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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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text 2017-01-22 23:05
OHMSS: Reading progress update: I've read 1 out of 259 pages.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service - Ian Fleming

I am a tiny bit excited. 

 

This is the book in the Bond series that I have been looking forward to the most, and now finally, we have reached the stage in the Buddy Read where this book is next.

 

In celebration of finally getting to read On Her Majesty's Secret Services, I have cleared my currently reading shelf, which in itself is a first!

 

I hope the book lives up to my expectations. No, sorry, let me rephrase in view of my previous Bond experience...

 

I hope the book is not crap. I hope the book is not crap. Please book, DO NOT BE CRAP.

 

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review 2017-01-15 04:44
The Spy Who Loved Me
The Spy Who Loved Me - Ian Fleming

I WAS RUNNING away. I was running away from England, from my childhood, from the winter, from a sequence of untidy, unattractive love-affairs, from the few sticks of furniture and jumble of overworn clothes that my London life had collected around me; and I was running away from drabness, fustiness, snobbery, the claustrophobia of close horizons and from my inability, although I am quite an attractive rat, to make headway in the rat-race. In fact, I was running away from almost everything except the law.

That is not a bad start for a book, is it? It's intriguing. It tells of a backstory that is about to be revealed, and it foreshadows whatever else is going to happen whilst the character is on the run. 

 

To be honest, when I started the book, I was really looking forward to reading this. Not just because it was the beginning of another fun buddy read, but also because I had not read The Spy Who Loved Me before. I knew the film, of course, but the film, I was advised, bears no resemblance to the book. Not even close. So, after a few decent Bond stories that followed the abysmally bad From Russia With Love, I thought Fleming had maybe found his template. That maybe From Russia With Love was him scraping the bottom of the barrel, and that surely ANY other book had to be better.

 

Well, I was wrong. I was so wrong. 

 

Also, when reviewing that hot mess that is From Russia With Love, I did mention that it would have been helpful if Fleming had provided a bit more insight into the internal monologue of the books female lead. Yes, I bemoaned that Fleming did not write any part from the female perspective. 

 

Well, folks, it goes to show that I should be careful what I wish for because Fleming did exactly that in The Spy Who Loved Me, and it does not work. What Fleming gives us is Viv, a young Canadian whom we again learn very little about other than she's been in some seriously messed up relationships. Yes, Fleming defines her through the relationships she's been in, mostly being taken advantage of.

What doesn't work about this is that Viv's own account is just dripping with Fleming's misogyny. At one point, he has her describe an abortion as follows:

It was as mentally distressing but as physically painless as I had expected, and three days later I was back in my hotel.

That is all Fleming has Viv say about it. Doesn't sound convincing, does it. 

 

Fleming tries to sell her history as a tough backstory and which is supposed to set Viv up for a resolution to stop being a push-over, be more confident, and not be groped at every turn.

Well, that was the end of that! From now on I would take and not give. The world had shown me its teeth. I would show mine. I had been wet behind the ears. Now I was dry. I stuck my chin out like a good little Canadian (well, a fairly good little Canadian!), and having learnt to take it, decided for a change to dish it out.

So, Viv ends up "on the run" in rural New York, stuck in a short-term motel job, where again she first falls prey to the husband of the owner and then ends up being held for five hours by two thugs who beat her up and threaten her with rape every five minutes. And for a large chunk of the book, this is all the plot there is. Until Bond turns up and saves the day, upon which Bond claims Viv as his reward. 

 

Let's recap: Viv had just undergone severe beatings, rape and death threats, and the one thing on Bond's mind is to have sex with her.

 

The idiotic thing - well, another one, is that Viv, who previously had resolved to escape from abusive relationships, feels she had to go along with Bond's request.

But I knew in my heart that I had to. He would go on alone and I would have to, too. No woman had ever held this man. None ever would. He was a solitary, a man who walked alone and kept his heart to himself. He would hate involvement. I sighed. All right. I would play it that way. I would let him go. I wouldn’t cry when he did. Not even afterwards. Wasn’t I the girl who had decided to operate without a heart? Silly idiot! Silly, infatuated goose! This was a fine time to maunder like a girl in a woman’s magazine! I shook my head angrily and went into the bedroom and got on with what I had to do.

WTF??? Why???

 

This is the point in the book when I no longer asked myself if Fleming lost his mind, but whether he had one in the first place. 

And as if this wasn't sick enough, it actually got worse:

I think I know why I gave myself so completely to this man, how I was capable of it with someone I had met only six hours before. Apart from the excitement of his looks, his authority, his maleness, he had come from nowhere, like the prince in the fairy tales, and he had saved me from the dragon. But for him, I would now be dead, after suffering God knows what before. He could have changed the wheel on his car and gone off, or, when danger came, he could have saved his own skin. But he had fought for my life as if it had been his own. And then, when the dragon was dead, he had taken me as his reward. In a few hours, I knew, he would be gone – without protestations of love, without apologies or excuses. And that would be the end of that – gone, finished. All women love semi-rape. They love to be taken. It was his sweet brutality against my bruised body that had made his act of love so piercingly wonderful.

Seriously, what utter bullshit! I have not felt so nauseated and enraged by a book since

From Russia With Love. I had hoped Fleming got his act together in the books that followed, but clearly he was a leopard that could not change his spots, which is a shame because the premise of the book was great. It is just that a misogynist dumbass writing from a point of view he has no interest in understanding or even exploring will inevitably end up with a book full of misogynist dumbassery.

 

Avoid at all costs.

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