Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Casino Royale, by Ian Fleming

I have two opposing reading trends emerging in my life right now. On the one hand, my eclectic non-fiction selection is becoming more focused on economics (as it should have been for over four years now). On the other hand, I am adding more fiction for relaxation, and the type of fiction is more entertaining than bettering. I've basically shelved my plan to read all the major works of the Victorian period (at least for now). In its place I've been working my way through the works of P.G. Wodehouse. And with this book, I add the James Bond novels to my relaxation fiction.

Of course, I've seen the film version of this book from a few years back. That dulled a few of the surprises, but not all, since there are substantial differences between the book and movie. Like the movie, Bond is a relatively-recently-minted Double-O agent given the assignment to bankrupt a baddie in a gambling game. Unlike the movie, the casino is in northern France, the baddie is a Soviet agent, and the game is baccarat. Bond does desire to leave the spy world and settle down with Vesper Lynd (whose name, according to Wikipedia, is a pun on a German-accented pronunciation of "West Berlin"), but those plans are complicated by the work of SMERSH, the enforcer organization controlling Soviet spies. Bond ends the novel with a desire to destroy SMERSH, setting up subsequent novels.

Two particular quotes proved interesting to me. One is when Bond says, "Today we fight Communism. Okay. If I'd been alive fifty years ago, the brand of Conservatism we have today would have been damn near called Communism and we should have been told to go and fight that" (p. 135). The second is something Mathis says later in the same conversation: "Surround yourself with human beings, my dear James. They are easier to fight for than principles" (p. 139).

All in all, I enjoyed it. With the launch of the Daniel Craig movies, there has been a lot of talk about how different the Bond character is. Well, the Craig Bond is very similar to the novel Bond. Instead of a break with tradition, it's more of a return to form. If you enjoy the more-nuanced Bond character, you'll enjoy the Bond of the novels.

Rating: five and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

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