James Bond book 11published 1963
It was tremendously hot in the room and Bond felt the sweat bead on his forehead as he was led from table to table and shook this cool, this warm, this languid hand. Names like Ruby, Violet, Pearl, Anne, Elizabeth, Beryl, sounded in his ears, but all he saw was a sea of beautiful, sunburned faces and a succession of splendid, sweatered young bosoms. It was like being at home to the Tiller or the Bluebell Girls. At last he got to the seat that had been kept for him, between Irma Bunt and a gorgeous, bosomy blonde with large blue eyes. He sat down, overcome.
Ten girls and Irma. All English. No surnames. No other man. Girls in their twenties. Working girls probably. Sort of air-hostess type. Excited at having a man among them - a personable man and a baronet to boot - if that was what one did to a baronet. Pleased with his private joke, Bond turned to the blonde. 'I'm terribly sorry, but I didn't catch your name.'
'I'm Ruby.' The voice was friendly but refined. 'It must be quite an ordeal being the only chap - among all us girls, I mean.'
[Ruby introduces the others] 'Well, I'll start on your right. That's Miss Bunt, the sort of matron, so to speak. You've met her. Then, in the violet camelot sweater, well, that's Violet of course. Then at the next table. The one in the green and gold Pucci shirt is Anne and next to her in green is Pearl. She's my sort of best friend here.'
And so it went on, from one glorious golden girl to the next.
Bond heard scraps of their conversation. ' Fritz says I'm not getting enough Vorlage. My skis keep on running away from me.' 'It's the same with me' - a giggle - 'my sit-upon's black and blue.'
commentary: After the subdued but enjoyable strangeness of The Spy Who Loved Me, Fleming apparently threw everything else at the next book along, including a different kind of strangeness, and Bond is in it every inch of the way. I knew two things about this one: that there was a snowy alpine setting, and that there is a big change in Bond’s personal life. I had absolutely no idea what the plot might be, and it took a long time to find out, for everyone. The books aren’t usually mysteries, except in the tension of ‘what happens next?’, but this really had me wondering what was going on, as Bond tries to find Blofeld, wonders about the lovely Tracy, and spends time in what almost seems to be a skiing finishing school with a set of young ladies, as above – although they are not very posh.
The book opens with classic scenarios – beach, crime boss, cars racing, a casino, a beautiful woman, and we learn that Bond wants to resign from the Service.
Then he gets a lead on Blofeld: the villain is giving himself away in his snobbery, and is looking for a coat of arms and perhaps an ancestral title. So Bond sets off for the College of Arms and meets Griffin Or (practically Harry Potter) and then Sable Basilisk Pursuivant. (A friend who visited the College in real life says that the carpark is a joy, with Rouge Dragon Pursuivant’s space clearly marked as such, and you’d be hoping for some caparisoned horse or a chariot, but instead there is a rather ordinary VW Golf.)
Eventually Bond is sent out to Blofeld’s Swiss home, pretending to be an expert in arms (coats of, not guns) and heraldry. Here is a bizarre mountain stronghold, containing a lot of giggling young women, supervised by Irma Bunt, and some outlandish scenes – one where Bond, of all things, feels like ‘the games director on a cruise ship.’
Note the Camelot sweater, repeated from The Spy Who Loved Me.
I loved the fact that Chapter 18 is splendidly titled Fork Left for Hell!
Bond’s romance with Tracy is touching and sad. One key element is that he doesn’t mind being beaten by her in a car race – I thought that was surprising and significant. And his summing up of why she is the woman for him is charming: ‘she’s adventurous, brave, resourceful. She’s exciting always. She seems to love me. She’d let me go on with my life. She’s a lone girl, not cluttered up with friends, relations, belongings…’
There'll be another entry on this one.
Picture of young women enjoying their skiing is from the Dutch National Archives. Apres ski from the US National Archives.