The book for ‘I’ is “From Russia with love” by Ian Fleming.
It was recommended by Mr Charming, as he loves Bond and I had never read a Bond book. Wikipedia tells me that it was the fifth Bond novel, and Mr Charming tells me that Fleming thought it’d be his last.
I’m really glad I read this book – it’s not one I would have chosen normally, partly because I can never remember the plots of the Bond films, only the title songs. I’m also not a great lover of spy/espionage/crime stories.
However, in the spirit of the book challenge (and bearing in mind that it’s only a couple of hundred pages long) I threw myself into the Russians Vs the British.
Fleming’s style is quite formal and you can tell he wrote it in the 1950s. Everything’s quite proper, with an atmosphere of change, like bated breath. The women are more vocal, the hotels he stays in are crumbling and there’s an air of decay throughout the book.
Aside from this, there are a few uncomfortable passages around slightly inappropriate views on women, races and groups of people which make it feel like your grandad’s just popped round and begun a conversation on those people who’ve just moved in down the road.
Still, you forgive him for being of a different generation, just as you forgive Bond. One of my favourite passages describes the Bond girl (who I called Thingybob Onatop for the whole thing – see, mixed up my plots again) Tatiana Romanov. Fleming describes her as a young Greta Garbo – beautiful, slim and fit through her ice dancing, but she’s done a bit too much of that so her behind is flat, like a man’s. Brilliant. I would swear that a woman had written that passage.
The story (for those of you who don’t know or, like me, can’t distinguish between Goldfinger, Goldeneye or Gold Member) is fairly simple. The Russians are annoyed that the rest of the world aren’t taking them seriously, so they decide to kill someone in an impressive way. This someone has to be suave and sophisticated and important to the English (the US was dismissed as being a bit rubbish – too much money) but not so important that they get a big, media slap on the wrist. They decide on their target as being a 007 agent called… Bond. Surprise! The chess champion and the manly matron come up with a plan to basically prostitute a girl to Bond, lure him into a false sense of security, and then someone else kills him. That way they have evidence that Bond was double agent-ing on good ol’ Blighty, which they can wave around in front of MI6.
Bond and M are frustratingly egotistical when it comes to dealing with the ruse. Tatiana Romanov pretends that she has a crush on Bond, and she wants to meet him with a stolen decoder as a kind of dowry. Instead of weighing up the options and considering that the Russians may well be up to something, Bond and M go haring off down the greed and arrogance path without even considering the tax payers’ money which will no doubt be wasted on the trip.
The interesting thing is that the story starts with the bad guys – Red Grant, SMERSH’s chief executioner, takes up a large chunk, along with Rosa Klebb. Bond doesn’t appear by name until chapter 5 (thank you, wikipedia) and the man himself follows a good few chapters later. This Bond is not the one from the films. The ladykiller charm is still there, but Bond has a scar down the left side of his face and on his shoulder which he is quite self conscious about. Herein lies the single oddity about reading a Bond book – you get to know what he’s feeling, what he thinks and what his insecurities are. It’s a little intrusive. The Bond dialogue fits with the films – there are the same witty one liners and quips – but the internal thoughts display an insecure man who dislikes getting older.
I’m not going to say any more about the story, as I’d like you to read it without the twists and turns ruined.
Fleming writes with authority and an ease which puts the reader straight into Istanbul, or on a shaky plane on Friday 13th, or in bed with a lady. Once the book challenge is over, I may well read the previous four books.
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