Monday, April 23, 2012

Review of Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

This book, which was the first installment of the James Bond series by Ian Fleming, was published in 1953. (Interesting fact: Fleming chose the name "James Bond" for his protagonist from an ornithology guide--author's name). My introduction to 007 was through the films, not the books, and so this novel came as quite a surprise to me. The films are very tongue-in-cheek, packed with humor and extravagant thrills and spills, and very little real suspense. It's pretty obvious that Bond will save the day, and the girl, etc etc. The actors who have portrayed Bond over the years were really chosen to create a metrosexual character....a dandy who likes his clothes and cars and romancing gorgeous women. David Niven, Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan had that vibe.

Fleming's Bond may have been obsessed with fast cars and elaborate cocktails, but he was first and foremost an ice cold killer and machine. There is none of that trademark humor from the films in this book. It is a fascinating portrayal of a spy and how he must live in order to survive. All the things that we take for granted in 2012 (spies hiding things in the toilet, putting a hair or piece of tape on the door to see if anyone broke into the room, leaving messages in code, etc) were all brand new to readers in 1953. And so Fleming spends a lot of time describing, in great detail, how Bond goes about his business. In particular, there was an astronomically large number of pages devoted to his gambling strategy at the casino.

Bond is meticulous with everything in his life...his clothes, his drinks, his surroundings, and how he plans for his job. Everything is in its proper place. He assesses people the same way. They fit tidily into a niche. That's it. I have seen complaints from readers about how misogynistic Bond is. Two things about that. One, it's 1953. And two, I think his feelings about women reflect more about self-preservation with his occupation. There is no room for shades of grey in his life. Or feelings of protectiveness or empathy. Women are good for one He is uncomfortable with them professionally, and he is unable to function as a stone cold killer with emotional complications. And so, one moment he is planning a seduction as an amusement. The next he is thinking that if his female colleague is raped and tortured, that's her own problem. She signed up for this job. She knew the risks.

Bond's state of mind is fascinating. I really enjoyed this book. It paints an intriguing portrait of this man and how he functions. Of all the actors who have portrayed Bond over the years, I think Daniel Craig is the best fit for the real character from this book. (And of course, Craig starred in Casino Royale, the film). He is able to balance a certain elegance and ruggedness and intensity that I think captures James Bond from Fleming's original novel.

And of course, he looks totally bad-ass in boy-short swim trunks, too. :^)

Grade: A

Happy Monday!


Steph from said...

From the movies I always thought the clothes thing was that he couldn't give a hoot about clothes but no matter what he put on he looked like a million bucks. They must have had to warm hm up, humanize him, for film. When the movies began coming out women were becoming more powerful economically and also a character who didn't seem to care but who required viewers sympathy wouldn't work. You'd lose half the audience with an unsympathetic male character.

I didn't realize Fleming wrote the first spy thriller. It would be interesting to see the SPY museum in DC for some insight.

Penny Watson said...

Hi Steph! In the book, Bond is very conscientious about his clothes. If they made a movie from this and tried to make it true to the original it would be more about a hit-man/spy and his psychology.

I'm not sure if this was the very first spy thriller, but I'm assuming this genre of books started in the 1950s due to the Cold War. I think that the political climate at the time was just right for these types of books to become popular.

Unknown said...

Never read any of the books, like you films. but sounds an intriguing read, or, sis it seem dated?

Nivce to know that somethings don't change though Miss Watson....

" totally bad-ass in boy-short swim trunks, too" always with the fantasy and I'll bet he could shake your Sunday Martini too.... xx

Unknown said...

sorry about the spelling please don't report me to Aunty Jaye, pretty please

Penny Watson said... is dated, but I still found the read enjoyable. His character would still be fascinating in 2012. Bond is an icy cold character, just like his martinis. There is no "smirking at the camera" and joking around like the films. This guy means business!

There is also a pretty gruesome torture scene where Bond almost loses his olives, if you know what I mean. Ouch!

Casey Wyatt said...

I'm a super huge fan of the movies. And I have read one of the books, but it was so long ago that I don't remember which one. One thing that fascinates me about Ian Fleming is that he wrote the children's book - Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang!

Penny Watson said... lie! Chitty Chitty Bang Bang! *Penny googles* You don't lie! He did indeed write that book for his son Caspar. Totally cool tidbit...thanks for that one!

JenM said...

I had no idea he wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I love that book. Thanks for that awesome trivia!

Penny Watson said...

Hi Jen! Me either...That is an awesome bit of trivia, for sure. Time to play Trivial Pursuit!

Heidenkind said...

I tried to read this book a while ago and just couldn't get into it. It's definitely a male fantasy book.

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