007 Reading Challenge: MOONRAKER

THIS REVIEW IS NOT SPOILER-FREE. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.

Ugh, even the cover is awful!
Ugh, even the cover is awful!

Following two weeks’ “passionate” leave at the end of Live and Let Die, Bond finds himself back in England and bogged down with — you guessed it — paperwork! “Secret paper-work,” as the first chapter’s title tells us. But it isn’t long before he gets dragged into something even more exciting: scandal and intrigue at the gentlemen’s club, but, like, the kind of “gentlemen’s club” where they play bridge and eat smoked salmon.

Anywho, M invites Bond along for a night of merriment, in order to suss out how and why a national English hero, the mysterious Hugo Drax, has taken it upon himself to cheat at cards. Cheating is basically the worst thing a man can do in English society, apparently, so Bond teaches the man a lesson but cheating right back, but better. And then Bond has to work for the guy because he’s building a missile or something. I don’t know — this story took place over, like, three and a half days and I zoned out for forty-some-odd hours of it.

Oh my God, guys, this one was rough. According to Goodreads, I started this book on August 11 and didn’t finish until August 20 — that’s nine days. Fleming’s Bond books are by no means tomes; I average maybe two or three days on them, depending how busy I am. And I’m usually the kind of person who can read a book a week at my absolute slowest pace. So spending nine days reading Moonraker was a bit of a shock. I just couldn’t get into it.

Let’s chat about missiles, Nazis, and, perhaps most importantly, fancy dudes playing bridge!

First line: “The two thirty-eights roared simultaneously.”

You're welcome, future casting director of the inevitable
You’re welcome, future casting director of the inevitable “Moonraker” remake.

Bad guy: Surprising no one, it’s Mr. Hugo Drax! He says things like “put that in your pipe and smoke it” (34), makes off-color jokes, and talks a lot (and loud). He’s a big guy with a giant red-brown mustache and reminds Bond of a “ring-master at a circus” (32). Basically, all I could picture was Harold Zidler from Moulin Rouge!

Drax was found during the War, plagued with amnesia, and everyone just assumed he was some kid from Liverpool because he kinda looked like the pictures they had on file (16). He’s “a born leader” and treats his staff poorly (80). He is a major purveyor of columbite and is also working to built a rocket — the Moonraker — which will make it capable to launch nuclear warheads at Russia and Keep England Safe.

But it turns out Drax is not actually Drax — he’s a Nazi intent on destroying England for destroying Germany! And he plans to point the Moonraker — with live warheads — at London! OH NO.

Also: “Sir Hugo Drax cheats at cards.” (19)

Bond Girl: Gala Brand, who is the only Bond Girl I would so far call a true feminist. I love and continue to mourn Vesper, but oh my God, Gala is a champ.

“Attractive but rather severe” (75), Gala has been working for Drax, as an undercover agent for the police. She does a bunch of “insufferably dull” office tasks, but is also super into the success of the Moonraker, because she feels like this is her chance to have a small hand in history. She reads James Bond like a picture book and thinks of how domestic detectives are far superior to clandestine agents, especially those “left without any beautiful spies to make love to” (basically, read all of pages 99-101, as it’s the most complete portrait of a woman we’ve gotten thus far).

In addition to being bilingual (English and German), she completed her training at the Police College (where she became an expert pickpocket) and is a decorated officer. Basically, she’s out of Bond’s league on every level and I wish she and Solitaire had run off into the sunset together and figured out how to resurrect Vesper to give her a second chance at a life that wasn’t as sucky.

“Policewomen aren’t made of gossamer.” (124) Keep that in mind, pals.

Does she get fridged? Nope. She marries another dude. SUCK ON THAT, JAMES.

Locale: England. Boo.

The car: “1930 4 1/2-litre Bentley coupé, supercharged, which he kept expertly tuned so that he could do a hundred when he wanted to” (10). Drax also has a nice Mercedes.

Ancient MI6 proverb: “Scratch a German and you find precision.” –James “007” Bond (97)


Most outlandish moments:

  • “Mondays were hell.” (7); also: “Monday! He might have expected trouble.” (12)
  • Bond’s evening plans include playing cards, seeing friends, or “making love, with rather cold passion, to one of three similarly disposed married women” (10)
  • Bond’s ennui is THROUGH THE ROOF in this one. He thinks about how he’ll probably be dead before reaching the retiring age and then bitches about his paperwork, which literally entails reading files probably no one will ever question him about or need. Calm down, ya big baby.
  • “The hint of criticism [in M’s voice] came from the Puritan and the Jesuit who live in all leaders of men.” (14) – ?????
  • Also M is mad that Bond got sunburned on vacation because, “Always suspicious of sunburned men in England.” (14)
  • There’s a little footnote on page 14 to point readers back to Live and Let Die, lol
  • Don’t you dare “um” or “er” in front of M; he hates it. (15)
  • “Chapter III: ‘Belly Strippers’, Etc.” (19) – wha?
  • Bond’s lunch: “a grilled sole, a large mixed salad with his own dressing laced with mustard, some Brie cheese and toast, and half a carafe of white Bordeaux,” plus “two cups of black coffee” (22) – I make myself a cold-cut sandwich everyday.
  • Bond sees a shell add (“SUMMER SHELL IS HERE”) but the first part if blocked off when he first glances at it so he thinks it says “HELL IS HERE” (26)
  • “Bond knew that there was something alien and un-English about himself.” (28) – “I’M NOT LIKE OTHER GIRLS.”
  • Drax calls Bond “Commander Thingummy” when he and M first join the bridge table, and L O L (33)
  • “‘You’ve got a head like a rock, James,’ [M] said. “Drink as much as you like if it’s going to help. Ah, here’s the vodka.'” (39) – ENABLER
  • Bond continues to hate on any country that isn’t England, by downplaying the “desiccated” salmon of Scandinavia (40)
  • “The best English cooking is the best in the world — particularly at this time of year.” (41) – Okay, James.
  • Bond puts benzedrine in his champagne to play bridge better or something?? (42) [It counteracts the downer effect of the booze, but also STOP THAT. DON’T DO DRUGS, KIDS]
  • Bond sounds totally cool about the fact that men from all walks of life (like cheats, wife-beaters, and “men with perverse instincts”) become a sort of “aristocracy” in the gaming room at the exclusive club, Blades, at which they play bridge. (42-43) Like…no. Stop that.
  • “Champagne and benzedrine! Never again.” (45) – That was fast.
  • There is a literal bridge figure on page 55, like they used to have in the newspaper? It didn’t help me understand what in the fuck was going on with this game.
  • “As well as acidity and liver as a result of drinking nearly two whole bottles of champagne, he had a touch of the melancholy and spiritual deflation that were partly the after-effects of the benzedrine and partly reaction to the drama of the night before.” (58) – OH MY GOD YOU HAVE A GODDAMN HANGOVER, DRAMA QUEEN
  • “The gain to the winner is, in some odd way, always less than the loss to the loser” (59) – #momentofzen
  • Bond learns that guns will no longer be allowed on flights and has a mild bitch fit (60)
  • “If M would stop ferreting about in the business of other departments [Bond] could have a quick lunch and get round to Bentley’s.” (68) – #priorities
  • “You know nothing about rockets.” (71) – Professor Train, Rocket Expert, is a sassafras
  • Flem straight-up describes the Moonraker like a large, shimmery phallus (84)
  • Every man working on the Moonraker is bald with a glorious mustache (88) – this is plot relevant later, but also fucking ridiculous
  • “Lust for a woman and a Heil Hitler” (88) – I can’t even explain this one
  • “Fortunately you don’t have to understand it. Leave it to Miss Brand.” (90) – Drax is an ACTUAL REVENGE-DRIVEN NAZI and treats women better than James fucking Bond
  • A footnote on page 96 points out that Bond’s remembrance of a date is wrong. God bless you, footnote.
  • “It seemed ridiculous to talk to Vallance about mustaches…” (97)
  • The phrase “nervous as kittens” (102)
  • “…the night-glasses were just night-glasses and the mustaches on the men were just a lot of mustaches.” (110) – Amen.
  • “[Bond] liked Paris and Berlin and New York and trains and aeroplanes [sic] and expensive food, and, yes certainly, expensive women.” (114) – Thank you for that fascinating insight into Bond’s psyche.
  • Bond wants Gala to strip down and go swimming with him but refers to her bra and underwear as “bits and pieces” (116)
  • Bond catches a lobster with his BARE HANDS?? (117)
  • Gala calls out Bond: “What are we doing down here anyway [nearly being crushed to death by a man-made rockslide], fooling around without any clothes on instead of getting on with our jobs?” (123)
  • “He had told her to take a sleeping pill and lock her door…” (128) – That seems like awful advice??
  • “[Drax] was a brilliant driver, but a vindictive and impatient one…” (131) – Literally me.
  • “Miss Brand is a spy.” (134) – NOOOOOOOOOOO
  • “her body a twisted black potato crisp amongst a million others” (135) – ?????
  • “[Bond] seemed to be getting nothing but amber and red while Drax was always being swept on by the green.” (143) – I know that feel, bro.
  • Bond’s to-figure-out list: “The mystery of Drax and his hatred of England. The riddle of his perfect command of German. The Moonraker. The secret of the atomic warhead. How to save London.” (145)
  • Some poor schmuck is having the time of his life in his fancy car when Drax runs him off the road – RIP that kid 😦 [148]
  • “There the gleaming rocket stood, beautiful, innocent, like a new toy for Cyclops.” (154) – …Scott Summers?
  • “…to Bond the Moonraker was a giant hypodermic needle ready to be plunged into the heart of England.” (154) – Is it a toy for an X-Man or a needle??
  • Bond upon hearing Drax’s tragic backstory: “Bond could imagine that the hulking body with the ogre’s teeth had not been very welcome at an English private school.” (158) – Damn, James, I know he’s a Nazi, but don’t be rude.
  • “To me a gentleman is just someone I can take advantage of.” (161) – Same, Drax, same.
  • “You smelt a mouse, my dear Bond, where you ought to have smelt a rat.” (163)
  • “It’s me or a million people in London.” (168) – Calm down, James, sheesh.
  • “You don’t trust me to have any ideas. You just tell me what you think we’ve got to do…I’d like to go with you. We’re in this together.” (169) – SLAY, GALA, SLAY
  • On page 177, Drax gives this speech before launching the Moonraker on a supposed “test flight” and the speech basically amounts to “DEATH, HELL, TORMENT, PAIN, DEATH, I FUCKING HATE ENGLAND” and everyone’s like “Hm, yes, quite right, old boy, jolly good show!”
  • They manage to avoid having London be blown up by a nuclear warhead and when Bond asks about nuclear fallout that might be drifting toward them from the explosion over the ocean, M says, “Apparently it’s not worrying them too much.” (183) – Casual as FUCK
  • “These politicians can’t see that the atomic age has created the most deadly saboteur in the history of the world — the little man with the heavy suitcase.” (184)
  • Next to the exchange between Bond and Gala when she tells him she’s getting married I literally just wrote “HAHAHA FUCK YOU [Bond]” – I’m awful (189)
  • “There must be no regrets. No false sentiment. He must play the role which she expected of him. The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette.” (189)
  • “…and then they turned away from each other and walked off into their different lives.” (190) – You go, Gala Brand<3

Favorite moments: Ugh, do I have to pick anything? Blargh, fine. Bond is totally metrosexual. He goes on and on and on about the artistic decor of Blades and constantly explains his clothing and meals in excruciating detail. Man knows what he wants.

But my favorite thing about this book is actually one of my favorite things about Fleming’s writing — while I’ve noticed he likes to delve into great detail about “man” things (fights, suits, etc.), he also sometimes delves oddly deeply into the lives of unnecessary secondary characters. I love those little moments of insight (even if the POV shift kills me a little).

For example, Bond gets into the lift after shooting practice at the start of the book and the lift operator notes, “The liftman could smell the cordite on him. They always smelled like that when they came up from the shooting gallery. He liked it. It reminded him of the Army.” (6)

Who are you, lift operator man? What are your deepest fears? What is your story?

Also, Bond’s “TOP SECRET” shopping list (after he cheats Drax out of the money Drax himself was cheating to win — what?) includes only a new car and “diamond clips” (63). I know Flem probably meant for a tie, but I’m going to pretend James needs three new diamond barrettes for his hair.

Super spy skills learned: Bridge. Just…so. much. bloody. bridge. (Because Bond is the best player in the bloody Service.) I also learned a ton about the history of gaming house in England, and they seem pretty sweet. Why don’t we have those anymore? (Are they just called arcades now?)

One should always sprinkle pepper in one’s glass of vodka when one is serving in Russia, as the pepper will take the fusel oil of badly distilled bathtub liquor to the bottom of the glass, making it safe to drink. (39)

Also: “Bond knew about filing cabinets.” (91) And now I do, too!

Not much to report about rockets, unfortunately.

Most surprising revelation: Literally nothing. I knew Drax was evil. Whatever, this book was dumb.


Sexism scale: 3 out of 5 disapproving Moneypennys

Moneypenny is going to shoot you, James. REPEATEDLY.
Moneypenny is going to shoot you, James. REPEATEDLY.

All talk of Loelia Ponsonby, basically (God bless that fictional woman for putting up with James):

  • “[H]e had his daily moment of pleasure at having a beautiful secretary.” (7) – Because a conventionally ugly lady wouldn’t be as much fun to look at.
  • “Unless she married soon, Bond thought for the hundredth time, or had a lover, her cool air of authority might easily become spinsterish and she would join the army of women who had married a career.” (7-8) – GOD FORBID
  • Multiple agents have made “determined assaults on [Lil’s] virtue” (8)
  • Bond says her name sounds “like somebody in an indecent limerick” (9) – Like what even??
  • Bond upon meeting Gala: “Another Loelia Ponsonby. Reserved, efficient, loyal, virginal. Thank heavens, he thought. A professional.” (78) – On the one hand, I’m glad he admitted they’re both good at their jobs. But also “virginal”??? (Also, was Vesper not a professional?? She played your sorry ass, Bond.)

Otherwise:

  • Male agents “in the field” can basically fuck anything that moves, but for the women, “an affair outside the Service automatically made you a ‘security risk'”; if a woman goes that route, either she must resign or commit to “perpetual concubinage to your King and Country” (8)
  • “As [the waitress] bent over the table her black skirt brushed Bond’s arm and he looked up into two pert, sparkling eyes…” (38)
  • Gala is a highly trained police officer, but literally every single man who works with her repeatedly only refers to her as “girl”
  • The itemizing of Gala’s looks and measurements in her file on page 75 — why do they need to know her bust size?? (Also, Bond’s response to the news that she has a “mole on upper curvature of right breast” is “Hm!”)
  • I’m finally realizing that Ian Fleming has a type: black hair, blue eyes, and buxom.
  • Bond keeps trying to force Gala to talk to him over dinner, but can’t stop staring at her tits and is visibly shocked when Drax actually listens to her speak and values her opinion on rocket-type things, and then gets all pissy because he thinks her ignoring him is “overacted” (81).
  • “…she might be a policewoman and an expert at jujitsu [???], but she also had a mole on her right breast.” (72) – He straight up won’t stop thinking about her breasts, guys. This is I N S A N E
  • “Bond thought she looked very innocent…she might have been a schoolgirl looking up at a Christmas tree — except for the impudent pride of the jutting breasts, swept up by the thrown-back head and shoulders.” (106) – There he fucking goes again about her boobs, with the added sexualization of young girls and a sly jab at how women apparently shouldn’t take pride in their bodies. SHE IS A GROWN-ASS POLICE OFFICE LOOKING AT A MOTHERFUCKING NUCLEAR ROCKET. FUCK YOU, JAMES BOND.
  • Bond swims up, drags Gala underwater, then when they surface, he KISSES HER????? (Though her internal response is great: “These Secret Service people always seemed to have time for sex however important their jobs might be.”) (Ugh, but also she’s still weirdly into the kiss.) (117)
  • Bond gives zero fucks about the Moonraker, because he finds Gala “incredibly erotic”; also, birds turn him on and he keeps staring at her boobs and wondering about “the mystery of her tightly closed thighs” (118)
  • Someone tries to kill them by causing a rockslide and, in the aftermath, Gala immediately has to fix up her makeup, because it wouldn’t do to have a shiny nose after you ALMOST DIED!!!!! (122)
  • Implied sexual assault/possibly rape as a form of torture (145)
  • Gala literally saves their asses and Bond still thinks she’s waiting for him to protect her?? And then thinks about her tits again?? (172-173)
  • “Must be a good girl.” (186) – Thanks for the backhanded compliment, M, but it’s OFFICER BRAND, THANKS.
  • Bond upon hearing of Gala’s impending nuptials: “Why had he imagined that she shared his desires, his plans?” (189) – Because the thoughts in her lady brain count for shit, right, Bond?
  • There was a weird flower conversation Bond and Gala had that comes back when Gala mentions “there are plenty of others waiting to be picked” (190), which I took to mean she had dodged a bullet but was essentially throwing the next girl under the bus. A little disappointed in you, Gala.

Racism scale: Not awful! I think this would actually get a negative rating, if taken at face value. But I think there was no racism because this one took place in England, where obviously no people of color have ever lived, especially not in 1955. (Sheesh). But there was:

  • Drax’s bridge partner is a man named Meyer: “Nice chap. Jew.” (21) – Okay.
  • Also there’s a ton of German-hate

Overall rating: 2 out of 5 martinis

The only thing keeping me from giving this one a solitary martini is Gala Brand. I kept hoping Bond would get tragically burned up in a rocket accident and let Gala do the job she was there to do. James Bond is literally the worst fucking spy on the face of the planet. I SAID IT.

Color me stirred, not shaken.

* Read along: Fleming, Ian. Moonraker. London: Coronet Books, 1989. Print.

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