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.