Monday, August 29, 2011

Why, James Bond, Why?

So, the other day I read my first James Bond novel. I'd been wanting to try one for ages, as I like the movie version of Bond (sometimes, and with reservations), particularly the Daniel Craig and Connery interpretations, and for years I'd heard good things about the original Ian Fleming novels. And so, this:

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And Fleming can write. He has some pretty sharp lines, though there were a few clunky easy-way-out lines as well.

But that wasn't really the problem.

And the problem wasn't even the somewhat silly approach to women. I mean, it's a Bond novel, and I sort of entered the experience with the idea I'd have to forgive Fleming on this count.

And it wasn't even the novel's more problematic implications in terms of race (I mean, the endless use of animal descriptives for black people? The overbearing condescension even when trying to say something nice? And the fact that the beautiful female lead from Haiti, who has second sight and is rooted in Haitian culture and mysticism, is, of course, seemingly white?). It couldn't have been entirely easy for a British writer, in that time period (50s, I think), to write about African American characters in a realistic way (and some of the dialogue from the black characters was, um, not good). Now, that's not necessarily an excuse, but considering the cultural context of the writer does make it easier to forgive.

What I couldn't get over was that James Bond was sort of stupid.

So, the bad guys know who Bond is, what he looks like, and that he's after them.

So, Bond knows that they know.

So, he and his American partner, Felix, decide to go looking for Mr. Big, the greatest black crime boss in Harlem (and the world), who's Bad Guy #1.

So, they take a cab into Harlem.

So, they blithely go around from black club to black club, where there basically aren't any other white people, having a bunch of drinks. (And after watching black people drink and dance for a couple hours, Bond decides that he knows everything there is to know about the culture, everything that he might need to understand and take down Mr. Big and his crime ring. Apparently they were very informative dances. And cocktails.)

So, they sort of stand out in these locales.

So, their big plan for finding this all-powerful and secretive Mr. Big is to randomly stop waiters at clubs and ask "Hey, do you know where we can find Harlem's biggest crime boss?"

So, surprisingly, this plan doesn't work too well.

So, they go to Mr. Big's own club (he won't pick out the white folk there!).

So, then they get caught, like, really easily.

So, they're really surprised they got caught (how could it have happened?).

So, Mr. Big has his men bash Bond around, break a finger (this was actually well done), etc.

So, Mr. Big figures his warning has been heard and decides not to kill Bond and let him go, and tells one of his men to escort Bond out and drop him off somewhere.

So, as the man is walking Bond out to release him, this is when Bond decides it's a good time to risk his life and attempt escape, which is followed by violent derring do, gun battles, and chases.

So, okay, yeah. While he was being released. Like a convict being walked to the gate of San Quentin, to be released after twenty years of hard time, only to suddenly attack and kill the guards, and then scale the wall as the sirens go off.

James, James, James... is this really the best you can do with your superslick and superdeadly 007 spy skills?

"Do you want to point me in the direction of Harlem's most dangerous crime lord? What? What do you mean? Don't all waiters know this stuff?"


jbchicoine said...

Hehehehe, you got me giggling.
...So disappointing, Bond, yet, somehow, I'm not surprised...

Josin L. McQuein said...

I've read snips of Fleming's novels, rather than the whole books. (Couldn't get past some of the same things you mentioned)But what I did like about them was that Bond was less the cartoonish "mortal superhero" from many of the movies and more cold-blooded "I killed 2 men just so I'd get that double-oh on my name" killer.

Steve Abernathy said...

I loved these books when I was a kid but don't remember any of them except for Casino Royale and Dr. No, the latter being mostly about guano.

D.G. Hudson said...

Sean Connery made the Bond movies more palatable with that lovely voice and his smooth style.

He was the quintessential Bond, imbued with the chauvinistic male attitudes of the day towards women and blacks. Didn't like any of the follow-up Bonds so much. Also - gold paint all over the body isn't going to catch on (a la Goldfinger) unless you're a mime.

Interesting post, Bryan.

Taryn Tyler said...

That sounds like the sort of good guy plans to catch the bad guys eight year old boys come up with when they're playing spy in the back yard. Only eight year olds are a little more creative.

Marsha Sigman said...

I'm a fan of the movies now but I think that has a lot to do with Daniel Craig.

I have to read at least one of these novels for research if nothing else.

Munk said...

Excellent review. Sean Connery missed the mark a couple of times as well... how about that terry cloth singulate he agreed to wear in Goldfinger?

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

So have the books ruined your experience with the movies now?

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

LOL! Which just goes to show that Bond-magic isn't in the book, but in the concept. (I've never read them, but I trust your opinion implicitly).

p.s. Have you seen the new Hunger Games trailer?

Matthew MacNish said...

I've never read Fleming, but I did always love the films, camp and all. I think you would have to go into it prepared to love it for all its faults.

I don't know, with all the great books out there, I may never read him.

Jeffrey Beesler said...

Is this a rare example of how the movie turned out better than the book?

Bryan Russell said...


Yes, less cartoonish. A bit more like Daniel Craig's Bond, though less emotional. Though sometimes I wondered if that was more the writer's inability to write emotion than intentional effect. Or maybe a bit of both.

The "romance" in this book was one of the worst I've read - all tell and no show.

Bryan Russell said...

@ Steve

He does write better than a lot of the thriller writers these days. And there were some good parts. But the combination of various stupidities got to me after a while. Also, I've only read this one book, so the others might be better.

Bryan Russell said...

@ Munk

I don't know - I think Connery could make tinfoil work, if he really wanted to.

Bryan Russell said...

@ Alex

I don't think so. Books and movies are separate beasts. And, actually, reading the book made me want to watch the movies, so I watched both Daniel Craig Bond movies.

Bryan Russell said...

@ Susan

I have not! There's a book ready-made for Hollywood...

Bryan Russell said...

@ Matt

I was prepared to forgive a few faults... but plot stupidity did me in. I'll forgive a lot for a good story. For a sort of stupid one, though? Much harder...

Bryan Russell said...

@ Jeffrey

Actually, I don't think I've ever seen that particular movie... or, if I did, it was decades ago.

Which is probably good, as I find it almost impossible to read a book after I've seen the movie (the reverse, however, does not hold true).

Donna Hole said...

LOL; how did you make it through the whole book :)

My favorite Bond was Sean Connery, and I'm glad they never made him look stupid. Pierce Brosnan pulled it off very well too.

I didn't like the movie Casino Royale; they made him look totally stupid . .