Posted by: dougery | February 28, 2011

Better Late Than Never: Casino Royale (the novel, 1953)

As you may have surmised, I’ve taken a bit of a break in my mission to watch all of the James Bond movies in sequence. L and I have been catching up on the Oscar heavy films we missed (and always miss, we don’t get to the movies very often) on Netflix and have become increasingly hooked on the Showtime cult hit Dexter. Thus little time for even more movie watching.

Yet I have been reading a ton now that Infinite Jest is behind me, and one of the novels I have currently dipped into just so happens to be the Ian Fleming Bond debut Casino Royale. Now I have not seen the recent Daniel Craig 007 reboot of the same name so unfortunately I cannot pontificate on the strengths of weaknesses of each version side by side. What I can say is that the Bond of the book(s) appears to be quite a different animal than the Bond of the films (or at least the Connery films of the early/mid 60s).

For one thing Fleming’s Bond is kind of a headcase. He worries about things. A lot. He gets nervous when pressed, particularly at the gambling table and is constantly noticing the sweat in his armpits. He seems relatively good at his job, but this is a man on the early side of his career, having eliminated only a few foes and only recently acquired his double 0 designation, his license to kill. One can see the casual confidence of Connery Bond lurking here somewhere, but much has yet to be realized.

Having grown so accustomed to the relentless of work ethic of a man like, say, Parker (from the series of noir pulps by Richard Stark) I can’t help but notice some of the same character traits in Fleming’s protagonist. Bond is work oriented here, has no time for women while on the job, much like Parker. He will only seek to satiate his appetite after the job is done rather in stark contrast to Connery’s Bond who enjoys every piece of ass he can get before, during, and after each mission.

Something each Bond shares, however, is rampant, seemingly unnecessary over-the-top misogyny. Fleming’s Bond mistrusts women to an insane degree. When one is dispatched to aid him in a quest to bankrupt a rogue Soviet agent he is thoroughly put out despite the fact that we all know ahead of time that Vesper Lynd will undoubtedly be capable in every arena of feminine espionage, will be aesthetically pleasing and of course, fall for our hero despite the inevitable reveal

 

*Spoiler Alert*

 

 

*Spoiler Alert*

 

 

of her double agent-ness.

Strangely, the plot of the novel is low-key. There is a surprisingly stirring game of baccarat at the center, followed by a car chase and a drawn out torture sequence where Bond has his ‘undercarriage’ caned for way too many pages. The latter occurs because Lynd gets kidnapped which as you might guess leads to a lot of: ‘women! They should just stay in the kitchen amirite fellas?’

But the reader need not worry. Bond will recover from the beating as the doctor assures him he will retain all of his ‘powers’. Bond is so virile that his junk can withstand the kind of walloping that would render any other mere mortal a eunuch.

Oh, and there is the line that everyone gets all uppity about, perhaps with good reason, where Bond thinks what intercourse with the reserved Lynd would be like and seasons his thoughts with a phrase like “the sweet tang of rape.” Yeah, it’s in there. People actually write like this once.

Yet far be it from me to toss the entire book off as a relic of a very specific time in world diplomacy and secret agencies (which it might very well be, the inclusion on the 1,001 Books to Read Before You Die notwithstanding) I kind of like that Bond is neanderthal. In my eyes it makes him more interesting. You kind of want to see him flounder and struggle and get his junk messed up. After all the suffering he endures in Royale is the direct result of his trust with women issues. And while I don’t expect him to change from book to book, to progress into a salvageable ‘up with women’ hero, here at least, there is retribution for his misogyny.

Now if he just wasn’t so into cars…

Bond Grade (out of 007) 004.

Listening to: Madvillain

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