Top positive review
5 people found this helpful
on 3 May 2017
This must be considered a significant book. In many ways, it does not matter if it is good or bad, as a piece of literature it is the point that marks the beginning of something that would become a pop culture phenomenon: James Bond 007.
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.