Friday, August 25, 2023

"Bond, James Bond"

In the early '60s I read that JFK's favorite books were Ian Fleming's James Bond thrillers. I wasn't a fan of JFK but I did like mysteries, thrillers, and spy novels. I spent a summer between high school semesters buying and reading them, eventually all thirteen. (I no longer own any.) Later, with friends, I went to the movies (the books are better). This year is the seventieth anniversary of the publication of the first book: Casino Royale. From The Spectator last spring:
The Bond saga started on the morning of 17 February. After breakfast, Fleming closed the living-room door and wooden shutters, sat at his roll-top desk, uncovered his old Imperial typewriter, squared the ream of folio typing paper he’d bought on Madison Avenue, and started to write.

Every day for seven weeks, from 9 a.m. to noon, the tacketa-tacketa of the typewriter resounded through the beach house like gunfire. He made no outline of a plot or cast of characters (he took his hero’s name from the author of a book his eye fell on, A Field Guide to Birds of the West Indies) but typed on like a man under orders to create. At noon, he’d sunbathe, eat lunch, sleep and, at 5pm, read what he’d written before placing it in a blue folder. At 6:30, it would be time for cocktails.

When the routine ended on 18 March, he’d written 62,000 words and invented a new kind of thriller: coldly, humourlessly narrated, speedily efficient, machine-tooled in its treatment of action, violence and sex, and with a central role for someone he firmly believed himself to be. ....

Casino Royale introduced the world’s readers to exotic phenomena that would become as familiar as their families. To Bond himself, tall, dark-haired, laconic, habitually treating his body, and his brain, as machines to be kept in top condition; to Bond’s special brand of cigarettes, ‘a Balkan and Turkish mixture made for him by Morlands of Grosvenor Street,’ to his apartment in Chelsea and his car, a four-and-a-half-litre 1933 Bentley coupĂ© ‘with the supercharger by Amherst Villiers.’ And to the first Bond girl, Vesper Lynd, described by the callow Frenchman Mathis as having ‘black hair, blue eyes and splendid… er… protuberances.’

Readers also had their first sighting of M’s secretary, charmlessly described thus: ‘Miss Moneypenny would have been desirable but for eyes which were cool and direct and quizzical’ (poor girl!). They could gaze in horror at the first Bond villain, Le Chiffre, a mystery man who wears his hair villainously en brosse, a sadist, flagellant and Russian agent, and embezzler of union funds that he seeks to recoup at the Royale casino. And they met Bond’s gruff, omniscient boss M, head of the British Secret Service, after he’d been told of the plan to “ridicule and destroy” Le Chiffre at the casino by making him lose 50 million francs. ....

Casino Royale was published by Jonathan Cape seventy years ago on 13 April, 1953, to mostly glowing reviews. In the Times Cyril Ray wrote, ‘If Mr. Fleming’s next story has half the swiftness of this, as astringent an accent, and a shade more probability, we can be certain that he is the best new thriller-writer since [Eric] Ambler.’ .... (more)
John Walsh, "How boredom begat James Bond," The Spectator, April 15, 2023.

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