I’ve never been much of a James Bond fan and have only ever watched two or rather three of the films all the way through. They were one of the Timothy Dalton movies, I can’t remember which, and both versions of ‘Casino Royale.’
However a few years ago I read the excellent Sebastian Faulks Bond novel which spurred me on to try out Ian Fleming himself. I bought and enjoyed ‘Casino Royale’ and that seemed to be that.
Now I’ve just done almost exactly the same thing with a different author. I read and loved William Boyd’s ‘Solo’ which plays with the genre, playing up to certain expectations (exotic locations, outlandish villain, beautiful woman) while leavening it with a dose of realism that stops it becoming ridiculous.
Once again that made me think I’d give Fleming another go so bought his second Bond novel ‘Live and Let Die’ which I vaguely knew involved voodoo in some way. The problem with this book though is that the racism, a level of which you come to expect in writers of a certain genre and era, is so prominent that it’s impossible to get past. Ironically, I think Fleming was trying to be sort of progressive but it comes across so ham-fistedly and the assumption that black people are simply ‘other’ than writer and reader is so ingrained that it leaves me reluctant to read it again which is a shame because there’s a decent adventure underneath it all.
I think he’s at his best when Bond is at his bleakest, for example in this astonishing paragraph dramatising Bond’s fear of flying:
No, when the stresses are too great for the tired metal, when the ground mechanic who checks the de-icing equipment is crossed in love and skimps his job, way back in London , Idlewild, Gander, Montreal; when those or many things happen, then the little warm room with propellors in front falls straight down out of the sky into to sea or on to the land, heavier than air, fallible, vain. And the forty little heavier-than-air people, fallible within the plane’s fallibility, vain within its larger vanity, fall down with it and make little holes in the land or little splashes in the sea. Which is anyway their destiny, so why worry? You are linked to ground mechanic’s careless fingers in Nassau just as you are linked to weak head of the little man in the family saloon who mistakes the red light for the green and meets you head-on, for the first and last time, as you are motoring quietly home from some private sin. There’s nothing more to do about it. You start to die the moment you are born. The whole of life is cutting through the pack with death. So take it easy, light a cigarette and be grateful you are still alive as you suck the smoke deep into your lungs.