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Bond as "B" movie film noire
on 19 January 2014
Whilst Douglas Kennedy in his introduction has perhaps over-egged the suggestion that Ian Fleming had created a proto-feminist lead character in this book, it is far to say that Vivienne Michel is one of the author's more credible characters. I found this book really difficult to put down and , it must be said, this is one of Ian Fleming's better written efforts. It is also by far the more believable of all the efforts of his I have read. The book demonstrates Fleming's resourcefulness with this novel effectively being about a young Canadian woman who flees to America after some bitter experiences in London. The book is very much of it's time and ultimately , despite Vivienne's admirable independence that is outlined in the first half of the novel, she ends up succumbing to James Bond's charm. This first section of the novel reminded me a bit of Iain McEwan's "Sweet tooth."
Having set the scene, the main excitement in this book comes from Vivienne's encounter with two hoodlums who arrive at the motel she is minding. This section of the book is full of menace and her fate seems sealed until 007 arrives. I find Bond a curious character in Fleming's novels and he is effectively nothing like his portrayal in any of the films. "TSWLM" has the feel of a black and white "B" movie from the 1950's and the low-key nature of the story seems wholly credible until Bond's arrival. If there is a fault, Bond does seem the least credible of all the principle characters in this novel. For me, he is the weak link in this story. The account of his secret operation in Toronto seems ridiculous after the realistic violence that has occurred in the previous pages and there is absolutely no logic for his recounting this escapade to Viv. I did like the fact that you anticipate a thrilling encounter between the two gangsters and Bond and Fleming sets out the stalls so that you are anxious for Bond to come to the rescue. For once, the baddies are realistic and borrow more from film noire than the usual comic book pen portraits. The book is all the better for this.
"TSWLM" is a riveting read and although obviously not a book without faults, I feel that this effort is under-rated as it offers some of Fleming's best writing together with a story that is very believable. Much of the interest with the Bond books stem from the contrasts with the films. Generally, the "Connery" films seem to be more in keeping with the novels although I feel the alterations on the screen are generally to the benefit of the stories. Despite being one of Roger Moore's better outings as the secret agent, this novel has absolutely nothing to do with the film. It is a taut, pithy thriller and benefits from being told from the point of view of someone other than Bond. In fact, Bond only appears in the last third of the novel. Although slated by the critics at the time, Fleming was quite audacious in publishing this effort and his decision to override his initial reluctance to release this novel is justified. The Bond novels are a mixed bunch and even some of the better ones like "Dr No" can get a bit clunky. I feel this book offers quite an original spin on the world's most famous secret agent and providess a good contrast to "From Russia with love" and "On her majesty's secret service" which, for my money, are the best amongst the five I have read so far. This effort isn't far behind.