Saturday, 18 January 2014

Casino Royale, by Ian Fleming (2.5*)

(Penguin Books, 2006)

This is the first book I've managed to tick off the list of twelve I picked for my TBR Challenge this year - so I'm already one up on my disastrous 'participation' in 2012, yay!  I've read maybe three of the James Bond novels before - Thunderball, Moonraker and I THINK Live and Let Die - and sadly with this fourth added to the list, there's still only one or two I've really liked so far.  That said, these original covers are BEAUTIFUL, so I probably would have picked some of them up eventually anyway...

So, Casino Royale.  Most people, like me, will have seen the more modern movie version with Daniel Craig (CALM DOWN CHARLOTTE), and so know the rough plot and who's who already.  The bad guy in this particular outing is Le Chiffre, a Soviet dude (?) who's being hunted down by even scarier Soviet dudes (??) and is apparently quite good at gambling.  But not as good as James Bond, obviously.  The Bond Girl is Vesper Lynd, James's 'little helper' in Royale-les-Eaux, who is, naturally, stunningly beautiful, slightly imperious and looks fantastic in a LBD.  The plot involves all the escapades you'd associate with 007 - a bomb going off, perilous near-misses, some tux-wearing and martini-drinking, a bit of sex - plus that famous gambling scene (fortunately rendered mostly comprehensible to a non-cards-playing girl like me by a pre-game explanation of the rules) and the even-more-famous torture scene (which is just as eye-watering in the book as it was in the movie).

When you talk about all this shizzle going on, it sounds like the book should be fantastic... and admittedly, it did keep me reading... but there's just something so shallow about these novels.  There's always some incomprehensible espionage-jargon thrown in there that's easy to skip over in the movies but less so on the page, there's a sprinkling of unexplained French that I'm hoping wasn't too important, and there's something off about the characters.  They're not quite flat, exactly, but their moods seem to jump around, their motives are erratic and anything but clear...  One minute James hates Vesper, then he's in love with her, then he hates her again...  I mean, good grief, give us chance to catch up here!  It makes every emotional response seem fake, because it can apparently change so quickly and completely at a moment's notice.

I also really noticed the chauvinist tirades this time.  I know it's all part of the macho thing, and a product of its time, and all that, but Bond called Vesper a 'bitch' (not to her face, admittedly) AT LEAST twice, possibly three times, and it jarred so horribly in the flow of the prose that I sort of wanted to throw it across the room.  Hard.  Possibly at Bond's crotch, just for good measure.  Great paragraphs about how women can't do things because of EMOTIONAL WEAKNESS, and how he wished Vesper had just stayed at home to gossip and play with dresses and rearrange her crockery LIKE A PROPER WOMAN.  There is also a rather disturbing moment where he theorises that sleeping with such an enigmatic and private person would 'each time have the sweet tang of rape'.  WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK?  It's not at all subtle, basically implying that violating women is AWESOME, and it did make me kind of wish I could borrow Le Chiffre's carpet beater for five minutes and have at that seatless chair, if you get my drift.  WHAT a dick.

Sooooo, yeah.  I'm sure I'll carry on reading some of these - I have a few more on my shelves, and sooner or later I'm bound to hit a good 'un again (hopefully) - but in Casino Royale's case, I'll definitely be sticking with the movie from now on. And not just because I have the biggest crush on Eva Green...  :)

Notable Quotables:
  • "This was just what he had been afraid of.  These blithering women who thought they could do a man's work.  Why the hell couldn't they just stay at home and mind their pots and pans and stick to their frocks and gossip and leave men's work to the men.  For Vesper to fall for an old trick like that [so did he, by the way!] and get herself snatched and probably held to ransom like some bloody heroine in a strip cartoon.  The silly bitch."  - Says the arrogant asshole.
  • "Bond closed his eyes and waited for the pain.  He knew that the beginning of torture is the worst.  There is a parabola of agony.  A crescendo leading up to a peak and then the nerves are blunted and react progressively less until unconsciousness and death... towards the end there came a wonderful period of warmth and languor leading into a sort of sexual twilight where pain turned to pleasure."
  • "You are about to awake when you dream that you are dreaming."
  • "Englishmen are so odd.  They are like a nest of Chinese boxes.  It takes a very long time to get to the centre of them.  When one gets there the result is unrewarding, but the process is instructive and entertaining."
  • "Surround yourself with human beings, my dear James.  They are easier to fight for than principles."
  • "People are islands...  They don't really touch.  However close they are, they're really quite separate.  Even if they've been married for fifty years."

Source:  I think I got this book from our bookshop.  I loved the cover and it's the first in the series!



    Seriously, though, I quite strongly dislike all of the James Bond films that I've seen aside from those with him in. Don't even get me started on how sleazy and creepy I find Pierce Brosnan as Bond. Andy was watching one of the Brosnan Bond films last weekend and he had sex with three different women during the course of about 90 minutes (Brosnan, that is, not Andy!), one of whom died and got a bit of a sigh and a peck on the cheek as mourning. Poor woman.

    I'm not sure I'll ever pick up the books (pretty covers aside) because of the appalling sounding chauvinism and because I'm not so keen on the sound of getting lost in spy speak. And because that rape quote is truly, truly terrible. I know it was a different time but still.

    I will always make an exception to my "no to James Bond" for Daniel Craig, though. Obviously.

    1. Mostly the other James Bond movies don't have enough storyline. They're too intent on cool chases and stuff to actually have a coherent plot, so I end up zoning out after a while.

      I'm not sure 'a different time' really excuses the rape quote, to be honest. Maybe the other chauvinism, a bit, but not THAT. Thank heavens they made Daniel Craig's Bond an actual person and not some kind of icky parody of himself...

  2. I've only read one Bond book, Dr. No, and yeah, it aged about as well as it sounds like this one did. It focused more on racial insensitivity than being horribly sexist, but don't worry, the horrible sexism was still there.

    The covers are pretty though

    1. The original covers have been republished and I have to say, they're probably what drew me back for another go at these books. All credit to the designers for doing their job well!

  3. That's the only Bond I've read, and I wasn't impressed at all (and also would like to borrow the carpet beater and seatless chair. What a nasty bit of work the real Bond is.)

    1. I'll add you to the carpet beater/chair schedule. A couple of good thwacks will make you feel MUCH better...

  4. Two things completely unrelated to your review:

    1. I finally watched Warm Bodies at the weekend and you were right, it was much more like the book than the silly marketing made it out to be.

    2. I was telling Josh about you and he said, "sounds just like Black Books". I think he was a little disappointed that you no longer have the shop.

    2a. I was telling him about you because he is currently reading Day of the Triffids. He thinks there are too many commas, I can't remember so I said I'd ask you if you thought it was overly comma'd...if that's even a thing.

    1. I definitely didn't think it was overly comma'd. At no moment in my reading did I stop and think, "Whoah, mate, easy on the punctuation there..." Maybe you've got a grammar pedant on your hands?

  5. I felt much the same way about the novel (Still haven't seen the movie, gasp!) but despite the crazy sexism I still found it weirdly enjoyable.

  6. I have had this post in my blog feed thingy for the LONGEST TIME because I knew I wanted to comment on it and my phone doesn't like commenting and BLARGH. But I am here now, all is well!

    SO. I kind of hate James Bond just in its entirety- I feel like, even if it's not trying to be sexist, it ends up being kind of sexist, I've only really seen Skyfall in its entirety and even THAT, the most up to date Bond film which should probably done away with sexism and stuff had a woman who was clearly traumatised from years of sexual abuse just being used as someone for Bond to have sex with, and Moneypenny being told 'hey, maybe you're not cut out for the real, manly jobs' and then, you know, believing that.

    There is Judi Dench, of course, but even she has to be protected by the big stwong Bond, and you KNOW what happens to her.

    The point is, anyway, that I'm so incredibly not surprised that the books are, you know, awful. Or at least kind of offensive. The other point is that I should probably write shorter comments ;)


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