Monday, 25 February 2013

On her majesty's secret service, by I. Fleming

After having watched almost all of the Bond movies, I should at some point read the respective books, wouldn't you think?  I was aware of Fleming's own lifestyle and how it resembled that of the Bond character, but how would he have interpreted his own hero?  and then, what would be his writing style?  would it inspire all these extravagant movies, or would the books offer a deeper understanding of the great James Bond?  

My only problem, of course, was which book to read.  In the end, I chose On her Majesty's Secret Service by Ian Fleming for primarily two reasons:  I must be one of the few ones who actually liked the movie, and then because it could offer an insight into the complex nature of Bond.  Or so I thought...

The fact remains that just like the movies, On her Majesty's is an adventure of the ueber-spy of all, James Bond.
Which is where the problem started.  The book is excruciatingly detailed in how James Bond walks, talks, what he eats, how he dresses (to the last detail...):

he slipped on his dark-blue tropical worsted trousers, white sea-island cotton shirt, socks and black casual shoes (he abhorred shoe-laces)
If that scene were in the movie, I would simply choose to ignore it and focus on the plot.  In the book, however, I cannot ignore it - I have to continue reading and I find myself getting bored.  These details spoil the book in my opinion, because they further the image of a superficial spy who kills for fun.  If Fleming wanted to include a third dimension to Bond's character (which, I found afterwards, was his intention with this book), he failed - I actually started disliking Bond.
Half-way through the book, nothing had happened from the main plot.  Given that I already knew about it from the film version, I found this very strange - concentrating the first half for the background story is just too much.  We read such books for the adventure, and if that is only half of the book, we'll probably go to the next book...

One other aspect of an adventure book - we don't expect high-level literature.  In almost every other book of adventure I've read, language is kept rather simple, focusing on the plot instead.  I know that Fleming was no longer at the peak of his writing, and that he wanted to upscale Bond but phrases like

Bond brusquely kicked his problems under the carpet of his consciousness

  don't help - rather, I find he's being pompous, trying to show that he writes serious works.  Complex notions and emotions, however, don't belong in such books which - I have to admit - are there for the wow factor.  I want to be swept away into the world of Bond, the excitement, the villains, the over-the-top chases... No, this book feels it has to show the ability Fleming had bring forward the ambiance we find Bond in:

the manager impressively took over from the clerk and greeted Bond with golden-toothed effusion

That is not to say, of course, that the book is horrible.  It reads fairly well, is not too boring, but not too exciting either.  I have read better adventure books, so this one would probably not remain in my collection.  But, I do marvel at the screenwriters of the film adaptation, who transformed this into a great movie -- was Bond meant to be seen and not read?
I will try a second book by Fleming to see whether he redeems himself...


  1. I've never liked the Bond movies so am pretty sure I wouldn't like the books either!

    1. Well, I do like the earlier Bond movies, but I'm hesitant about the books now... I'll try Casino Royale, the first Bond book, and see how it reads. Apart from the recent movie, I've also watched the 1954 TV adaptation of that book.

  2. The books are all written in the same style, so do not expect anything else. Fleming wrote for a different generation and a very different audience. So do not get your hopes up !




Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...