007 Reading Challenge: FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE

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

from-russia-with-love-book-cover

James Bond doesn’t show up until page 95 of From Russia With Love and, oh my God, how I loved it. 

A young would-be Russian spy named Tanya is tasked with the very important mission of doing so much sex to James Bond in order to get into Britain and learn all kinds of MI6 secrets. But before we even get to Tanya, readers are taken on a wonderful journey through Russia’s history and the inner workings of the different sections of Directorate S.

This book is the height of Cold War paranoia (and nonsense), and while it is such a product of it’s time, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing in this case. Let’s discuss it!

First line: “The naked man who lay splayed out on his face beside the swimming pool might have been dead.”

Bad guy: Russia. All of it. (But mostly Directorate S/SMERSH/are those the same thing??)

The main antagonist is a man named Donovan “Red” Grant, an asexual, narcissistic American who is street- rather than book-smart and basically defected to Russia so he could murder people all the time. He has a scary scar and scary hair and may be a werewolf? (It’s weird.)

Bond Girl: Tatiana “Tanya” Romanova, and yes, she’s related to those Romanoffs (though apparently not to this Romanova?). She was once told by a boyfriend that she resembled a young Greta Garbo. (sheesh)

Does she get fridged? Yes 😥 Tanya is our first Bond Girl fatality not caused by her own hand (#RIPVesper). SHE WAS SO YOUNG. SHE DID NOT DESERVE THIS.

Locale: Russia. All of it.; Istanbul, Turkey

The car: Uh, James is on trains a lot?

Ancient MI6 proverb: “You cannot sow a million seeds without reaping one potato.” (43) — General Vozdvishensky (yes, a COMMUNIST)


Ian-Flemming-and-Sean-Connery-on-the-set-of-From-Russia-with-Love
“No, no, Sean, you must be more awful.”

Most outlandish moments:

 

  • A “healthy animal peasant girl” with breasts shining with health (??) massages a murderous maniac in only an “unalluring” skirt (5)
  • The Russians prefer propaganda to such “bourgeois horseplay” as murdering a prime minister or blowing up a building. (39)
  • Shems Bond (46)
  • Pages 46 and 47 of this book are a marketing plan in disguise — a Russian general recounts all the people Bond has murdered in his earlier books (Le Chiffre, Mr. Big, Hugo Drax — I guess the Russians didn’t have a hand in the diamond smuggling?).
  • “He is said to be a lone wolf, but a good looking one.” (49) — Is Flem in love with Bond?
  • Bond’s file says he has “Weakness for women,” which means he can’t be homosexual (#FELIX4EVER) [60]
  • “We shall also require a reliable and extremely beautiful girl.” (65) — WOW PLOT TWIST (-__-)
  • “‘Are you a virgin, Comrade?’ / Oh, my God, thought Tatiana.” (79) #same
  • The Russians plan to send Tanya out into the world with a device to sell to Britain, and it’s called a “Spektor machine” — coincidence??
  • Breakfast is Bond’s favorite meal of the day (but only when his egg is boiled for three and a third minutes) [98]
  • Bond “loves, honors, and obeys” M. Um. (104)
  • Tanya supposedly read all of Bond’s case files and fell in love with his picture (107). I bet she missed the part about how all his girlfriends die to escape or leave him.
  • M doesn’t know what a “crush” is (scare quotes are his) [107]
  • Bond flies on Friday the thirteenth whenever he can, because superstitions are for women and foreigners. (113)
  • James is worried he won’t be able to pimp himself for England when the time comes. (116)
  • “Bond smelt the smell of danger. It is a real smell…” (117)
  • “…the domes of the mosques, crouching at their feet, looking like big firm breasts.” (123) — THIS IS LITERALLY OBSCENE.
  • Mirror on the ceiling of the honeymoon suite? That existed in the 50s?? (133)
  • “Once a King, always a King. But once a Knight is enough.” (153) — I hate you all so much.
  • Kerim rests his sniper rifle on Bond’s shoulder, and all I could think of was Max and Furiosa.
  • “…Bond had never killed in cold blood…” (175) — BULL. SHIT.
  • What in the ever-loving fuck does “kulturny” mean? Is that real Russian?
  • “Sweet dreams, you English bastard.” (244) — I WISH.
  • Rosa Klebb has boots with daggers tipped in poison and I desperately wish she had actually succeeded in killing Bond (as Flem also hoped), and I then wish they had given the series to some badass lady author and had her write about MI6 begging Gala Brand to come back and get her license to kill. THE END.

Favorite moments: The entire first half of this book is completely dedicated to the USSR. Readers get a glimpse into the goings-on behind the closed doors behind the Iron Curtain with men at the highest ranks of Russia’s spy agency and government, as well as learning some of Tanya’s backstory, meeting a predatory lez/Russian spy lady, and getting the scoop on Red, a British soldier who defected to Russia and now kills only on the full moon (???). All in all, it’s actually a fascinating section — though I’m not sure how many of the details are spot on and his many have that patented sheen of Flem Fabrication — and From Russia With Love really only started going downhill once Bond insisted on getting involved (ugh).

Also: “The Americans are unpredictable people. They are hysterical.” (33) #true

Also the Russian plan to lure out and murder Bond is so fucking dumb and yet all these dumb fucks fall for it immediately.

And at the beginning of the book, we get an author’s note, and it was nice to get some of Flem in his own words.

Super spy skills learned:

  1. How to…massage a man?
  2. Spy scandals are useless. (They’re always having them in Sweden. [41])
  3. SMERSH! Like SPECTRE, but Cold War-specific and without the dumb acronym. Death to spies! (I’m getting that tattooed on my forehead.)

Most surprising revelation:

You don’t need James Bond in a James Bond book to enjoy it. (Nor surprising, perhaps. More…gratifying.)


Sexism scale: 5 out of 5 disapproving Moneypennys

bondgirls
DEATH TO SPIES

Solely for most of the dialogue from Kerim Bey, and one especially awful conversation between Tatiana and Bond.

 

  • In recounting Bond’s past exploits, the Russians fail to admit the help of anyone (male or female) who helped Jimmy in his successes. (46-7)
  • The head of executions at SMERSH is a lady — YAY! But she’s an ugly old lesbian who prays on beautiful, unsuspecting, would-be spies — boo. (The head, Rosa Klebb, is also described as being cello-shaped, and also “a neuter,” for whom “sex was nothing more than an itch.” [63])
  • I’m going to make a Bond Girl Venn Diagram — they’re literally all brunettes with dark blue eyes and pale skin and big, moist mouths, usually left hanging agape in wonder of Bond’s talents.
  • “A purist would have disapproved of her [Tanya’s] behind,” because “it jutted like a man’s.” (69) A feminist would have disapproved of your attitude, asswipe.
  • Tanya cries like an infant whenever things go wrong. All the Bond girls are described as “childish” at one point or another, but she’s especially “innocent,” and it’s gross that she apparently understands nothing, but is still willing to fuck a stranger for Mother Russia. They build this fantasy that she fell in love with “white knight” Bond and is just waiting for him to rescue her from the evil Russians, and everyone thinks that sounds plausible, because #The50s.
  • “[Tanya] is not a virgin, but she is prudish and sexually unawakened. She will receive instruction.” (90) — Ew. (But also, yeah, that’s a thing spies do.)
  • TIFFANY FUCKING CASE DUMPED BOND’S ASS FOR SOME GUY AT THE AMERICAN EMBASSY. GOD BLESS YOU TIFF. (105)
  • “There’s no reason why a Russian girl can’t be just as silly as an English one.” (108) — Ugh.
  • If Tanya travels as Bond’s wife, they only need one passport — his. (131)
  • Oh, Jesus Christ. Here’s the bit that made me literally throw the book across the room: “In their dreams, [women] long to be slung over a man’s shoulder and taken into a cave and raped.” (137) — All of Kerim’s backstory is equally as horrific.
  • “I consume a large quantity of women,” says Kerim on page 139. WE ARE NOT TO BE CONSUMED, COLLECTED, OR CONQUERED. (I will write more on this subject at a later date.)
  • “There was the confidence of having been loved in the proud breasts and the insolently lilting behind” (152) — WOMEN ARE MORE THAN TITS AND ASS, JAMES
  • James witnesses two women fighting to the death, but CONTINUALLY comments on the state of their breasts, and how aroused the whole thing is making him. (161-2)
  • Bond being naked upsets Tanya, and his response is, “You upset me just as much. That’s called sex.” (179) — NO. YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG.
  • “The two rich-looking Turks kissed their mistresses — they were too pretty to be wives…” (188) — Congrats, Flem, this sentence is both sexist AND racist.
  • “…if there was a bit more room I’d put you across my knee and spank you.” (189) — GROSS, JAMES. GROSS.
  • Bond informs Tanya that “teasing is a form of flirting” and she should “take it as a compliment” (207)
  • Bond (fucking finally) suspects a plot, but is sure Tanya can’t be a “conscious part of it,” because chicks are innocent idiots. (219)
  • Tanya: “You won’t let me get too fat, James. You won’t let me get so fat that I am no use for making love? … You will beat me if I eat too much?” / Bond: “Certainly I will beat you.” (230) — This is DISGUSTING.
  • Bond being literally the WORST. SPY. gets Tanya killed and him into a mess of trouble. He calls her an “idiot” for not telling him SMERSH was involved in the scheme. HEY BRO, maybe 1) she didn’t know; or 2) she was BEING AN ACTUALLY GOOD AGENT. (239)

Racism scale:

People of color apparently don’t exist in Russia, but SHEESH did Bond have plenty to say about the Turks.

  • “So these dark, ugly, neat little officials were the modern Turks.” (119)
  • A band of “gipsies” (I’m sorry for the slur — I’m not sure what nationality these people actually are, because Flem doesn’t bother to use more than a slur) are repeatedly described as “beasts,” in animalistic terms. And two women fight to the death, because of course that’s what “savages” do. (This may actually be a form of justice for this society, whatever society that might actually be, and that’s fine. But it’s the presentation that’s so desperately, disgustingly “other-ing” and offensive.) [literally pages 155-171]
  • In Greece: “‘But it is odd that you in the West do not use perfume. All our men do.'” / “‘We wash,’ said Bond drily.” (205) — Please stop.

Homophobia scale:

Not as bad as some of our past forays (*cough*DiamondsAreForever*cough*), but there’s this few awful gems:

  • “I thought we were all agreed that homosexuals were about the worst security risk there is. I can’t see the Americans handing over many atom secrets to a lot of pansies soaked in scent.”
  • “All intellectuals aren’t homosexual. And many of them are bald.” (101)

Overall rating: 4 out of 5 martinis

I’ll admit it — I loved (like 65% of) this book. I loved and then immediately hated Kerim Bey. I enjoyed the Russian-focused stuff. I loved taking a breather from James before being foisted back into his world. I enjoyed the legitimate suspense of the Bond/Klebb fight in the finale of the book.

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This looks…fun.

And I know the movie version of From Russia With Love is also considered one of the best Bond movies, and I can see why. When a movie is built from material that is actually interesting, exciting, and surprisingly well-written, it’s easy to make it a hit. (Especially with Sean Connery as Bond.)

 

I also really liked reading this one while also slowly falling down the rabbit hole of FX’s The Americans, because whenever they talked about Directorate S, I was like, “Thanks, Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, but my pal Flem told me all about that already.”

So far, this one is a very close second to Casino Royale, and that’s saying something for me.


* Read along: Fleming, Ian. From Russia With Love. New York: Penguin Books, 2003. Print.

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