the 13th James Bond Book
‘Well, sir, I think it must be 007. Bit thinner than his photographs. I’ll be giving you his prints as soon as he’s gone. Wearing his usual rig – dark-blue single-breasted suit, white shirt, thin black knitted silk tie, black casuals – but they all look brand new. Raincoat bought yesterday from Burberry’s. Got the Freudenstadt question right, but says he won’t say anything about himself except to M. personally. But whoever he is, I don’t like it much. He fluffed on his special cigarettes. He’s got an odd sort of glazed, sort of far-away look, and the “Scope” shows that he’s carrying a gun in his right-hand coat pocket – curious sort of contraption, doesn’t seem to have got a butt to it. I’d say he’s a sick man. I wouldn’t personally recommend that M. should see him, but I wouldn’t know how we’re to get him to talk unless he does.’
[Bond meets up with his old secretary, Mary Goodnight in Jamaica]
Still the same glint of health over the good bones and the broad uninhibited smile from the full lips that, in repose, were so exciting. But now the clothes were different. Instead of the severe shirt and skirt of the days at Headquarters, she was wearing a single string of pearls and a one-piece short-skirted frock in the colour of a pink gin with a lot of bitters in it – the orangey-pink of the inside of a conch shell. It was all tight against the bosom and the hips. She smiled at his scrutiny. ‘The buttons are down the back. This is standard uniform for a tropical Station.’
commentary: This is the last full-length James Bond novel, and it was published after Fleming died. It is sadly clear that he was struggling by the end – it seems that he knew how ill he was and was understandably gloomy and depressed – and it is also clear from his letters that he did not think this novel was finished. He wanted more time to work on it, and suggested that publication be delayed for a year.
But while it is not the brightest star in the Bond firmament, it’s not that bad. It starts off with a bang – the brainwashed Bond comes back to the UK to try to assassinate M. I feel it is hardly a spoiler to say he doesn’t succeed. He is then ‘cured’ of his brainwashing, and given a chance at redemption: he must try to get rid of Scaramanga, the very evil Man with the Golden Gun. Bond takes himself off to Jamaica (very much a favourite Fleming spot – he lived there half the year) and gets himself taken onto Scaramanga’s staff. Various adventures follow.
There is the usual collection of bizarre moments, the ones that keep this reader going when everything else is somewhat routine. The story of the elephant in the childhood of Scaramanga was head-shakingly odd. And then there was this, as M reads a file on the villain:
There is a popular theory that a man who cannot whistle has homosexual tendencies. (At this point, the reader may care to experiment and, from his self-knowledge, help to prove or disprove this item of folklore! C. C.)’ (M. hadn’t whistled since he was a boy. Unconsciously his mouth pursed and a clear note was emitted. He uttered an impatient ‘tchah!’ and continued with his reading.)There is a reference to ‘jippa jappa luggage’ – apparently this means it is made of straw, and an interesting scene at a brothel at 3 and a half Love Lane – Fleming suggested that this address would make a good alternative title for the book.
There is an extraordinary scene in a nightclub where Scaramanga has taken a party of visiting gangsters: it is dull, and Bond sees a ‘cruise ship evening stretching ahead’. His idea of livening it up is to shoot the pineapple headdress off one of the singers, then order up some scantily-dressed women who will strip, and, as it turns out, go to bed with the gangsters.
Bond’s mission is to take out Scaramanga, and he is almost Hamlet-like in his indecision and delaying tactics here: several times he thinks ‘well I could kill him right now. But I won’t’ – for no clear reasons. (Except it would have made the book a lot shorter...)
So: a slightly sad ending to the series, but not as bad as I had remembered. Now I will just have to polish off the Octopussy short stories, and my year-long Bond reading marathon will be over.
Bond pictures from the ever-wonderful Suits of James Bond website. Note those ‘casuals’: we found out in OHMSS that Bond abhors shoelaces.
The young woman in the pink dress – who certainly looks as though she might be dealing with a secret agent – is a 1966 photo from Kristine’s photostream. You can see my idea of HQ wear for women in this blog entry on Moonraker.
You can find all the James Bond entries on the blog by clicking on the label below.
Moira, it's interesting that in this novel Bond returns to kill M. It's a plot element in Fleming's novels that I didn't know about. I saw the film years ago though I don't remember Roger Moore's Bond intending to eliminate his boss. I'll have to watch the film again. I think, Bond does redeem himself in some of the films.ReplyDelete
I think the films got further and further away from the books as time went on! I do want to see more of the films - I should say I'll watch the films, and you should say you will read the books.Delete
I will read the books, Moira! As soon as I find them. This calls for a trip to the used books exhibition.Delete
Is that the 'buy them by weight' one or a different one?!Delete
I'm impressed, Moira, that you set yourself that goal of reading the Bond stories, and are close to being done. I find it really interesting when an author is well aware that a book will be her or his last. I think that does impact the writing, as it did here.ReplyDelete
I know, and it is rather sad. But overall for me it has been a highly enjoyable challenge to myself, and I have learned a lot along the way - about James Bond and other things...Delete
Weirdly, I think this may have been the first Fleming I ever read! There was a rumour that his widow, and Kingsley Amis, helped get the incomplete MS into shape ...ReplyDelete
I think there was some fiddling with the MS. Amis was just about to publish his James Bond Dossier (oh how I love that book) so was well-placed I guess.Delete
Moira: Hmmmm ….. I am glad that after spending long years tending to the details of Bond’s personal life that he could not be bothered with Miss (doubt Ms. had yet arrived) G. has been rewarded with some leave in the warm Caribbean. Now I can see Bond is clearly enchanted by Miss G. in her conchy pink frock yet I think he would still expect her to attend to his mundane personal needs even though they are in Jamaica. While I have not read the book I expect she has precisely advised Bond to take care of himself and headed to the hotel beachfront bar for one or more appropriate cocktails! I am sure she would disdain any frothy concoction adorned with a colourful miniature umbrella.ReplyDelete
I am sure you are absolutely right! It would never occur to him that it would be any other way.Delete
I do like the idea of the colour of that frock...
It's not a bad book at all, but it would have been considerably better if Fleming had been spared to finish it. The early chapters are very strong, and it's a clever touch that we are really not putting ourselves in Bond's shoes for them. We sympathise with M, Moneypenny, Tanner and the others. It's a thriller, although there are the typical bizarre touches. I love the bit where 007, trying to convince them that he is really alive, tells the department that Steak & Kidney pie is on the MI6 lunch-time menu that day. "I don't like the sound of the Steak & Kidney pie..." someone says!ReplyDelete
Scaramanga is a slightly less imposing villain than some of his predecessors, but he has his moments The story about the elephant is used in the otherwise completely different movie version. He smilingly tells Bond about how he killed the man who had killed the elephant "I used to think that I loved animals, but at that moment I realised that I loved killing people even more". As Christopher Lee tells it, it's alternately poignant and terribly, terribly creepy.
I understand that Kingsley Amis strenuously denied making any contribution to the MS, although he did read it in order to confirm to the publishers that it was up to scratch. Years later he said that the MS showed signs that a large portion had been removed from an earlier draft, and he speculated that Fleming had originally intended that Scarmanga was sexually attracted to Bond. There's no definite proof, although there are tantalising hints such as that reference in Scarmanga's MI6 file.
It's been fun going through the novels again, and it confirms my belief that Fleming is a considerably more interesting writer than some people believe, They're far more than the Sex/Sadism/Snobbery jamborees that some of teh contemporary critics claimed.
Oh thanks for the update on Amis, I did think after writing that above that I might go and look at Amis's letters at the relevant time, to see if he says anything.Delete
Reading these books has been a revelation to me - they were so much better, more nuanced and more completely fascinating than I was expecting. I read most of them as a teenager, and loved them, but that's not always a sign that a book will follow through! But they were a great treat, I was always looking forward to the next book.
Thank you very much for your always informative and entertaining contributions to the project over the past year!
I know nothing about this book or the movie with the same title. We have never watched the Roger Moore movies, in general. We have one of them (The Spy Who Loved Me) and I watched one since I started reading the books (Live and Let Die). It will be interesting when I get to this one. Maybe before the end of 2017.ReplyDelete
I will be very interested to hear your views. One side-effect of my reading project is that I have started watching the films, in a very haphazard and out-of-order way.Delete