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Saturday, 6 November 2010

THE COMPLETE LITERARY 007 - THE SPY WHO LOVED ME

This is the Bond book that divides fans more than any other - some consider it a brave attempt at working outside the formula, while others see it as an abomination in the series, the result of a moment of madness from Fleming. I must say that I belong to the former camp and indeed I rate The Spy Who Loved Me very highly - it is known that Fleming was a friend and admirer of Raymond Chandler and in places Fleming seems to be reaching for Chandleresque moments in the first person narrative from Vivienne Michael.

And it is very much Vivienne's story, her book and Bond becomes a supporting player in his own series, indeed he doesn't even come into the story until more or less the final quarter. Fleming shouldn't be criticised for this experiment and by using a woman as the main character and spinning the tale from her POV, the author has created his most feminist work within the most male chauvinistic of series. But panic not because Bond is his usual self and Vivienne certainly knows her place when it comes to the bedroom. Hey, this is 1960's male wish fulfilment so give Fleming a break here!

"I had no regrets or shame. There might be many consequences for me - not least that I may now be dissatisfied with other men." Vivienne Michael after sleeping with Mr Bonkbuster

A benefit from Fleming's experiment here is that the reader gets a female perspective of James Bond which adds much to our understanding of this amazing fictional character. And from this female viewpoint Bond comes across as a caring and warm man, a million miles away from the cold-hearted assassin we have come to know and love.

The Spy Who Loved Me then is a great addition to the series - it's certainly the odd one out and does not work as a first novel for someone new to the series. But once readers have gotten a few of the more conventional 007 thrillers under their belt, then TSWLM should prove an enjoyable and refreshing change of pace and style.

Fleming deserved kudos for attempting something new from what was (is) a hugely successful and established formula.

Not to be confused with The Spy Who Loved Me by Christopher Wood - which is a novelization of the movie made from Fleming's title. This came about because so disappointed with the novel was Fleming, that he made it clear in his contract that any eventual movie should only use the title of the novel and that his story would be completely ignored. Methinks Fleming was a little too hard on himself.

"I enjoyed writing the novelizations and went to great pains to reread Fleming.  It was a real challenge to integrate the extra-ordinary world of film Bond into the more prosaic, real life settings of the novels." Christopher Wood.

2 comments:

Randy Johnson said...

I belong in the former camp. But then, I was pretty young when I last read it and possibly would appreciate the effort more nowadays. May have to give it a try again.

The Wood novelization of the film, as well as his Moonraker version, worked well I thought. he did a fine job of adopting the Fleming style.

Frank Loose said...

Thanks for the nice review. I liked the book when i read it as a teen. A new copy sits on my TBR shelf, and i hope to read it before the year is out. Yikes, It's November! Actually, I recall liking the Vivienne Michel character a lot. Probably a young lad with an older woman fixation ...