James Bond book 6
LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES
[James Bond is on a beach on a secret Caribbean island, and sees someone…]
It was a naked girl, with her back to him. She was not quite naked. She wore a broad leather belt round her waist with a hunting knife in a leather sheath at her right hip. The belt made her nakedness extraordinarily erotic. She stood not more than five yards away on the tideline looking down at something in her hand. She stood in the classical relaxed pose of the nude, all the weight on the right leg and the left knee bent and turning slightly inwards, the head to one side as she examined the things in her hand. It was a beautiful back…
Her hair was ash blonde. It was cut to the shoulders and hung there and along the side of her bent cheek in thick wet strands. A green diving mask was pushed back above her forehead, and the green rubber thong bound her hair at the back. The whole scene, the empty beach, the green and blue sea, the naked girl with the strands of fair hair, reminded Bond of something. He searched his mind. Yes, she was Botticelli’s Venus, seen from behind.
commentary: This is probably the most famous arrival of a Bond girl in the entire canon, although of course the equally famous film version is considerably bowdlerised (if that’s the word) because Ursula Andress couldn’t be naked – she has to wear what by modern standards is a pretty substantial bikini. But I had to use that picture, because the whole thing is iconic.
This is book 6, and it’s a great one – exotic location, very focused on one clear story, but with some great turnarounds and changes of tone. The scary dragons with flames coming out of their mouths, protecting something on the mystery island, are terrific.
Dr No begins with Bond recovering from the dreadful events at the end of From Russia with Love. He is not in good nick, health-wise, and he has lost the regard of his boss M. As if that wasn’t enough, a new smug armourer, Major Boothroyd, tells him that his Beretta is a ‘ladies’ gun’ and he is forced to replace it. Then he is sent on what seems like a footling assignment – more of a Caribbean holiday. Find out what happened to a missing agent and his assistant. Surely they have just run away together? Surely not. Naturally this is not going to turn out to be a holiday at all…
Fleming lived on Jamaica for part of the year, and the local colour has a real ring of authenticity. There is a horrible incident with a deadly centipede. Bond gets fit with the help of his old friend Quarrel, though frankly, I think his exercise regime sounds a bit too much like a luxury spa:
Bond fixed his training routine – up at seven, swim a quarter of a mile, breakfast, an hour’s sunbathing, run a mile, swim again, lunch, sleep, sunbathe, swim a mile, hot bath and massage, dinner and asleep by nine.Honeychile Rider is an interesting Bond girl, almost falling over into child-like cliché but not quite, always holding our attention. I liked this description of her:
She was dressed almost in rags – a faded brown shirt with torn sleeves and a knee-length patched brown cotton skirt held in place by the leather belt with the knife. She had a canvas knapsack slung over one shoulder. She looked like a principal girl dressed as Man Friday.Kingsley Amis, in his invaluable James Bond Dossier, talks of Fleming/Bond, and the accusation that he/they are misogynists. Looking specifically at Honeychile Rider, he says:
I suppose it is conceivable that the man who wrote that ‘hates women terribly’, but I can’t feel that he obviously does.And I agree with him: I am ever on the alert for what I consider to be problematic male writing, and am a very strong feminist. Of course there are attitudes and remarks in these books that I wince at – they are very much of their time, and would be unacceptable now. But overall, I think Amis is right. I was expecting much worse from Bond when I started re-reading the books.
Strangely there is a minor character in the book called May – the same name as Bond’s housekeeper back in London. (We were wondering recently what Bond’s secretary does all day. Might ask the same question of May the treasure.)
Another item from Fleming’s letters: The whole business with the gun is based on an exchange of letters Fleming had (in real life) with an expert in small arms, and the correspondent is actually given the part of armourer to the department in the books from now on.
Pictures show Ursula Andress in Dr No, and Brigitte Bardot in … And God Created Woman. I found a rather wonderful pic of a panto of Robinson Crusoe in Worthing – do go and look here, (not supposed to reproduce the picture), the dancing young woman on the left has that Honeychile Rider look.