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I like big books.

Casino Royale: A James Bond Novel (James Bond Novels, Book 1)

Casino Royale - Ian Fleming A pretty decent movie and a first rate novel. I love the Bond movies if for nothing else I find the anti-feminism in hilariously bad taste - but the problem for me always was, "Why is a SECRET AGENT running around fighting CRIME SYNDICATES run by ridiculously silly and stupid individuals (as fun as it is to watch)?" This novel is a simple Cold War spy story with some intriguing, if overplayed, twists and turns. (Or are they overplayed because so many imitators followed?) The film is a great modern adaptation substituting international terrorist organizations for the Soviets, but the premise and the hot water the characters get into is roughly the same.

The misogyny that is overdone to the point of comedy in the films seems genuine and a part of Bond's character in the novel, and the sexist views of the 1950s come through loud and clear. However, I don't view it as an attack on feminism so much as a reflection of the immediate post-war culture and a historic response on the part of men coming back home facing job shortages and new competition from women in the workplace. For example, take this passage:

"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 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."

The passage certainly reflects the attitudes and I'm sure the social commentary and news bombarding male audiences in Britain and America in the late 40s and 50s. In that respect, it should be read as historical fiction, rather than contemporary literature. And more than half a century removed from the setting, it makes for one hell of a period piece.

Anyway, I think the Cold War setting really does the Bond character so much justice. I like the thought of him working against agents of the Soviet Union, and the novel suggests he is only a small part of such operations run by the NATO nations, which lends the novel an air of realism and believability. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the film version was actually a pretty faithful following of the novel, right down to the method of torture used on Bond when apprehended by Le Chiffre.

The characters are strongly and believably motivated and Fleming's naration is elegant and spartan. He is not prone to over-description, a sign of sophistication and trust in the reader so lacking with modern writers in my opinion. At only 181 pages, Casino Royale is a tight and climactic thriller that makes me want to follow up with the rest of the series.