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Casino Royale (James Bond 007) Hardcover – 1 Dec 2016
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"Ian Fleming has discovered the secret of narrative art…the reader has to go on reading" (John Betjeman)
"A superb gambling scene, a torture scene which still haunts me, a beautiful girl" (Raymond Chandler)
"Mr Fleming’s first novel is an extremely engaging affair…the especial charm of the book is the high poetry with which he invests the green blaize lagoons of the casino tables…Mr Fleming has produced a book that is both exciting and extremely civilized" (Times Literary Supplement)
"[Casino Royale is] lively, most ingenious in detail, on the surface as tough as they are made and charmingly well-bred beneath" (Spectator)
"One of the most original spy thrillers that has ever tickled a jaded palate" (Empire News)
About the Author
Ian Lancaster Fleming was born in London on 28 May 1908 and was educated at Eton College before spending a formative period studying languages in Europe. His first job was with Reuters news agency, followed by a brief spell as a stockbroker. On the outbreak of the Second World War he was appointed assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence, Admiral Godfrey, where he played a key part in British and Allied espionage operations.
After the war he joined Kemsley Newspapers as Foreign Manager of the Sunday Times, running a network of correspondents who were intimately involved in the Cold War. His first novel, Casino Royale, was published in 1953 and introduced James Bond, Special Agent 007, to the world. The first print run sold out within a month. Following this initial success, he published a Bond title every year until his death. His own travels, interests and wartime experience gave authority to everything he wrote. Raymond Chandler hailed him as ‘the most forceful and driving writer of thrillers in England.’ The fifth title, From Russia with Love, was particularly well received and sales soared when President Kennedy named it as one of his favourite books. The Bond novels have sold more than sixty million copies and inspired a hugely successful film franchise which began in 1962 with the release of Dr No starring Sean Connery as 007.
The Bond books were written in Jamaica, a country Fleming fell in love with during the war and where he built a house, ‘Goldeneye’. He married Anne Rothermere in 1952. His story about a magical car, written in 1961 for their only child Caspar, went on to become the well-loved novel and film, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Fleming died of heart failure on 12 August 1964, aged fifty-six.
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This is a book that I first read many years ago and was one that I decided to read again, remembering just how much I loved the Bond books and, of course, to look at through more world-weary eyes.
It seemed to start a bit jerkily as though Fleming was coming to terms with his writing, but it smoothed as it went along. I’ve seen various things written about the book, decrying it for vulgar sexism (it is sexist but I did not think it was as bad as some people have declared), that it goes into far too much detail about the culture of casinos and gambling (not as much as I thought it would and what there was seemed interesting) and that Bond is not the clear-cut hero his modern image shows, in fact he is a bit of a bastard. (He is).
For me the book was an excellent read, and rather than looking at it through modern eyes with modern sensibilities I tried to look at it as it was written, a contemporary piece that has, by the passage of time, become a period piece. It is a rather interesting look at another time, when the memories of war were that more immediate, where the men had been shaped by that conflict, when sexism was just part of the culture, a good decade off from really starting to change although the seeds are being sown. (I’d imagine Fleming would have been against this.)
In short it is a snapshot of a time and place that has long gone, where casinos are no longer exotic places – the big ones probably still are, but they have been diluted through depiction by film and TV, and by the more commercial ones that appear on streets.
The core of the story is a strong one though, something that can be attested to by the more recent movie of the same name. Cleverly the writers of that have kept the main beats and plot points in place, and updated them for a modern audience.
The novel deals with something that is in some ways simple, but as with most things, simple works best. An agent of a foreign power has squandered funds he should not have done and is trying to recoup that loss through card play. The ‘good’ powers are determined to exploit this weakness and send Bond along to break Le Chiffre.
It is a rollercoaster of a ride, with the baccarat part of the novel written well enough that you can follow how the game works, and causing tension to build nicely as the cards are played. It is what happens after that steals the book though, with a damaged and somewhat cornered animal striking out, but even this does not deal with the increasing twists that just keep coming.
It is an old-world story, that catches the feel of its era. Everyone smokes heavily, there is a sense of style that is part of that bygone era.
Bond himself is not a particularly likeable character. He treats women with the sort of contempt that today would be totally unacceptable – at one point basically saying that they should be in the kitchen and house. He is brutal, a shark swimming through a sea of lesser beings. It is only as the book progresses that we see him soften and almost become likeable. This could, of course, be a reaction to the torture he suffers, but all the same it is this humanising of his character that gave him the potential to become the cultural icon he has.
On a final note, there is perhaps a sense of justice, in for all his attitude towards women, that virtually all the men miss the fact that the best spy among them is not male.
Overall well worth a re-read.
The plot is pretty simplistic and whilst I was surprised that the novel effectively reaches it's climax 2/3rds of the way through, the book's tone remains a surprise. One of the worst aspects of Fleming's writing could be the clunky dialogue yet the conversation during the initial meeting with Vesper Lynd struck me as so good that it was hard to believe this was the same author whose villains were often obliged to speak in comic book cliches. Here, Fleming remains taunt and credible and conjures up a story which is only matched by "TSWLM" for a low key story line. The most comparable adventure is "FRWL" and "Casino Royale" shares a similar scenario with the plot also concerning Cold War skulduggery. It is quite intriguing to see how different Bond's first appearance on the page is from later books and the manner in which the plots grew from beating a Soviet-funded Union boss at cards through to less credible efforts to destabilise the world. Even the setting of the Channel coast of France is markedly less glamorous that the more typical Caribbean destinations.
Although "Goldfinger" is the book likely to match the expectations of a reader new to Ian Fleming, the better efforts are those of a shorter length where the writer's excesses are curtailed and the stories not quite so far fetched. The Daniel Craig film was billed as a "re-boot" yet it mirrored the less sensational tone of Fleming's book which eschews nearly all of the elements you usually associate with James Bond. In summary, the exoticism associated with the secret agent is almost entirely missing in this book and offers a hint at how different the stories could have been had the tone been maintained. Amazingly, Fleming's creative powers took a nose dive two books later with the disappointing "Moonraker" and whilst the better efforts are a good, light read, Fleming never quite managed to replicate the quality of writing within the initial effort.
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This is a strange, underwhelming yet unique thriller. The first James Bond is a strange combination of forensic analysis of playing baccarat, torture...Read more