Start Date: October 12, 2017
Finish Date: January 7, 2018
When I first decided to read Ian Fleming’s James Bond series, I came to it with a preconceived notion. That notion was the man I had seen portrayed as James Bond on the silver screen of Hollywood. However, I would soon learn that this was not the James Bond of Fleming’s books.
Naturally I started with the first book, Casino Royale, because I’m kind of O.C.D. about things like that. I always try to start with the first book an author wrote, especially in a series — which I know may be the most obvious thing to people. I can hear you now, why wouldn’t you start with the first book in a series? Trust me, there are some maniacs who don’t.
So I called my local Half Price Books, and they had a copy; I went that night to pick it up. It should be noted that I have a bad habit of starting multiple books at once. When I picked up Casino Royale I was currently reading Hank Greenberg: Hero of Heroes and John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley. Both of which took a bit of a backseat to James Bond — naturally.
Fleming writes in a way that is easily captivating. The chapters are short — something you notice right away. This allows one to read a chapter at a time before bed, rather quickly — which is how I attacked it, until the last day. The fact that Fleming is an Englishmen also took a bit of getting used to, as some of the grammatical structures we’re used to in America do not hold for British grammar. However, this is merely an observation.
Almost immediately the reader is introduced to the spy we all have come to know, especially if you had the N64 GoldenEye game. From the outset the spy we are introduced to showers in cold water, places a hair over dresser drawers to ensure no one has spied on him, and dresses to the nines — just like in the movies. Yet, it is here that most of the similarities ended.
Not once did Mr. Bond introduce himself, “Bond. James Bond.” Nor, did he ever order his patented Martini, “shaken, not stirred.” Nor, did Bond exuded the kind of confidence that the actors from Sean Connery, to Pierce Brosnan, to Daniel Craig possessed. But, once the reader comes to this conclusion, the book is thoroughly enjoyable.
The tension is palpable throughout the entire book. The reader picks up with James Bond at a casino, preparing to face of with Le Chiffre, the villain of the book. The action builds to their showdown, where the reader is introduced to the first difference between Fleming’s Bond and that of Hollywood.
During a game of Baccarat, Bond loses. He is demoralized, not exuding the usual Bond confidence, and is reeling, believing to have lost his job. He then is handed a second chance, beats Le Chiffre, and then places the winnings in his hotel room. It is after this victory that Bond decides to take a run at his partner, the beautiful Vesper. She denies his advance — another difference — and is kidnapped by Le Chiffre. All of this action happens by the middle of the book.
The rest of the book is Bond’s pursuit of Vesper and Le Chiffre, where one would expect a typical Bond move — freeing the girl and winning her affection. The former happens, while Bond is captured himself, and the latter eventually comes to be.
While in pursuit of Vesper and Le Chiffre, Bond is eventually overtaken by Le Chiffre’s goons, and taken captive. He does try to free himself, but is bested by the bigger of the two goons — yet again not what I knew Bond to be. Eventually Bond wins his freedom, through the vehicle of someone else, and he and Vesper ride off into the sunset for a couple day stay at a beach-side inn.
It is here that the last of the conflicts take place as Vesper and Bond are locked into a rather high schoolish on-again-off-again sexual relationship. It is during this time that the climax of the book happens, and Bond is left once again by himself calling into headquarters.
This book contains Constant action and a very easily read story. It is hard to put down once the reader becomes invested.
Fleming’s Bond is different than the Hollywood version, but that doesn't make it a worse version. Fleming’s version of Bond is portrayed as an actual human being. He has flaws, falls in love, and isn’t immortal. In short, Fleming’s Bond is accessible to the reader. And that makes the entire book worth it.
As someone who has enjoyed the Bond movies, there is always a little piece inside of me that wanted, or rather wished, that he was James Bond. The ultra-suave talker, the man who wears his tux, and orders his martinis “shaken, not stirred.” It’s pure fantasy, and maybe that’s why it was always so attractive. We tend to always be moved and inspired by those things which are fantastical.
But Fleming’s Bond is an everyday spy, that does have special training, but is someone that you could model yourself after. The realism in his character is evident from the start of the novel, and that always makes for the best type of literary character. One that we, as the reader, can relate to; the type of guy we could actually see ourselves being — with a particular type of training, of course.
So to Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale, I would definitely raise a glass. It’s a wonderful read that grabs the reader and never lets them go. I am excited for the second book, Live and Let Die, as I sip on my martini while reading — shaken not stirred, of course.
“…patriotism comes along and makes it seem fairly all right, but this country-right-or-wrong business is getting a little out-of-date. Today we are fighting 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. History is moving pretty quickly these days and the heroes and villains keep on changing parts.” — James Bond
“Surround yourself with human beings, my dear James. They are easier to fight for than principles.” — Mathis