Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Bond. James Bond. James Bond the Fish Expert.

I finished a collection of James Bond stories by Ian Fleming called For Your Eyes Only on Monday. Frickin’ weird and not at all what I expected. I picked up the book (the edition pictured above) at a remaindered bookstore in Burbank for five bucks. I chose it over the others of its ilk because its cover was the most appealing. (I generally think it’s A-OK to judge a book by its cover; a book’s cover usually tells you all you need to know about whether its going to be worth your time). Well, I think For Your Eyes Only is probably the worst introduction to Ian Fleming’s James Bond character you can imagine. It's fitting, then, that I'd designated it as my bathroom reading.

First off, it’s not a Bond novel, which was what I thought I was getting. It’s a collection comprised of five short stories. The first one, entitled A View To A Kill, starts off pretty good. A motorcycle courier carrying Very Important Documents is gunned down en route and has his Very Important Documents stolen. Bureaucratic in-fighting ensues as to who has jurisdiction over the investigation, and so, helpfully, M sends Bond in to cut through all the red tape and get the job done, which he does.

Good beginning to what I thought was A NOVEL. I didn’t realize For Your Eyes Only WASN’T a novel until I was more than halfway through the whole thing. Though I did feel stupid when I made the discovery, I realize now, after looking more closely at the book, that I had every right to think it was a novel. On the front cover (which I’ve posted above), superimposed over the 007 are these words: “A James Bond Novel”. Inside the book on the title page, it reads again, “A James Bond Novel”. I suppose I can’t be blamed for thinking it was, in fact, a novel. So who made this mistake? Did the people at Penguin even know they were slapping the category “Novel” onto a collection of short stories when they were publishing these new editions? Or did they know and not really care? Now I’m outraged. No, not really. If it weren’t for the fact the main character was James Bond, there’d be no reason to issue a new edition of these stories. They’re not that good.

One of the stories, entitled A Quantum of Solace, is set at a boring dinner party hosted by a diplomat on Nassau. The Governor of the island launches into an incredibly long story which Bond listens to in its entirety, enjoys, and then leaves the party. That’s the whole story. No “Bond. James Bond.” No crazy action, no nothing. Another story called The Hildebrand Rarity has Bond pretending to be a fish expert (a fish expert?)on a rich American’s yacht just to pass the time until he can get a flight out.. Most of the story he's walking around offshore in the Seychelles Islands looking for a blue fish with his snorkel mask. That's fine if it's a story about Billy Whiteman relaxing in a port-of-call on his Singles' Carnival cruise through the Caribbean, but not when it's a story about James Frickin' Bond. The most Bondian thing he does is cover up the American’s murder (which he, sadly, had nothing to do with), which he does mostly so he doesn’t have to bother answering questions from the authorities. Authorities bore him. What is in effect is Fleming's casual misogeny, (ex: “He said fiercely: “Don’t be a silly bitch.””), and an interesting sense of how bureaucratic and boring spying can be. Most of the time Bond’s not even expecting (or really wanting) to deal with anything dangerous at all on a given mission. He doesn’t bed any of the hot young women who appear in these stories (which I guess is tasteful), but Fleming always sets it up at the end so we think he probably does after the story’s over. I hear Casino Royale is all right. Maybe next time I think of sampling some more of the literary Bond, maybe I’ll try that one. But I don't guess I will. Life's too short to waste time with bad books on purpose. Spend your time rightly: for a good, literate, and fast-paced reading experience, pick up The World According to Garp and then read it. It's really good and if you read it, you'll quickly understand Irving's career -- you'll see what Irving was building up to with the three novels he wrote before Garp, and what he's been trying to do ever since with each subsequent novel. Anyway. Seacrest, out.


Anonymous said...

Speck here...had to mention Irving didn't you...bastard :D

I'm slowly getting through his new one. Its pretty good, but I keep getting bogged down by work and other distraction to read it at the pace I usually read his novels.

Fried Pepperoni said...

Yeah, I understand that new Irving book is a log. Good luck with that.

What a weird thing that they would put "A James Bond novel" on a collection of short stories. I would say someone should be fired for that, but since the cover is otherwise so strikingly awesome, I could care less. Man, that's a great cover. Wow. It's kind of a shame that sex isn't sold this way anymore. If this book were published today, they'd probably use a photo of a real woman instead of that gorgeous painting. It wouldn't have the same allure.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for porn...but there's something so sexy about that cover that just isn't duplicated in today's marketing of lust. Maybe we've gone backwards? Is that possible? I don't know. I'll go cry in the bathroom.

Renewed Republican said...

Bond.. Flemming??? read John LeCarre if you want boring spy stories.. you want to hang your self by the middle of the 3rd chapter, and forget listening to them in the car, might as well take a "Somulex" ( a whole bunch of Somulex)
I once spent an entire afternoon pretending to understand atmospheric chemical conversion breakdown once, it was simple, nod your head once every minute, say uh random intervals.. so I am sure I can handle fish expert, can I now apply for Bond's job?

and Oh yes great cover.. I would buy it and just display the book.. hell with reading it.

Anonymous said...

(loudspeaker at mom and pop used book store in OHIO) "Yeah, we got a clean up in the fiction section again Ruth! That damn blonde kid with the long sleeves and glasses jizzed on our 50's erotica again..."

Fried Pepperoni said...

Hey! No fair, I have no idea who just blooped me!

But, yeah, that happens all the time.

JudgeHolden said...

I'm trying to read the new John Irving and it's making me crazy. I'm on page 110 or something and it's one of the most boring first 100 pages I've ever read. Repetitive. Go to a new town, husband not there, do tattoos, find someone who knows where husband went, move to new town, repeat. I thought the Fourth Hand was bad but this one, so far, makes Fourth Hand look like Garp.

And yeah, I think the cover is awesome. I don't have any idea why the drawn or painted image is now so out of vogue. I'd like to see it come back.

And also, yeah, there are rumors that John Le Carre will write a new James Bond novel. If he did, it would be the first time I read either a John Le Carre novel or a James Bond novel.

And anonymous should come out of the closet. Tell us who you really are!

Shannon said...

Gross. I just threw up in my mouth.