Thunderball by Ian Fleming–Part 2

published 1961

James Bond book 9, the 8th full-length novel

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Not bothering to open the low door of the MG, the girl swung one brown leg and then the other over the side of the car, showing her thighs under the pleated cream cotton skirt almost to her waist, and slipped to the pavement…

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He was wearing a very dark blue lightweight single-breasted suit over a cream silk shirt and a black knitted silk tie. Despite the heat, he looked cool and clean, and his only concession to the tropics appeared to be the black saddle-stitched sandals on his bare feet. It was an obvious attempt at a pick-up. He had an exciting face, and authority. She decided to go along.

She wore a gondolier's broadrimmed straw hat, tilted impudently down over her nose. The pale blue tails of its ribbon streamed out behind. On the front of the ribbon was printed in gold “M/Y DISCO VOLANTE .'' Her short-sleeved silk shirt was in half-inch vertical stripes of pale blue and white and, with the pleated cream skirt, the whole get-up reminded Bond vaguely of a sunny day at Henley Regatta. She wore no rings and no jewellery except for a rather masculine square gold wristwatch with a black face. Her flat-heeled sandals were of white doeskin. They matched her broad white doeskin belt and the sensible handbag that lay, with a black and white striped silk scarf, on the seat between them. Bond knew a good deal about her from the immigration form, one among a hundred, which he had been studying that morning. Her name was Dominetta Vitali.

commentary: Earlier entry talked about the strange genesis of Thunderball and its continuing disputes, and dealt with the first part of the story.

Sixty pages in, the proper plot begins, and along comes Blofeld.

And I was almost immediately completely distracted from the plot, by this sentence about Blofeld's early life :
He soon realized, for he was a man of almost mimosaic sensibility in matters of security, that the pace could not possibly last. (my italics)
Mimosaic is an attractive word, but doesn’t seem to exist in any dictionary. Looking for any other uses at all, I found a possibility of, in Bible studies, mi-Mosaic (as in some way not Mosaic, against Mosaic, in the sense of Mosaic Law in the Old Testament). Didn’t seem likely. The only other viable  instance was as a translation of the German phrase
die mimosenhafte Empfindlichkeit der Turken
It is from a book  on German responsibility in the Armenian genocide, and is a quote from  German ambassador of the time,  Count J. Bernstorff - it is translated as ‘the mimosaic sensitivity of the Turks’. So I consulted my friendly team of language experts, who say that it would mean ‘over- or hyper-sensitive’. The reference is to mimosa leaves, which curl up if you touch them.


I was then delighted to find this quotation from a letter from Fleming to his publishers:
“I gratefully note all your cuts and digs and accept them all with the exception of 'mimosaic', a word which I saw somewhere and have taken to my heart. Do please let me leave this in if only to make my readers read at least one of my words twice over.”
He certainly got his way with me, I have spent a lot of time chasing it up, and involved other people.

And perhaps I am deliberately lingering around page 63, because I found the rest of the book rather a disappointment. I liked Bond arriving in the Bahamas, meeting up with Domino (above) and Felix Leiter – but the long dreary chases and fights in the ocean were not enthralling for me.

I enjoyed the distractions – Domino’s long story about the figure on the Players cigarette packet, and Felix’s disquisition on how to make money out of selling Martinis. It reminded me of the wonderful Peg Bracken , who quoted the passage in her Instant Etiquette Book then said ‘Felix Leiter was an admirable private eye, and I couldn’t have been sorrier when he was eaten up by the sharks. But he made a surprising omission here: the tip’. This was her intro to her own section on tipping – excellent.

There’s an odd and rather graceless moment when Felix and James swoop in their tiny plane over a woman sunbathing naked on the roof of a cabin cruiser and Felix says ‘authentic blonde’.

Emilio Largo is a good villain – used his picture from the Thunderball film before, in fact:

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And I like that his boat is called Disco Volante – Flying Saucer – in an era before, I presume, that Disco meant something else.

And a few questions– I don’t want to be tasteless here, but Domino is tortured using a lit cigar, and ice cubes, ‘applied scientifically’. I don’t know what the ice cubes were for?

And, after giant squids and octopuses in previous books, is Fleming having a game with us by immobilizing Bond with a baby octopus?

And, the ransom letter from SPECTRE: is it meant to be weirdly written and at times incomprehensible:
The whereabouts of this aircraft and of the two atomic weapons, rendering them possible of recovery, will be communicated to you in exchange for the equivalent of £100,000,000 in gold bullion, one thousand, or not less than nine hundred and ninety-nine, fine.
What does that last bit mean? Reads like an unchecked draft?

Bond’s clothes come, of course, where else, from the fabulous and highly-recommended Suits of James Bond website.

Thanks again to the language helpers.

First entry on Thunderball here.


  1. I can see why you were fascinated by that one word, Moira, and curious about it. Words do that to me, too. And I'm glad you shared that bit of Fleming's letter, too. I can well imagine he'd have wanted to keep that word in if he liked it so well. As to the rest of the novel? Honestly, I've seen the film, but I confess I've not read the book. And it doesn't call to me, either. I think it's because of all of the focus on the 'thriller' aspects (the chases, etc.). Not sure this is for me, to be frank.

    1. I'd have guessed you'd be interested in the language aspect Margot - and perhaps not so much in the thriller details. I am looking forward to trying the film at some point.

  2. I've done a bit of checking up, and all of that stuff about 'nine hundred and ninety-nine, fine' is gold jargon. The 'fineness' refers to the purity of the gold bullion, and the stuff mentioned is about the purest gold that you can get. Blofeld is apparently making sure that they don't fob him off with impure gold bullion.

    I know what you mean about THUNDERBALL. I'm quite fond of it, but it's a little bit 'by the numbers'. It's noticeable that the remaining books go off on some interesting tangents, as if Fleming was determined to ring the changes and try something different.

    The ice cubes and cigar torture method sounded absolutely awful when I read the book as a teenager, even though I didn't actually understand it (I still don't!) It's something to do with being burnt by the ice and then by the cigar, which is presumably twice as painful. The relationship between Bond, Largo and Domino is one of the most interesting things about the book. Largo and Domino have been lovers, but now she fears and hates him. Bond needs Domino's help, and is quite protective of her, but puts her in danger. Domino needs Bond in order to get rid of Largo for her. Largo regards Domino as a trophy, and seems to enjoy torturing her more than anything else. It's a triangle, but it's not really a romantic one.

    1. I know,exactly, when I read this as a teen I thought there was some mystery about the ice that I wasn't sophisticated enough to understand, but now I'm wondering...

    2. If you put your hand in ice water and then hot water it feels twice as hot. The contrast makes it more effective (painful).

    3. Thank you for the information!

  3. Well I had mimosa growing in pots at home in, I would say, 1964. (And we did live in the same house then!) I think they were also called 'touch me not' plants.

    1. It's the word I'm bothered about, not the plant. I checked every dictionary I could find, and I could not find it in any of them.

  4. My first thought was: Oh, I remember the mimosa trees growing near the street at the house I lived in for my first eighteen (plus) years. Fond memories.

    Ah, this book is one of three in the Blofeld trilogy book I have with a fantastic skull on the cover. And the first time Blofeld shows up in the books, although he shows up everywhere in the films.

    I do love that Fleming wanted to keep that word in the book. Very interesting.

    1. Oh lucky you! Mimosa was a rare and occasional thing in my life. I hadn't realized until I started reading that the Blofeld books formed a particular set - I was so unknowledgable about Bond...

  5. Moira, "mimosaic" had me reaching for the dictionary too. Your explanation of the term was interesting. Sometimes it can be frustrating to stumble across an unusual word in an otherwise clean sentence. I thought Fleming's note to his publishers was rather modest.

    1. I liked it that there was a word that completely stumped me, and that it was hard to track down - I think, good for him! And when I saw his comment about tripping the reader up, I thought that even more so.

  6. I did warm to him wanting to hang onto that word. Oh, Peg Bracken - I adore her!

    1. Yes, it was very endearing, especially as he didn't (according to his letters) try to steamroller people much, considering he was Cape's best-selling author by about 1000%, and might single-handedly kept them afloat. He was very polite and open to editing.
      Yet another taste in common - PB is wonderful...

  7. Moira: And here I thought a mimosaic was someone addicted to mimosa drinks. I can see Bond addicted a drink that is half champagne and half chilled orange juice.

    1. You have a good point there Bill. And you're making me thirsty! We call that drink a Buck's Fizz in the UK, but I am very familiar with the term from the other side of the Atlantic too.

  8. I'm almost inspired to dig out the first Fleming, almost...


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