I just got done reading “Casino Royale” for the third or fourth time. This is the original novel, from 1953. It was the first James Bond novel, written by Ian Fleming from his estate in Jamiaca.
There are four excerpts I always remember about the book. I often page through to find them, so I figured I would write them here so I don’t have to go looking for them again. They’re each interesting, in their own way.
In the first, Bond has met his associate for an assignment in Royale, France. It’s a woman – Vesper Lynd – which was unexpected, and Bond’s thoughts reveal much of the feelings Fleming had for women during his era. They’re an interesting look into how Fleming envisioned Bond.
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. One had to look out for them and take care of them.
“Bitch,” said Bond [...]
Later, Vesper gets kidnapped.
This is 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 pot and pans and stick to their frocks and gossip and leave men’s work to the men. And now for this to happen to him, just when the job had come off so beautifully. For Vesper to fall for an old trick like that and get herself snatched and probably held to ransom like some bloody heroine in a strip cartoon. The silly bitch.
Enlightened, Fleming was not. Much has been written about Fleming’s own relationship with women, which was much like Bond’s – he stayed very detached from them at best, and was openly misogynistic at worst.
Later in the book, Bond had been captured by Le Chiffre and tortured to near-death. Bond’s friend Mathis, a French police officer, comes to the hospital, and Bond tells him he’s quitting MI6. Bond goes on to explain that he no longer understands if he’s on the side of good or evil, and now believes that evil must exist for good to have any value.
“[...] There’s a Good Book about goodness and how to be good and so forth, but there’s no Evil Book about evil and how to be bad. The Devil has no prophets to write his Ten Commandments and no team of authors to write his biography. We know nothing about him but a lot of fairy stories from our parents and schoolmasters. He has no book from which we can learn the nature of evil in all its forms, with parables about evil people, proverbs about evil people, folk lore about evil people. All we have is the living example of people who are least good, or our own intuintion.
“So,” continued Bond, warming to his argument, “Le Chiffre was serving a wonderful purpose, a really vital purpose, perhaps the best and highest purpose of all. By his evil existence, which I foolishly helped to destroy, he was creating a normal of badness by which, and by which alone, an oppostie norm of goodness could exist. We were privileged, in our short knowledge of him, to see and estimate his wickedness and we emerge from the acquaintanceship better and more virtuous men.”
I always thought that was a fascinating argument, and it always makes me think of apologetics based on the moral argument, like C.S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity.”
Finally, this last excerpt is just wonderful in its writing, pace, and wordplay. It’s toward the end of the book, when Bond suspects he has fallen in love with Vesper. This is thrilling for him, but also depressing, since it seems to be playing into a pattern he has with women (Bond having bed many, manywomen in his time).
With most women, his manner was a mixture of taciturnity and passion. The lengthy approaches to a seduction bored him almost as much as the subsequent mess of disentanglement. He found something grisly in the inevitability of the pattern of each affair. The conventional parabola – sentiment, the touch of the hand, the kiss, the passionate kiss, the feel of the body, the climax in the bed, then more bed, then less bed, then the boredom, the tears and the final bitterness – was to him shameful and hypocritical. Even more, he shunned the ‘mise-en-scene’ for each of these acts in the play – the meeting at a party, the restaurant, the taxi, his flat, her flat, then the weekend by the sea, then the flats again, then the furtive alibis and final angry farewell on some doorstep in the rain.
That’s just great writing. There’s something about the pace of the words there, and the imagery of the last sentence. The very first time I read this passage, 15 years ago, it stopped me in my tracks.
This first novel is the most approachable of the Bond novels. It’s short – you can read it in two or three hours – and the plot is simple and compact. It’s absolutely worth your time to read. It will give some insight to the Bond to which Fleming gave birth – a Bond which has been generally corrupted in the films, some bright spots notwithstanding.