For years now, I have thought about reading Ian Fleming, but all I knew of Bond were the oversexualized, often-ridiculous films of my (or more likely my parents’ and grandparents’) generation. However, after really, absolutely loving the newly-conceptualized, rugged Bond in the film Casino Royale (like, I’ve seen it half a dozen times), I revisited the idea of reading Ian Fleming. After Jennifer at Literate Housewife posted her Shaken Not Stirred challenge last week, I immediately downloaded the audiobook, narrated by Simon Vance. (And, may I say, his narration is seamless).
In this, the first of the James Bond novels, Fleming tells the tale of Le Chiffre, a pawn of SMERSH, a Soviet operation comparable to the KGB. Le Chiffre is bankrupt and arranges a Baccarat game at the Royale Les Eaux casino to win back the money he owes SMERSH. M, head of MI6, sends Bond in to stop Le Chiffre with another agent, Vesper Lynd, assistant to agent S (with Soviet relations). His cover is to be that of a Jamaican millionaire, thus, the beautiful woman on his arm. French agent Mathis orchestrates much of the game play, while Felix Leitner, a CIA agent, watches anxiously. No one is eager for Le Chiffre to win, and when Bond goes bankrupt in the first few hours of play, Leitner ups the ante, passing over his money for Bond to play. When Bond wins, Le Chiffre raises the stakes, and Bond falls victim to a ruse. His subsequent torture is only stopped when a SMERSH agent takes control of the situation.
The genius in the novel is not the plot, though it is tightly woven. Instead, Fleming relies on observation and his relation of that keen observation to satisfy and grip the reader. I listened at work, in a bubble bath, and in the car, and still I couldn’t leave the casinos of the French coast, which Fleming describes as “nauseating at three in the morning.” The game of Baccarat with its rules and odds kept me edgy, and Le Chiffre’s desperate move to recapture his losses was brutal.
What most surprised me was Bond’s humanity. He remarks early on that Lynd is a “silly bitch,” and he is displeased to have to work with a woman. However, by the end of the novel, he has decided to throw in the towel after a particularly horrific torture session and open himself to her. Whether or not he can trust her is another matter entirely.
Keep in mind, because I have seen the film several times, I was curious to see how closely the two would align. Surprisingly, even with the difference in decades (the novel was published in 1953), the film was very true to the book. The conflict is adapted from the KGB to arms dealers and Baccarat is traded in for Texas Hold ‘Em, but much of the story remains the same, including Vesper’s role.
One of my favorite lines, however, is missing. When Bond first meets Vesper Lynd (who provides the bank line for the gambling) on the train, she strides toward him in her masculine attire (which Fleming’s Bond girls were known for) and says:
Vesper Lynd: “I’m the money.”
James Bond (looking her up and down): “Every penny of it.”
Isn’t that an absolutely fantastic line? This is also the book introducing Bond’s famous martini:
James Bond: “Dry martini.”
Bartender: “Oui, monsieur.”
James Bond: “Wait. Three measures of Gordon’s; one of Vodka; half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it over ice; add a thin slice of lemon peel.”
I’ve actually attempted to replicate this martini, and let’s just say, I understand why Bond only had one…
All in all, I was highly impressed with the book and its adaptation and cannot wait for the Twitter viewing party June 30 at 9:30 p.m. EST (using hashtag #shakennotstirred).
Will you be joining us, either by reading the book or attending the viewing? If so, leave a link to your post, and I’ll add it here.
jenn aka the picky girl