Sunday, January 09, 2005

Double-O blog.

(This was supposed to be last Friday’s entry, but we have been experiencing technical difficulties here at the Stribling Hut, because SBC is run by a pack of incompetents. No point in dwelling on it right now, but I will say this: someday, we won’t need a land line. Then it will be payback time for the former phone monopoly; or rather, never pay again time.)

My writing on Mission Impossible on Wednesday inspired me to pull out the copy of Casino Royale I read last year, one of three of Ian Fleming’s Bond books that I picked up for free at my commute rail station (see July 19 & 20, 2004). MI isn’t exactly about spies, since the IM Force doesn’t seem to be an information-gathering organization, but they are fictional operatives, and so is Bond.

The Bond books were entertaining, and very fast reads. I was also impressed by the differences between the movie Bonds and Fleming’s character, who’s considerably darker than the version pioneered by Sean Connery. Also, some of 007’s well-known tastes are explored in some detail in the novels, with Bond himself (in Casino Royale) saying: “I take a ridiculous pleasure in what I eat and drink. It comes partly from being a bachelor, but mostly from a habit of taking a lot of trouble over details. It’s very persnickety and old-maidish really, but then when I’m working I generally eat alone and it makes them more interesting when one takes trouble.”

CR was the first of the series. Among other things, I learned practically everything I know about baccarat—except that it’s a way to lose a lot of money fast, which I already knew—from the book, since a key scene has Bond trying to clean out one of the villains at the baccarat table. A deftly handled scene, especially when it’s all but certain that Bond is going to lose, only to be saved by a timely cash infusion from Felix Leiter, CIA (from Texas!). “Bond reflected that good Americans were fine people, and that most of them seemed to come from Texas.” Hear, hear.

Bond’s misogyny is well known, and probably off-putting for sensitive souls who demand that everyone in the past live up to contemporary standards. Yet there’s no denying it, either, even by 1953 standards, when CR was first published. When he finds out that headquarters is going to send a female operative to assist him, “Bond was not amused. ‘What the hell do they want to send me a woman for,’ he said bitterly. ‘Do they think this is a bloody picnic?’ ”

Later, a woman named Vesper (agent 3030) shows up, and Bond remains unconvinced of her usefulness. “And then there was this pest of a girl. He sighed. Women were for recreation. On a job, they got in the way and fogged things up with sex and hurt feelings and all the emotional baggage they carried around.”

With a set-up like that, a lesser writer would have had Vesper, toward the end of the story, save Bond’s life, or at least be of invaluable aid. Fleming does no such thing. Vesper turns out to be a traitor, working for the Soviets because she fears for the life of her Polish lover, who’s been chucked in the gulag. She nearly gets Bond killed.

Eventually, she dies. The last line of the novel is this: “ ‘This is 007 speaking. Pass this on at once: 3030 was a double, working for Redland. Yes, I said “was.” The bitch is dead.’ ”


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