one and it is practically choc-a-bloc with "tremendous explosions", one of which has Bond hurl "forward and sideways in a Catherine wheel of sticks and skis."

 

12. Man in a Kilt - Check!

This one is tenuous again. This is the book where we find out that Bond is half Scottish. Also, he gets to impersonate a Scot. However, unlike in the film, there is no mention of Bond wearing a kilt. On the other hand, it is nigh impossible to read this book and not picture him wearing one. So, I'd say it qualifies.

 

13. LOVE - Check!

In their own stupid ways Bond and Tracy are in love. 

 

14. Rogue - Check!

Erm, Bond. You have met Bond, right?

 

15. Historical Romance -  Nope. 

(There is some genealogy and heraldry as part of the plot, but it isn't a historical romance as such.)

 

16. Secret Billionaire - Check!

 Ah, but you see this one is interesting. When Bond first meets Tracy, she's broke and in debt with the casino. This would make her a social pariah but Bond steps in just in time to save her from the social disgrace. A few pages later, we learn that Tracy's father is a millionaire and she wasn't broke after all. (It's more complicated but you get the idea...)

 

17. Twins - Check!

(Again, I am thankful that Fleming did not get to write about twins in this.)

 

18. Fairy Tale Retelling - Check! Check! Check!

Bond as knight in (and out of) shiny armor rescuing the princess (or, in this case,

Comtesse Teresa di Vicenzo) is the main theme of this book!

 

19. Wedding Bells - Check! Check! Check!

This famously is the book where Bond gets married.

 

20. Second Chances -Check!

The first encounter of Bond and Tracy does not go well. They do end up in bed together, but this means little. (This is Bond we are talking about.) It takes both of them a second encounter to warm to each other.

 

21. Key to my Heart - Check!

As we know, Bond loves a woman who can drive a car. In this book, it is Tracy's driving skills that instantly attract Bond to her. It is quite a cute scene. 

 

22. Pirates Argh - Check!

A little tenuous, but I cannot help picturing Draco's henchmen as pirates. They are Sicilian and connected with the mafia, but in my mind they are pirates. At least, they conduct their business affairs in a similar style to what pirates did.

 

23. Guy/Girl Next Door - Nope.

 

24. Interracial Couple - Nope.

 

25. Urban Fantasy Romance - Nope.

(Again, it would have been fun...)

 

I kinda wish the card had been around when we started the Bond Buddy Read, but it may have given the impression that I was not taking Bond seriously. Which, erm, of course, I am. 

 

Btw, I am still stewing over the actual review of On Her Majesty's Secret Service. It just needs a little more thought...

 

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