(Audio Book – Read by Dan Stevens)
Impossible to come at this book these days without all your Bond movie presuppositions and comparisons. So here comes a bunch of observations that are probably hackneyed – I’m sure I won’t be travelling new ground comparing this book to film Bond, both of the movies in general, and the recent version of this book.
I was surprised at the radically different composition of this book than all of the Bond movies I’d seen. You could say, “Of course: different media lends itself to different composition.” But having recently read a Matthew Reilly book, ‘Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves,’ I can see it’s clearly possible to write a book that works almost entirely to the conventions of film. Or to slavishly follow a book (e.g. early Harry Potter). The pacing is entirely different. There are only really a couple of action sequences in the whole book, the main one being a classic car chase. Instead there is significant amount of time given to minutia of the background to the operation, time for philosophising about the whole business, and something like the last third of the book to a romantic dénouement.
Mid way I wondered how closely the recent film version kept to the book, so watched the entire movie when I was only about half way through. The movie jammed all sorts of action scenes into preludes and events of the book, keeping the pacing faithful to preceding movies. But I was surprised at the differences in the way Bond uncharacteristically zoomed in on this one girl, talking of marriage and retiring! Yet later I found this was all in the book. The other scene that really jarred in the movie was the torture scene – again, straight from the book. The book was considerably darker than most Bond movies – and also a world more romantic in the focus on Vespa. But the movie, again, was basically faithful to most key plot points, even down to her blackmailed betrayal.
I believe this was the first Bond book – so Fleming may have still been developing this character, and it may be that if I read some later Fleming (and based on this book, I’m open to it) I’ll find Bond comes around more to my film image. There is room for his experience here setting up his later ‘women as mere playthings’ attitude. There is classic Bond here though – sophistication, coolness under pressure, gorgeous woman, opulence, lingering car voyeurism and chase, grotesquely idiosyncratic villains, gadgets (umbrella gun anyone?). Also I appreciate the harsh cold war element here more than the ludicrous doomsday devices of eighties Bonds.
I don’t know how much of my pleasure was in Fleming, and how much in the novelty of the reading. I haven’t heard many audio books so this is still very novel. I thought the reader did a laudable job with voicing different characters and narration. I also think he summed up my own feelings about the book much more succinctly than I’ve done here in his comments that followed the story.