Fiction: “Casino Royale” by Ian Fleming

James Bond. Have I talked about James Bond here? *looks back through entries quickly* Nope, don’t think I have. All righty then; buckle up, this entry’s going to be long.

Let’s start with the movies — after all, that’s where I started with James Bond. The first Bond movie I ever saw was Goldfinger. I remember watching it on TBS (back when TBS had the sole rights to the Bond movies), and I think it was a Saturday night, I was spending the weekend at my grandparents’ house, I was sleeping in the room that used to belong to my mother, the lights were off, and it was a 13″ TV. It was life-changing. For about ten years, Goldfinger was my favorite movie of all time – it was a Christmas Eve tradition (remind me to tell you that story when I finally read Goldfinger), it was a joke between a former co-worker and myself, it was my everything. It’s still in my Top Ten List of Favorite Movies Evar.

And there was The Car. The Car. The 1964 Aston Martin DB5 in Silver Birch, with modifications. God, I want that car. I was so jealous of my … my I don’t know what to call them, my second family? Let’s call them that. Anyway, last May, I housesat for them while they went to the Spy Museum at Washington, D.C., and the Spy Museum has one of those precious Aston Martins. Someday, I’m going to be rich and famous, and I’ll have to cancel this blog because my agent and manager won’t let me talk about books I read (because they’ll be afraid that then I’ll need to pay royalties or something, hello, I bought the book out of my own free will, didn’t I?) (holy crap, tangent!), ANYWAY, when I’m rich and famous, I’ll get to drive an Aston Martin DB5. My friends (Brad, mainly) make fun of me – “Why don’t you want to drive one of the new ones? The DB9, for example?” And my answer, Brad, is that the DB9 doesn’t have a passenger ejector seat.

ANYWAY. Goofy gadgets aside, I loved Sean Connery’s incarnation of Bond. He was cool, collected – even with a laser inching steadily towards his disco stick, he is able to crack wise – got the girl (even got the lesbian to go straight), saved the day. Somehow, I managed to collect all of the Bond novels written by Mr. Fleming, and I think they’re all old Signet paperbacks that sold for 50 cents apiece. (Hey, how sad is it that no one uses the cent symbol anymore?) The only one I’d read previous to Casino Royale was Dr. No, and when I reread that again (which I will definitely do this year), I’ll tell you about that experience then.

And then, Casino Royale came out, and introduced me to Daniel Craig, heretofore known as my Pretend Boyfriend. And what Daniel Craig did to Bond that Sean Connery couldn’t, that Roger Moore didn’t even try to do, and what Pierce Brosnan believed he was above, was: he made Bond human. Those scars stick with him throughout the movie. God forbid Sean Connery continue to carry a black eye. That’s what I really like about Craig’s incarnation. Also? Well… I probably shouldn’t be saying those types of things I’m thinking in my head right now on a public blog, because they’re rather naughty. Think of something dirty and awesome, and then pretend I’m saying it. Because I’m probably thinking it.

Look, Daniel Craig’s really fucking pretty and hardcore, okay? If I caught him in a stairwell, I wouldn’t cry over his wounds, I’d try to get him to …

Moving on.

Let’s talk about the book, Alaina! It’s a book blog, after all! So Casino Royale was the first Bond novel Ian Fleming wrote, way back in 1953. Bond’s first case (that we see) is the epic baccarat game against Le Chiffre, a petty officer (if you will) with SMERSH, the Soviet anti-spy program. Le Chiffre is using his gambling to finance terrorism, and Bond’s job is to win against Le Chiffre and clean out his funds. His accomplices are Mathis, the chief of police in the small French town of Royale; Felix Leiter, the CIA liasion; and Vesper Lynd, a secretary (or something) in S Division, the division of MI-6 responsible for fighting the Soviets.

What I was very pleasantly surprised to learn was that the 2006 movie followed as close to the book as it could in this day and age. The first half (the accomplice in Bermuda, who then flew to Miami and killed his girlfriend in the hammock), that didn’t happen. Bond doesn’t meet Vesper until he’s been at the casino for a while. Oh, and SPOILER ALERT FOR THE MOVIE Mathis doesn’t turn out to be a double agent.

But the torture scene came from the book! I was shocked! Granted, it doesn’t have the blatant homoeroticism found in the movie (I can’t find a clip, so rent the movie, and fast-forward about an hour and a half to the torture scene), but it’s there!

So what’s in the book that really struck out for me? Well, in addition to the above similarities, there’s also his famous introduction — “Mine’s Bond – James Bond”, as well as his drink:

“A dry Martini … three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Linnet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon-peel.” [40]

Someday I’m going to find the closest thing to Kina Linnet and make that drink. I hope I like it.

There’s also the love of cars (in this book, it’s his Bentley – fun fact! It’s also the car Connery!Bond mentions to Q just before Q gives him the Aston Martin):

As the car rocked to the left outside the gate, Bond ruefully longed for the front-wheel drive and low chassis of the Citroen. Then he went fast through the gears and settled himself for the pursuit, briefly savouring the echo of the huge exhaust as it came back at him from either side of the short main street through the town. [81]

What isn’t always blatant in the Bond movies – it’s there, but the explosions tend to cover it up a bit – but is very noticeable in the book is rampant misogyny:

This was just what he had been afraid of. These blithering women who thought they could do a man’s work. Why the hell couldn’t they stay at home and mind their pots and pans and stick to their frocks and gossip and leave men’s work to the men? And now for this to happen to him, just when the job had come off so beautifully: for Vesper to fall for an old trick like that and get herself snatched and probably held to ransom like some bloody heroine in a strip cartoon. The silly bitch. [82]

That hurts doubly much once he finds out that Vesper’s a double agent.

What doesn’t show up in almost any of the Bond movies – though the Craig!Bond is doing a fair job, and I think that’s also a tip of the hat to the writers for adding that additional layer of depth to the character – is the humanity and fallability of Bond. In the novel, Bond berates himself and has some humanistic tendencies, but he looks at the situations he gets into with a very analytical brain. However, he does have the ability to recognize his faults:

He stifled a desire to place the blame on London. It was he who should have known. He who should have been warned by small signs and taken infinitely more precautions. He squirmed as he thought of himself washing down champagne in the Roi Galant while the enemy was busy preparing his counterstroke. He cursed himself and cursed the hubris which had made him so sure that the battle was won and the enemy in flight. [87]

Now, this final quote struck me. It was kind of like the line from Revolutionary Road about Inventory Control – it came along and punched me in the face:

“Of course… patriotism comes along and makes it seem fairly all right, but this country-right-or-wrong business is getting a little out of date. Today we are fighting communism. Okay. If I’d been alive fifty years ago, the brand of conservatism we have today would have been damn near called communism, and we should have been told to go and fight that. History is moving pretty quickly these days, and the heroes and villains keep on changing parts.” [109-110]

It … it almost sounds like the state of the world today. The more things change …

I lied. The final quote is from Mathis to Bond:

“Surround yourself with human beings, my dear James. They are easier to fight for than principles.”

[Mathis] laughed. “But don’t let me down and become human yourself. We would lose such a wonderful machine.” [113]

Of course, in the end, Bond realizes that Vesper’s a double agent and he vows revenge on SMERSH instead of retiring and becoming human, so he listens to Mathis. But in a way, I want him to be human. And not just because if he’s human, that means I have a shot at dating James Bond: it’s because Man is meant to feel. God wouldn’t have given us hearts and souls along with our minds if he hadn’t meant for us to feel emotion.

Grade for Casino Royale: 3.5 stars

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