Live and Let Die - Ian Fleming

So, this is the first Bond book I've read, after years and years of Bond films. And quite interesting it is, too. While the action and gadgetry is rather understated compared to the films, you can certainly see the seed of the films in this style of writing. So, to me, this is the root of the modern blockbuster action film. Unsurprisingly, it's a suspension-of-disbelief romp, and you can its descent from books like The 39 Steps. It's certainly not something to read straight after any Le Carré.

Probably the nearest modern equivalent I can think of is Tom Clancy. While not full of technobabble, it does have plenty of brand name dropping, tricks and technology. Of course, the technology is a world apart, and it's strange to think the setting is less than a lifetime away. Timed explosive fuses are made out of metal eating through acid. No night vision goggles or non-trivial alarms for the guards. Other things, of course, don't change.

So what does the novel focus on? As well as brand names, it's heavily into food, fashion and scenery. As Caroline pointed out to me, it's basically a travel novel from a time when the world was a much bigger place. As such, romantic scene-setting of far-flung places is the order of the day. Some of it sounds very odd nowadays. The highly exciting and exotic American meal included hamburgers, fries, broccoli, thousand-island dressing and liebfraumlich. Not exactly the suave and sophisticated Bond you thought you knew, no? Still, a great insight into the times. Bond is a reasonably different character to the one shown in the film. He's not only not a superhero, but he regularly picks up nasty injuries, and has to recover from them. He deals with bureacracy, screws up, and survives as much by luck as judgement in some cases. In many ways, a much more interesting character than the one in the films, although presumably less photogenic.

So far, I've spoken in generalities. This book focuses on the doings of the black super-criminal and voodoo guy, Mr. Big. Great for exotic locations, incredibly poor for political correctness. See how comfortable you feel reading this on the tube with the chapter title, 'N*gger Heaven' is stamped at the top of every other page you read.... Speech is written phonetically for those with strong accents, to a degree which feels heavy-handed now, but in its day probably just counted as atmosphere. Having said that, I don't think there's otherwise anything massively offensive or condescending here - it's more a surprise how language and attitudes have changed.

All in all, while not a terrible story, it works best as both a time capsule, and as an insight into the Bond behind the movies. And I've finally found out how strong Bond likes his vodka martinis. Six to one, apparently.

Posted 2006-08-16.