I have actually read this before,so knew what to expect. I’m re-reading all James Bond novels in order and wasn’t looking forward to this as it is my least favourite.
Because I’ve already said I don’t like it much I will start with the good bits. In places it is really genuinely exciting. My favourite scenes are when Bond is swimming through shark infested water to plant a bomb under a ship, or when he and the Bond girl are lashed together behind a boat and dragged through razor sharp coral (a scene that inspired the bit in the movie For Your Eyes Only with Roger Moore’s Bond being tied to Carole Bouquet). I also like the way Bond forms a partnership with Felix Leiter and his place as a regular Bond character and rare friend to the lonely James is cemented. We also meet other characters who crop up again, I didn’t remember from the first time reading it that we meet Strangways and Quarrel who both feature more heavily in Dr No – noticing this pleased me and made me feel part of the Bond Universe.
Although parts of this are ultra exciting other parts are deadly dull. When Bond spends days preparing for a mission by dieting and reading learned books about fish I really felt I was going through it with him! He also comes across as a bit of a wimp at times – he’s almost totally incapacitated by having his little finger broken and even turns down the chance to make love to the beautiful Bond girl Solitaire because of this injury, throughout the book he mentions his sore finger – I mean I’m sure I’d make a fuss if I broke my finger but he’s Bond! I also found the female lead to be a negative, of all the Bond girls she is the most stereotypical for me, the cliche that Bond girls always need rescuing and swoon as Bond’s feet is just that, a cliche. In most of the novels the female leads are strong and capable women but not Solitaire, she really does need to be rescued (poor thing)
Now we come to the elephant in the room (or on the blog). I think Live and Let Die is racist.
I hate to say this as I’m a massive Fleming fan but parts of this are just so uncomfortable to read and it’s littered with the ‘N’ word. It’s not exactly that he says bad things about black people, he admires the black villain for his genius. It’s the way Bond explores the black community like an anthropologist discussing a strange tribe, the way he discusses how black people look, think and behave is really patronising, he talks as if they are pretty much all the same rather than individuals. I’m not sure if it’s a defense of Fleming to mention that he does the same thing towards Japanese people in You Only Live Twice – that might just mean he’s consistent in his racism! A stronger defense is that Fleming was writing in the 1950s and black people would have been exotic and interesting to a lot of British people so he maybe he is reflecting his times – but this still doesn’t make for pleasant reading.
I couldn’t shrug it off as easily as I can the violence, sex and other non-politically correct aspects of Bond novels and it did spoil a pretty good adventure for me.
3/5 exciting in places but inconsistent and a level of racism hard for the modern reader to stomach.
(Looking forward to Moonraker – my favourite!)