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Book Review: Moonraker by Ian Fleming

This is a fantastic Bond book.  A classic in every way (and my personal favourite).

The story begins with Bond in London tied up in boring paperwork (yes paperwork!  Something they don’t show you in the films.  But he is a civil servant as well as a spy).  As there is not much action going on M asked for his help in a personal matter.  An eminent man, war hero and top industrialist, Sir Hugo Drax, is suspected of cheating at cards in M’s posh London club.  The scandal it could cause!  Bond, the gambling expert, is asked to teach him a lesson at the card table to put him off cheating and avoid a scandal.  This relatively mundane beginning leads unexpectedly to action and drama and the whole city of London under threat.

After successfully deterring Drax from cheating ever again Bond dismissed the affair as the quirk of a brilliant man and agrees to go down to Drax’s factory in Kent to help out with a security matter.  Drax is developing the Moonraker, a powerful weapon that will ensure Britain’s military supremacy.  The project is so important that Bond is happy to let bygones be bygones and work side by side with Drax, but poor Bond doesn’t realise Drax’s true intentions or recognise what a dangerous enemy he has made…

bond_moonraker

I like this novel so much as we get to see so many different sides to Bond and his world.  One thing that is missing is the jet-setting as this is the only novel where he doesn’t leave the UK, all the action is in London and Dover (how glamourous.  Not!)  But there is ‘glamour’ provided by the mysterious (well, mysterious to a working class woman living in 2018) world of the old-fashioned gentleman’s club where careers are made and broken, fortunes made and lost at the bridge table and copious amounts of very expensive French Brandy consumed.  It is a world so well constructed by Fleming that I could almost smell the cigar smoke even while reading the novel on an Italian beach!

It is also a great novel for action.  Bond is completely black and blue by the end of the adventure as he gets into so many scrapes!  A cliff explodes on top of him, he’s beaten to a pulp while tied to a chair, run off the road in his Bentley and gets sprayed by a high pressure hose while hiding in a metal pipe!  The long car chases are particularly exciting.

As a contrast to this there are wonderful quiet moments.  Seeing Bond bored at his desk thinking about what he’s going to have for lunch makes you feel like you are being shown life behind the scenes of our hero.  The card game at the beginning is also fantastically detailed and tense.  You almost feel the same tension as when his life is at stake even though all he is risking at the card table is pride and an awful lot of money.

The other characters are top class.  Drax is a wonderfully villainous villain, who does the ‘classic’ of telling Bond his entire backstory and plan before leaving him to an elaborate death!  And Gala, the Bond girl, is the epitome of what a Bond girl should be: beautiful, clever, sexy, brave and attracted to but not intimidated by our hero.  She’s an undercover police officer and a full player in the action, certainly no damsel in distress.

5/5 – perfect if you are looking for action and adventure.

 

Zoe

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Book Review: Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks.

DevilMayCareThis book was not good and the experience was made worse because the book wasn’t without merit – does that make sense?

Basically this is a James Bond novel with Sebastian Faulks trying to write in the style of Ian Fleming.  He doesn’t entirely fail.  It’s as if he has visited the Ian Fleming style market stall and picked up all the right ingredients to make the perfect Bond novel but when he gets home to his kitchen it all goes wrong – he puts things in the wrong order in the wrong amounts and the resulting meal is a complete mess with parts of it undercooked and other bits burnt to a crisp and the flavours that should be subtle overpowering and the flavours that should be strong barely there at all.

The thing he does well throughout I think is that he successful captures the voice and character of James Bond, albeit a rather tired muted Bond – but it is still the Bond I know and love from the novels.  It’s just that this genuine Bond is then plonked in a mucky world that is not Fleming’s world.  Another thing Faulks does quite well is the action sequences, there are some truly thrilling moments (in fact a surfeit of them!)

The real Ian Fleming - Bond lovers are better off sticking to the real thing.

The real Ian Fleming – Bond lovers are better off sticking to the real thing.

I think what he really lacks is Fleming’s lightness of touch.  When Fleming goes into minute detail it builds tension and helps the reader imagine the scene – when Faulks does it’s tedious and boring.  When Fleming writes a sordid or horrible scene it makes you gasp, it’s so unexpected and shocking – when Faulks writes a scene of torture or sex you think ‘oh no not another one’ and start to feel quite sick!  Perhaps the problem is that an author is never going to write well if they are trying to imitate someone else, they will only ever be a poor copy.

I was so disappointed with this book I don’t feel inclined to analyse it further or go into details about the plot.  What I want to do it forget I ever picked it up!  I would basically say if you’re familiar with the Bond novels don’t read this it’s a poor imitation and if you fancy returning to Bond’s world just reread some Fleming, if you don’t know the Bond novels don’t read this it’s rubbish – pick up an original Bond novel instead!

1/5

Zoe

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Book Review: Live and Let Die by Ian Fleming

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.

james_bond_02_live_and_let_die

Positive

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.

Negative

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)

1950's US edition

1950’s US edition

Just Unpleasant

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!)

Zoe

 

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Beautiful Book Covers

A while ago I posted a link to an article on the We Love Brent Libraries Facebook page about terrible book covers.  I didn’t agree with all of them, I thought 1984 was perfectly appropriate and The Bell Jar actually really creepy (in a good way) with the heavy make-up suggesting a woman in a mask and the reflection making me feel a disconnection from reality – maybe that was just me.  Anyway, I thought I’d provide a balance to all that negativity by throwing out there some really excellent covers, some of my favourites – let me know what you think.

 

1. The French Lieutenant’s Woman

The French Lieutenant's Woman. Do the crashing waves reflect the passion of the story?  I don't know.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Do the crashing waves reflect the passion of the story? I don’t know.

Confession time – I haven’t actually read this book, so I can’t pretend to know whether it reflects the novel well or not.  I just saw it passing through Wembley Library and thought it was really beautiful.  Quite haunting – although I do think the style of art looks quite Japanese – is there anything Japanese in the book?  It caught my eye, it pleased my eye and made me want to read the book – so it qualifies for my list (even though I haven’t read it yet).

 

2. Brave New World

Great piece of art this one.  I think I love everything about it; the image of the globe, the font used for the text, the layout.  I would hang this on my wall.  I think it suits the story well too (I have read this one).  I thought the novel was OK, but I do love this cover.

Captivating image.

Captivating image.

 

3. The Beautiful and Damned

One of my all time favourite novels and this cover encapsulates the story and era so well.   The book has had many covers over the years, some very good ones – but for me this one is the best I’ve seen.  Something about the stilted glamour and artifice of the image really brings to mind some of the gloomier aspects of the story, while it is still a pleasing images and allows you to enjoy the decadence that sits along side the darker message.

Beautiful

Beautiful

 

4. The Hobbit

Mysterious, but draws you in.

Mysterious, but draws you in.

I do love this cover, but maybe I’m also swayed in my choice because the novel itself was such a childhood favourite.  I like the way it’s quite a grown up cover and relatively enigmatic – it could have featured some kind of cartoon of a little hairy man fighting a dragon!  I certainly felt quite grown up reading it, it was one of the first grown up looking books I read i.e. quite thick and without cartoon characters or girls with school uniforms and pigtails on the front.  It’s a good cover that shows respect to the young reader.

 

5. ‘Bond Girls’

diamonds are foreverI’m sorry, but I just couldn’t narrow this down.  Love these images!  I once had a cocktail party where I used these as menu cards, each drink moonrakerwas designed to reflect the character of a Bond heroine (all invented by me, except the Vesper), the menu cards contained descriptions of the character rather than ingredients which my guests had to use to select which drink they wanted (yes – I am quite pretentious).  I don’t just like them because they bring back good (and slightly hazy) memories of my Bond party.  I also think they’re great images and really emphasise the fact that female characters so often play a very central role in Fleming’s stories.  Bond has a reputations for sexism and even misogyny and some of the vDr noiews he expresses (which I don’t believe he really feels for a second!) are quite close to the bone politically correct wise – but actually women often shape his fate in the stories.  He gets saved by women, spy who loved metricked by women, lied to, deceived , desired, rejected, attacked, loved, abandoned and protected by them.  Anyway, I don’t want to go off on one of my rants about why Bond isn’t sexist (I could write a whole blog about that), I’ll just let you have a look at these lovely covers and I will leave it there. from russia with love

 

 

Please let me know if you agree/disagree and maybe share some of you favourite book covers.

Zoe

 

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