Thursday, 16 February 2017

The Last James Bond Book

 
 

Octopussy & The Living Daylights by Ian Fleming


final James Bond book
first published as a book 1966
current editions contain these short stories:
Octopussy
The Living Daylights
The Property of a Lady
007 in New York


 
Octopussy 2
 
 


[Octopussy: Major Dexter Smythe lives on the coast in Jamaica and has a great interest in an octopus…]

The eye in the mottled brown sack was still watching him carefully from the hole in the coral, but now the tip of a single small tentacle wavered hesitatingly an inch or two out of the shadows and quested vaguely with its pink suckers uppermost. Dexter Smythe smiled with satisfaction. Given time, perhaps one more month on top of the two during which he had been chumming up with the octopus, and he would have tamed the darling. But he wasn’t going to have that month. Should he take a chance today and reach down and offer his hand, instead of the expected lump of raw meat on the end of his spear, to the tentacle – shake it by the hand, so to speak? No, Pussy, he thought. I can’t quite trust you yet.


 
 
Octopussy 1


[The Living Daylights: Bond is on surveillance work, and there is a women’s orchestra playing in the Ministry. The cello player has attracted his attention]


With that poise and insouciance, the hint of authority in her long easy stride, she would come of good racy stock – one of the old Prussian families probably, or from similar remnants in Poland or even Russia. Why in hell did she have to choose the ’cello? There was something almost indecent in the idea of that bulbous, ungainly instrument between her splayed thighs.


commentary: This was a real final hurrah: Ian Fleming died in 1964, with his last Bond book, The Man with the Golden Gun, not quite publication-ready. Octopussy & The Living Daylights were put out in 1966, and later editions added the other two stories, which are very slight but give a sense of completism. (Apparently Fleming thought so little of Property of a Lady he refused payment for it.)

Octopussy is bleak but memorable: James Bond comes as the avenging angel to sort out the Major, above, and we find out how Smythe got hold of the money to fund his apparently-enviable lifestyle – but we also see how grim and limited that life has become. And at the same time, Jamaica, the coast and the sealife are beautifully portrayed – with a lookback at life in the Alps in the 1940s.

I have in the past been quite rude about Bond, Fleming and an octopus - see this entry on the giant one in Live and Let Die, and the baby octopus in Thunderball.

Property of a Lady really is a slim tale – rather sweetly, the world of Sotheby’s auctions is explained in great detail to an awestruck Bond, who comes over as rather provincial and ignorant. The story was written for Sotheby’s. The mysterious Maria Freudenstein (mentioned as Maria Freudenstadt in Man with the Golden Gun, presumably just a mis-remembering, and something Fleming would have edited if he’d lived long enough) turns up and in true crass style we get this:
she was not attractive enough to form liaisons which could be a security risk
-  what a useful attribute in an undercover agent.

The Living Daylights is a story that has stuck with me since I first read it in the corner of the public library probably 40 years ago: Bond moves into a grim apartment in Berlin to watch out for a sniper - he is to forestall an assassination attempt. It is a distillation of the un-glamorous side of Bond, as shown in this adorable passage:
Bond lit the gas cooker, burned the message with a sneer at his profession, and then brewed himself a vast dish of scrambled eggs and bacon which he heaped on buttered toast and washed down with black coffee into which he had poured a liberal tot of whisky.
- and it is also a distillation of his sentimental side.

There is a little hat-tip to his family. After the passage above, Bond’s thoughts continue:
Of course Suggia had managed to look elegant, and so did that girl Amaryllis somebody. But they should invent a way for women to play the damned thing side-saddle.
Amaryllis Fleming was Ian’s half-sister, and a professional cellist.

007 in New York is just a list of Fleming’s favourite places in New York, but described as Bond’s choice – 007 is imagining in his mind what the perfect 24 hours in the city would be, with plenty of detail. There is the slightest element of plot, and a smile-worthy ending. It is not a spy story at all, but it is very charming, and given that in the end there weren’t enough Bond books – well it is definitely worth having.


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And that’s it: I have now read everything Ian Fleming wrote about James Bond. It has taken me a year, and I have enjoyed it immensely. I will do a roundup post next week.




























10 comments:

  1. Well done, Moira! And it's interesting how Fleming could write in an evocative way at times, so that the story stays with you. One doesn't always associate that with spy novels, but he could do that. I'll look forward to your roundup post.

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    1. I honestly was surprised and impressed by the books Margot - of course he wrote in his own time, but the books are full of good things.

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  2. I wish I thought I would get through the remaining novels even by the end of 2017, but probably not. I skipped reading Casino Royale because I had read it within the last 10 years but now I think I might go back to it this year because so far it is my 2nd favorite after From Russia with Love. And I have a biography to read.

    I also look forward to your coming overview.

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    1. Thanks Tracy - I loved it when you did From Russia last year, so will look forward to more posts (sooner or later..)

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  3. LIVING DAYLIGHTS is probably the pick of this slim collection, and I thought was transposed rather nicely in the first 15 minutes or so of the film version too. And I didn't know that at all about Amaryllis Fleming - thanks Moira!

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    1. There's something about that story...and I guess I am going to have to watch all the films now. I have dived into a few, but not in order.

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  4. Well done, Moira! Were the Ian Fleming novels out of your comfort zone? I look forward to reading your roundup.

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    1. Thanks Prashant - I think I thought they would be dated and politically incorrect. Spy thrillers have moved on so much since then. But I enjoyed them very much.

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  5. It's an interesting little collection. OCTOPUSSY is well told, if a bit gloomy. The military organisation that the main character worked for during the War sounds rather like Fleming's old outfit. Octopussy was the name of a coracle given to him by his Jamaican neighbour and lover, Blanche Blackwell (the ship that collects Guano in DR.NO is named 'Blanche' which I would not count as a great honour!) It's a bit like A QUANTUMN OF SOLACE in that it really isn't about Bond, but rather uses him as a catalyst for the story.

    THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS is the stand-out story for me. Temse and well told, and telling us a great deal about the character of Bond. He really isn't a natural born killer, and finds it especially hard to shoot a beautiful woman.

    Agree with you about THE PROPERTY OF A LADY. Both it and OCTOPUSSY turn up in the movie version of OCTOPUSSY. When the movie makers decided to turn away from the borderline sci-fi excess of MOONRAKER, the short stories were plundered quite extensively in order to give the celluloid versions more reality.

    007 IN NEW YORK was written in part to apologise for a roasting that Fleming had given the Big Apple in his book THRILLING CITIES. I love the fact that it's such a non-story. It's as if Conan Doyle wrote a Sherlock Holmes tale where no clients turn up, and Holmes and Watson decide to go out and have a nice meal.

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    1. Definitely going to have to watch more of the films, especially the later ones so I can spot the stories!
      My verdict on the four stories would be exactly as yours.

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