CASINO ROYALE by Ian Fleming

I picked up CASINO ROYALE on an impulse after seeing it available as a Kindle Daily Deal for $1.99. I had already watched all the Bond movies on Netflix, and especially enjoyed Daniel Craig’s debut in the CASINO ROYALE movie, so it certainly seemed worth two bucks to see the source material and get my introduction to Ian Fleming and his writing style.

As a novel, CASINO ROYALE allows us an insight into Bond’s thoughts and inner dialogue that the movies can’t replicate, and to be honest, it isn’t pretty. Seeing how Bond’s mind works in assessing situations and determining his course of action is interesting, but the Bond of the novel is far more overtly chauvinistic than even his movie counterparts, and you begin to see several ways in which the movie version toned down Bond’s very worst impulses.

Bond is annoyed by the presence of Vesper Lynd, and while he readily admits he would like to sleep with her, his thoughts regarding her contributions to the mission read like a parody nowadays:

This was just what he was afraid of. These blithering women who thought they could do a man’s work. Why the hell couldn’t they stay at home and mind their pots and pans and stick to their frocks and gossip and leave men’s work to the men?

Twice, including in the final line of the book, Bond refers to Vesper as a bitch, demonstrating a crudeness it’s hard to imagine Bond demonstrating on the silver screen.

While Fleming’s action scenes are gripping, he never quite figures out how to write Vesper as a character. I was never completely certain I understood why she was there (the movie gave her a far more concrete role, even if the reason for her being present in the casino seemed sketchy at best), and Fleming never really seems to want to explain why Bond likes her other than that she looks good in a dress.

It makes Bond’s declaration that he loves her and plans to leave the service so he can be with her feel hurried and unclear. Bond indicates that she is easy to speak to and spend time with, unlike most women, but Fleming never successfully demonstrates this easy camaraderie. In this respect, the movies have captured the source material very well.

At the same time, Fleming does spend a chapter on a conversation between Bond and Mathis that explores Bond’s view on morality, and his frustration at chasing other spies when he would rather chase the villains behind the spies. It lends some depth to Bond that doesn’t always translate to the big screen, and seems to set up his missions moving forward through the rest of the series. Once the book reaches its conclusion, Bond returns to this moral exploration and decides to fully commit to his path — chasing the bad guys behind the bad guys, such as it is.

I think in reading CASINO ROYALE, you have to recognize it as a product of its times. It’s not an excuse, but at the same time I think it’s easy for the misogyny to overshadow Fleming’s unique voice, his exceptional ability to write action, and his ability to take readers into an extravagant world where every room is packed with glamour, high stakes and intrigue.

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