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3.9 out of 5 stars
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Contains plot spoilers.

First published in 1964, this is the twelfth print outing (eleventh full length novel) for Ian Fleming's James Bond. It was the last of the Bond series published in Fleming's life time.

Following the calamitous events at the end of `On Her Majesty's Secret Service', Bond is a wreck. He is drinking too much, he is gambling and losing too much, and even worse he is making mistakes on assignments that are putting lives at risk. M is on the verge of firing him from the service, but is persuaded by an eminent psychologist to give Bond one last chance, with an assignment so tough that it might shake Bond up and bring the old, dedicated and dangerous agent back to life. M sends him on a seemingly impossible mission to Japan, not to kill or investigate anything, but to schmooze the chief of Japanese intelligence into letting the British have access to a solid gold intelligence source they have in Russia. Bond is indeed shaken up and the assignment proves to be a tough one as he uses all his wits and judgement to get Tiger Tanaka on side. He gains the trust of the Japanese intelligence man, who agrees to hand over the intelligence, but at a price. He needs a deniable operative to perform an assassination, and it seems as though Bond fits the bill. One murder by Bond and the British can have all the access it wants. So Bond undergoes a transformation into a Japanese coal miner and is sent off to slay the mysterious Dr. Shatterhand in his garden of death. But it turns out that as well as the opportunity to fulfil his mission, Bond also has the opportunity for a personal revenge.

The book falls into three main sections, Bond's breakdown and the early stages of his mission in which he schmoozes Tanaka, a journey across Japan in which Tanaka immerses Bond in Japanese culture, and finally the mission itself in which Bond is on his own in an alien landscape. The first section is a well written and interesting study of a man taken to the brink and slowly pulling himself back from it. It holds the interest, and Fleming's usual excellent prose is used to good effect. The second section of the book however is a different story. Fleming often worked in a detailed description of something crucial to the plot (for example, guano farming in Dr. No, gold smuggling in Goldfinger, Heraldry in OHMSS) and made it utterly adsorbing. Here he attempts to sum up Japanese culture, and though mildly interesting to see it from the point of view of a middle aged man in the early 1960s, this whole section of the book is a real struggle for me to get through. It could have been trimmed to half, even a quarter of the length and the book would have still made sense and been a lot better for it. It is in the final third of the book, where Bond actually starts on his mission and realises who he up against that things really take off. Fleming uses all his descriptive powers to great effect to describe the garden of death in all it's alien horror, and the final showdown between Bond and his would be nemesis is an absolute cracker.

The book has a strong theme of character development and rebirth in it. Bond is transformed from a drunken gambler back to a man of action, then into an instrument of vengeance and finally into a normal human being living a contented life. Blofeld is shown as moving from a disciplined authoritarian evil genius into a raving lunatic (though no less of an evil genius), no longer in control of himself. Fleming also takes time to explore the state of the nation, with the exchanges between Tiger and Bond revealing how Fleming saw the position of the UK on the world stage at the time. There is also an interesting interlude at the end which leaves us on a bit of a cliff hanger, and gives us an opportunity to read Bond's obituary from M in the papers. That s a neat touch, and a great ending to what had been an only intermittently good book.

I wanted to like the book a lot more than I did, mainly because of the slow middle section. The opening, and the action packed finale are excellent, as is the philosophical depth that Fleming manages to bring to the piece. But that long tedious slog as Bond is trained to be Japanese just mars the whole thing. Three stars for the book.

The unabridged reading by Martin Jarvis is excellent. He manages a range of voices and accents with ease, and never slips into patronising or absurdity with his Japanese accents, as would be so easy to do. Over the course of seven and a half hours his excellent reading, with just the right pitch, intonation and pace, keeps the listener hooked, even through the sections of the book that are heavy going. So for the audio book I have to give it four stars, with Jarvis's excellent narration responsible for the extra star.
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on 15 July 2014
James Bond's life is in a mess as he struggles to deal with the assassination of Tracy by Ernst Stavro Blofeld within minutes of their wedding in the last instalment (On Her Majesty's Secret Service).

There is a good possibility he will be removed from active service when he is given a final chance on an impossible mission that takes him to Japan.

Whilst there he forms a friendship with Tiger Tanaka. Who is a senior figure in the Japanese Secret Service.

Tiger asks for Bond's help in a local matter. A Doctor Shatterband and his wife have recently arrived in Japan and have set up home in a castle in one if the nearby islands. They are encouraging people to come and commit suicide as Japan has high statistics of their people taking their life.

On being shown their photographs. Although disguised there is no doubt it is Ernst Stavro Blofeld and Irma Bunt who are masquerading as Doctor Shatterband and wife in their castle retreat.

Bond agrees to help. He does not let on that this is now a personal matter.

Does he get revenge over Blofeld?

This is a slow paced read which is better in the second half of this book. It lacks the action I associate with James Bond and the glamorous woman.

Then again the man is in a state of shook and like in his last adventure Bond finds a form of love in the shape of Kissy Suzuki.

Also mentioned in this are his parents Andrew Bond a foreign representative from Glencoe in Scotland and his Swiss mother Monique Delacroix who both perished whilst climbing at Chamonix in the French Alps when Bond was eleven years old.
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on 30 June 2016
Slightly unrealistic premise, but immensely satisfying story, even if the build up is more of a travel guide to the culture of Japan.

Fascinating character development for Bond as he recovers from the loss of his wife at M's behest.

A different kind of mission but with a satisfying outcome with our hero eventually allowed to get back on form.
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This is the second of Ian Fleming's novels that I have re-read before reading "Devil May Care", the latest Bond Novel, by Sebastian Faulks under licence from the Fleming Estate.

It is, I think, my favourite Bond. Bond goes to Japan on a mission to help restore his self confidence after the death of his bride at the end of "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" and a couple of bungled missions thereafter. He has been stripped of his "double - 0" number but allocated a "diplomatic" one - 7777 - instead. He comes up first against Tiger Tanaka, head of the Japanese secret service and then, in an attempt to prove to Tiger that the British are a race still to be respected, against a mysterious botanist who turns out to be none other than his old enemy, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. The scenario - a garden designed to entice hundreds of suicidal Japanese to their deaths - is perhaps the most fantastical of all Flemings' plots.

Tiger provides Fleming with a mouthpiece to express his angst about contemporary British society and its place in the world: "Bondo-san, I will now be blunt with you...it is a sad fact that I, and many of us in positions of authority in Japan, have formed an unsatisfactory opinion about the British people since the war. You have not only lost a great Empire, you have seemed almost anxious to throw it away with both hands...when you apparently sought to arrest this slide into impotence at Suez, you succeeded only in stage-managing one of the most pitiful bungles in history. (Tiger's English is impeccable - he went to Oxford, and spied against Britain, before the war!) Further, your governments have shown themselves successively incapable of ruling and have handed over effective control of the country to the trade unions, who appear to be dedicated to the principle of doing less and less work for more money. This feather-bedding, this shirking of an honest day's work, is sapping at ever-increasing speed the moral fibre of the British, a quality the world once so much admired. In its place we now see a vacuous, aimless horde of seekers-after-pleasure-gambling at the pools and bingo, whining at the weather and the declining fortunes of the country, and wallowing nostalgically in gossip about the doings of the Royal Family and your so-called aristocracy in the pages of the most debased newspapers in the world."

What would Tiger Tanaka and Fleming think of Britain today, I wonder? Given that Fleming was something of a hedonist himself, one might consider him ill-qualified to make such a judgement in any case. One wonders, moreover, with the best will in the world, the extent to which the Japanese ever admired the British.

Bond roars with laughter at Tiger's analysis - but then goes on to risk life and limb to prove him wrong and so to win vital cooperation over intelligence in the Far East. In so doing he meets the lovely pearl-diver Kissy Suzuki, loses his memory as the result of injuries on his mission but is nursed back to health and subsequently presented with a "pillow book" by her - to which he memorably replies "Kissy, take off your clothes and lie down there. We'll start at page one." - but earns a premature obituary.

This is Bond at his best - valiantly struggling to maintain Britain's status in a changing world, having quite a lot of fun along the way, but knowing, in his heart of hearts, that he needed something more.
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on 27 July 2014
It is impossible to call any of Fleming's Bond books awful - even the short stories had their charm. My problem here is that he spends so long trying to ''set the scene'' in Japan that he forgets to include the actual story.
TOO MUCH time is taken up by listening to Bond talk about Japanese food, drink, architecture, women, politics, history and culture that by the time we actually reach Blofeld (who is incidentally now but a shadow of his formerly magnificent self) the book is all but over. Maybe if I was reading this back in the sixties when Japan was this distant faraway exotic land I could have appreciated this more - but I make no apologies for being a child of the early nineties and as such I began to feel under pressure to continue reading.
It's sad because ''Live and Let Die'' proved that Fleming is more than capable of including a lot of local flavour and yet still write a fantastic book.
If I may be so bold as to say this; but I think this book just smacks of a man who was getting very bored of his creation. If the many rumours are true that he wanted to end the series here I honestly would not be surprised. Stick with the earlier books would be my advice.
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on 4 April 2013
Not a great lover of James Bond, either on film or in book form, I went for this purely because Martin Jarvis is the reader. I was not disappointed, for as always Mr Jarvis is superb, and brings the story to life.
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You Only Live Twice has a fair claim to being the best of the Bond novels. It has arguably the most deranged villain of all, Ernst Stavro Blofeld posing as, of all things, an insane horticulturalist going by the name of Dr Shatterhand (nobody did names quite so well as Ian Fleming); it has a terrific heroine in the resourceful and fascinating Kissy Suzuki; it has two charasmatic allies in the form of Tiger Tanaka and Dikko Henderson and it has the exotic locations - the islands skirting mainland Japan with their mountains, beautiful flowers and clear blue seas. Unusually for a Bond novel, and for me this is what sets it apart and places it very near the summit of all the Bond books, it has a fascinating and surreal plot and a great deal of emotional depth.

At the beginning of the novel James Bond is suffering from depression, experiencing a nine-month stretch in which his world crumbles and the colour bleeds from his life. He is not sleeping, he is drinking too much and his work for M has gone to hell. M, sensing that something must be done, sends him to Japan on what is regarded as an impossible mission - not because he believes Bond has any chance of succeding, but merely to present him with a challenge so insurmountable that he is forced to face reality and thus hopefully emerge from his moribund, drink-addled stupor. In Japan Bond meets Tiger Tanaka, finds himself getting an insider view of the Japanese secret service, and becomes immersed in Japanese culture (Tiger sees Britain as old, crumbling and decadent - a fading power - while for Bond Japan is a land of cloying ritual and rigid - too rigid - discipline); in a discussion on information-sharing between the two powers a side-issue emerges, a tale of a mysterious 'Castle of Death' in a remote coastal region of Japan where suicides flock in vast numbers to do away with themselves. Bond takes up the challenge to investigate and put an end to the macabre castle, and its mysterious owner, Dr Shatterhand.

The idea of a 'garden of death', a region cultivated with toxic plants that weep poisonous sap, yield lethal seeds and exude a miasma of decay comes - I suspect - from Nathanial Hawthorne's short story 'Rappaccini's Daughter', in which Dr Rappaccini cultivates flowers that positively exhale a toxic scent. In Fleming's hands the garden becomes a surreal devil's playground in which Blofeld - who patrols the garden in a suit of Japanese medieval armour in order to protect himself from the plants - provides what he sees as a noble service (a means by which suicides can easily do away with themselves without inconveniencing others). The accounts of Bond making his way through the garden to reach Blofeld's castle, and the sinister games of cat and mouse that follow, are amongst the finest things Fleming ever put down on paper.

In conclusion You Only Live Twice is one of the finest Bond novels. You can keep your straight-forward megalomaniac plans for world domination - a personal battle between Bond and an insane genius inhabiting a noxious landscape of beautiful poisonous plants is way more fascinating. Superb, surreal, baffling, dazzling stuff! Recommended.
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This is the second of Ian Fleming's novels that I have re-read before reading "Devil May Care", the latest Bond Novel, by Sebastian Faulks under licence from the Fleming Estate.

It is, I think, my favourite Bond. Bond goes to Japan on a mission to help restore his self confidence after the death of his bride at the end of "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" and a couple of bungled missions thereafter. He has been stripped of his "double - 0" number but allocated a "diplomatic" one - 7777 - instead. He comes up first against Tiger Tanaka, head of the Japanese secret service and then, in an attempt to prove to Tiger that the British are a race still to be respected, against a mysterious botanist who turns out to be none other than his old enemy, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. The scenario - a garden designed to entice hundreds of suicidal Japanese to their deaths - is perhaps the most fantastical of all Flemings' plots.

Tiger provides Fleming with a mouthpiece to express his angst about contemporary British society and its place in the world: "Bondo-san, I will now be blunt with you...it is a sad fact that I, and many of us in positions of authority in Japan, have formed an unsatisfactory opinion about the British people since the war. You have not only lost a great Empire, you have seemed almost anxious to throw it away with both hands...when you apparently sought to arrest this slide into impotence at Suez, you succeeded only in stage-managing one of the most pitiful bungles in history. (Tiger's English is impeccable - he went to Oxford, and spied against Britain, before the war!) Further, your governments have shown themselves successively incapable of ruling and have handed over effective control of the country to the trade unions, who appear to be dedicated to the principle of doing less and less work for more money. This feather-bedding, this shirking of an honest day's work, is sapping at ever-increasing speed the moral fibre of the British, a quality the world once so much admired. In its place we now see a vacuous, aimless horde of seekers-after-pleasure-gambling at the pools and bingo, whining at the weather and the declining fortunes of the country, and wallowing nostalgically in gossip about the doings of the Royal Family and your so-called aristocracy in the pages of the most debased newspapers in the world."

What would Tiger Tanaka and Fleming think of Britain today, I wonder? Given that Fleming was something of a hedonist himself, one might consider him ill-qualified to make such a judgement in any case. One wonders, moreover, with the best will in the world, the extent to which the Japanese ever admired the British.

Bond roars with laughter at Tiger's analysis - but then goes on to risk life and limb to prove him wrong and so to win vital cooperation over intelligence in the Far East. In so doing he meets the lovely pearl-diver Kissy Suzuki, loses his memory as the result of injuries on his mission but is nursed back to health and subsequently presented with a "pillow book" by her - to which he memorably replies "Kissy, take off your clothes and lie down there. We'll start at page one." - but earns a premature obituary.

This is Bond at his best - valiantly struggling to maintain Britain's status in a changing world, having quite a lot of fun along the way, but knowing, in his heart of hearts, that he needed something more.
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You Only Live Twice forms the third part of three James Bond novels in which James Bond meets Blofeld ,the head of Spectre. I would recommend that before anyone reads this book that they read Thunderball and On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

This book starts where On Her Majesty's Secret Service leaves off. Bond is a broken man at the start, having lost his wife on their wedding day. He is drinking too much and making mistakes in his work endangering his life and those of his colleagues. M is on the point of dismissing him from the Secret Service but he is advised to put Bond on a non-dangerous mission to go to Japan to obtain access to Soviet intelligence from a contact in the Japanese secret service that had not been available to the British before.

The book is full of journalistic detail about Japan and its people and the plot is about Bond going deeply undercover. The price exacted by the Japanese secret service contact is the assassination of two Swiss visitors to Japan who have purchased a remote castle which has been transformed into a garden of death full of poisonous (but beautiful) plants and animals. It apparently appeals to Japanese men seeking to commit suicide.

We learn that the Swiss visitor, going by the name of Shatterhand, is in fact an enemy that Bond has met before and their battle is going to be personal.

I did find it a highly enjoyable read and, while I felt that the local detail was laid on a bit thick, it was still very interesting. You could argue that the book does have too much exposition and too little action (certainly compared to any of the Bond movies) but for me it makes a more interesting read.

I have come to the conclusion that I do enjoy the books more. I think that Bond's inner life comes out more when you read and that Bond is a more vulnerable person than he appears in the movies.

Recommended
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Contains plot spoilers.

First published in 1964, this is the twelfth print outing (eleventh full length novel) for Ian Fleming's James Bond. It was the last of the Bond series published in Fleming's life time.

Following the calamitous events at the end of `On Her Majesty's Secret Service', Bond is a wreck. He is drinking too much, he is gambling and losing too much, and even worse he is making mistakes on assignments that are putting lives at risk. M is on the verge of firing him from the service, but is persuaded by an eminent psychologist to give Bond one last chance, with an assignment so tough that it might shake Bond up and bring the old, dedicated and dangerous agent back to life. M sends him on a seemingly impossible mission to Japan, not to kill or investigate anything, but to schmooze the chief of Japanese intelligence into letting the British have access to a solid gold intelligence source they have in Russia. Bond is indeed shaken up and the assignment proves to be a tough one as he uses all his wits and judgement to get Tiger Tanaka on side. He gains the trust of the Japanese intelligence man, who agrees to hand over the intelligence, but at a price. He needs a deniable operative to perform an assassination, and it seems as though Bond fits the bill. One murder by Bond and the British can have all the access it wants. So Bond undergoes a transformation into a Japanese coal miner and is sent off to slay the mysterious Dr. Shatterhand in his garden of death. But it turns out that as well as the opportunity to fulfil his mission, Bond also has the opportunity for a personal revenge.

The book falls into three main sections, Bond's breakdown and the early stages of his mission in which he schmoozes Tanaka, a journey across Japan in which Tanaka immerses Bond in Japanese culture, and finally the mission itself in which Bond is on his own in an alien landscape. The first section is a well written and interesting study of a man taken to the brink and slowly pulling himself back from it. It holds the interest, and Fleming's usual excellent prose is used to good effect. The second section of the book however is a different story. Fleming often worked in a detailed description of something crucial to the plot (for example, guano farming in Dr. No, gold smuggling in Goldfinger, Heraldry in OHMSS) and made it utterly adsorbing. Here he attempts to sum up Japanese culture, and though mildly interesting to see it from the point of view of a middle aged man in the early 1960s, this whole section of the book is a real struggle for me to get through. It could have been trimmed to half, even a quarter of the length and the book would have still made sense and been a lot better for it. It is in the final third of the book, where Bond actually starts on his mission and realises who he up against that things really take off. Fleming uses all his descriptive powers to great effect to describe the garden of death in all it's alien horror, and the final showdown between Bond and his would be nemesis is an absolute cracker.

The book has a strong theme of character development and rebirth in it. Bond is transformed from a drunken gambler back to a man of action, then into an instrument of vengeance and finally into a normal human being living a contented life. Blofeld is shown as moving from a disciplined authoritarian evil genius into a raving lunatic (though no less of an evil genius), no longer in control of himself. Fleming also takes time to explore the state of the nation, with the exchanges between Tiger and Bond revealing how Fleming saw the position of the UK on the world stage at the time. There is also an interesting interlude at the end which leaves us on a bit of a cliff hanger, and gives us an opportunity to read Bond's obituary from M in the papers. That s a neat touch, and a great ending to what had been an only intermittently good book.

I wanted to like the book a lot more than I did, mainly because of the slow middle section. The opening, and the action packed finale are excellent, as is the philosophical depth that Fleming manages to bring to the piece. But that long tedious slog as Bond is trained to be Japanese just mars the whole thing. Three stars for the book.
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