THIS REVIEW IS NOT SPOILER-FREE. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.
James Bond has A Past. He is the best at what he does, and what he does isn’t entirely clear just yet, though it definitely involves “the war” and the kills that got him his “Double-Oh” status. He has a thing for fancy clothes and good food, and it seems that his favorite qualities in a woman are: follows orders; is a secretary; is up for “making love”; has a nice rack.
Bond is also the best card player in “the service” (MI6), and so in this, his first mission as recorded by Sir Ian Fleming, he finds himself into a small town in France, playing the largely incomprehensible baccarat against an international terrorist. Only one man can have Lady Luck on his side, and when a battle this big between good-versus-evil lays it all out on the card table, only one man can walk away with his life. (But only after that man is beaten nearly to death, of course, because where’s the fun in being a hero if you don’t suffer at least a little bit?)
First line: “The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning.”
Bad Guy: Le Chiffre (“The Number,” “Herr Mummer,” “Herr Ziffer,” not actually Mads Mikkelsen, etc.)
Bond Girl: Vesper Lynd, a.k.a. “the girl,” a girl secret agent who obviously doesn’t have enough room in her girl brain to be a Real Secret Agent. “She has black hair, blue eyes, and splendid…er…protuberances. Back and front” (25). Also: “a narrow, but not a thin, waist” (33).
- Fun fact: Say her name with a German accent. (West Berlin?? Fleming, you sly bastard.)
Does she get fridged? Technically, no. But she does kill herself over the guilt for having to betray Bond, at which point he basically calls her a bitch a bunch and then quietly slips off to his next Bond Girl in Live and Let Die. (Sigh.)
Locale: Royale-les-Eaux, Fictional France
The car: “One of the last of the 4-1/2-litre Bentleys with the supercharger by Amherst Villiers, he had bought it almost new in 1933…a battleship-grey convertible coupé, which really did convert” (30)
Ancient MI6 proverb: “It’s very satisfactory to be a corpse who changes places with his murderers.” –James “007” Bond (58)
Most outlandish moments:
- Bond smokes 70+ cigarettes a day??
- The existence of an elite Russian spy-hunting program that allows the rest of the world to refer to them as “SMERSH”
- Fireplace listening devices
- The number of times Bond refers to Vesper as a “bitch,” simply for existing
- Bond saying “no use crying over spilt milk” not once, but TWICE
- “As a woman, he wanted to sleep with her but only when the job had been done.” (34)
- “Bond saw luck as a woman, to be softly wooed or brutally ravaged [??????], never pandered to or pursed.” (42) – I’m throwing up in my mouth a little (a lot).
- “Bond reflected that good Americans were fine people and that most of them seemed to come from Texas.” (47)
- “Naked, Bond supposed, he would be an obscene object.” (74) – HAHAHAHAHA
- “He reflected cheerfully how narrowly he had twice that day escaped being murdered.” (91)
- “Nobody but an expert in ju-jitsu could have handled him with the Corsican’s economy and lack of fuss.” (109) – WTF?
- “But the Devil. What does he look like?” “A woman.” (136) -______-
- Bond is incapable of being in an actual adult relationship and plans to basically run off into another mission if Vesper gets too clingy
- “People are islands.” (162) – Stop it, James. Honestly.
- “Yes, I am a double agent for the Russians.” (177) – !!!!!!!!!!!!!
Favorite moments: “History is moving pretty quickly these days and the heroes and villains keep on changing parts.” (135) – This was a surprisingly insightful moment for Bond, and commentary I actually enjoyed very much.
“Surround yourself with human beings, my dear James. They are easier to fight for than principles.” (139)
I also noticed, much to my surprise and delight, that Fleming has a real flair for dialogue. When two white Englishmen are in a room to speak to each other, their banter is electric. (The problems arise whenever any who isn’t white, male, or British enters the room.) But this exchange, in particular, was brilliant:
“What the hell does this word mean?” [M] spelt it out.
“This is not the Berlitz School of Languages, Head of S. If you want to show off your knowledge of foreign jaw-breakers, be good enough to provide a crib. Better still, write in English.” (10)
M must stand for magic, because he is wonderful.
And this little bit near the end is delightful:
“You need a slave, not a wife”
“I want you.”
“Well, I want my lobster and champagne, so hurry up.” (161)
GOD BLESS YOU, VESPER LYND.
Super spy skills learned: There was a lot about baccarat, but I’m not about go go running off to Monte Carlo anytime soon. You can also apparently make sure no one has been in your room using only a piece of hair and some talcum powder. Handy.
Most surprising revelation: Casino Royale is…kind of…boring? All Bond does is play cards. There’s an explosion near the beginning, Bond gets his balls beaten a bunch by Le Chiffre, and then Vesper gets weirdly paranoid about basically everything near the end, but otherwise, it’s a casino thriller. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s also just not quite what I was expecting. There wasn’t even a shoot-out, or a proper car chase! Sheesh.
Sexism scale: 17097458 out of 5 disapproving Moneypennys
- SO MUCH MANSPLAINING
- “Miss Moneypenny would have been desirable but for her eyes which were cool and direct and quizzical.” (17)
- Discussions of Vesper’s “protuberances,” as noted above, and Bond’s anger with MI6 for sending a lady to help him. “Do they think this is a bloody picnic?” (26)
- “Women were for recreation. On a job, they got in the way and fogged things up with sex and hurt feelings and all the emotional baggage they carried around. One had to look out for them and take care of them.” (27)
- “Bitch.” (a lot of pages)
- Vesper doesn’t immediately want to fuck Bond (because she has OTHER THINGS TO DEAL WITH, like almost getting blown up and also a boyfriend who got kidnapped by the literal KGB, but okay) and he is so butt-hurt about it
- Bond reflects on “Vesper’s morals” and fantasizes about making sweet, sweet love to her (92)
- “These blithering women who thought they could do a man’s work. Why the hell couldn’t they stay at home and mind their pots and pans and stick to their frocks and gossip and leave men’s work to the men.” (99) – In which Bond goes on for basically two entire pages about how Vesper was a stupid bitch to “allow” herself to get kidnapped, and how he doesn’t give a fuck if she dies while he’s trying to rescue her, because the whole thing was her own damn fault, etc. etc., MAKE IT STOP
- “Bond was bored at the idea of having to explain some of this to Vesper.” (140)
- “Really, Vesper, you mustn’t think evil of the innocent.” (151) – “Even though you were just brutally kidnapped and assaulted, you mustn’t let every little ACTUALLY SUPER SUSPICIOUS thing worry your pretty little lady brain, Vesper. Bitches be crazy, honestly.” –James Bond, probably
- “…the conquest of her body, because of the central privacy in her, would each time have the sweet tang of rape.” (159) – WHAT THE EVER-LOVING FUCK
- “Bond wanted to spank her.” (176) – No thanks.
In closing, Miss Moneypenny would not stand for the douchebaggery evident throughout this entire mess of a sexist romp.
Racism scale: Not as awful as it could be, though that’s only really because there are literally no people of color in this book. Because Europe = only white people everywhere, duh. (Sarcasm.)
Oh, except the one part when Bond is sizing up the baccarat players, and notes that “few of the Asiatic races were courageous gamblers,” and then basically says an Italian guy will lose his temper, because that’s obviously how all Italians act and none of these things are in any way gross stereotypes. (67)
I have a feeling we only have awful, awful things to look forward to in future books, though. Stay tuned!
Overall rating: 4 out of 5 martinis
I enjoyed this one; I really did. My relative rating may change as I read more of the books (and I’ll rank them once I’ve finished them all), but I went into this one with high hopes after seeing the 2006 movie version, and, well, yes, I was disappointed in that respect. But it was still fun to meet Bond in his first outing — in his prime, even.
I foresee the rest of Fleming’s novels falling into this same, unique genre of book: the British boys’ adventures, all grown up. The descriptions are blunt (unless something particularly manly is being described, at which point we get every blessed minute detail), the plot’s to the point, there’s no regard for political correctness, and all that matters is the action. When you don’t look too closely, they’re fun. When you do, they’re a time capsule of the period and they’re frustrating as hell, but you’ll probably also end up liking them (and nearly tearing your book to shreds with the number of times you have to underline awful comments or scribble feminist rants in the margins).
* Read along: Fleming, Ian. Casino Royale: A James Bond Novel. New York: Penguin, 2002. Print.