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Thursday, 24 February 2011


You Only Live Twice is the penultimate novel in the original Fleming canon and the last 007 novel published during his lifetime.

The book, being the third in the Blofeld cycle, neatly bookends into the events in the previous novel, OHMSS. It also marks another experimental phase for the series with Fleming, bringing in allegory.

One of those lovely 1970's paperbacks
I like the book very much and feel that Fleming hadn't taken as much care in creating mood in a long while. It is enticing to look at the final few Bond books, discounting The Man with the Golden Gun which was left unfinished when Fleming died, and speculate on where the series might have gone had Fleming lived longer. All three of the Blofeld books are excellent and Fleming's writing is cast iron solid in his later books, he has also opened up to experimentation and the character of Bond was becoming less of a cypher and more of a flesh and blood man.

You Only Live Twice, starts with Bond depressed at the death of his wife in the previous book. M is worried about him and decides to give Bond an impossible assignment, something to snap him out of his maudlin condition. M strips Bond of his 00 status and promotes him to the diplomatic division.

"There's nothing the matter with you. You've been through a bad time. You've had good reason to be a bit under the weather. As for the last two assignments, anyone can make mistakes. But I can't have idle hands around the place, so I'm taking you out of the Double-O section."

Bond is sent to Japan with orders to persuade Tiger Tanaka, the head of the Japanese secret service, to share the new ciphering method called Magic 44. However things do not go as planned and soon Bond find himself once again on the trail of Blofeld, although the agent is initially ignorant of the fact that it is his old enemy Blofeld who he is investigating.

You only live twice,
Once when you are born,
Once when you look death in the face

 The last section of the book sees Fleming do something he's never done before - he depicts Bond as a St. George like figure while Blofeld is depicted as the dragon. The analogy is brought to the fore and much of the narrative is dreamlike, almost surreal. The author is clearly thinking in the style of the old epics of literature and he does set Bond an almost Herculean task.

"The Piranhas and the volcanic mud are useful housekeepers. They keep the place tidy."

You Only Live Twice, is an excellent addition to the Bond canon - it's bitter sweet, though...knowing that Fleming would never fully complete another Bond novel, doubly so in that this book marks what might have been an whole new avenue for the Bond adventures.

1 comment:

Keir said...

reading the book now and can't help but think of how Britain today is exactly how Tiger Tanaka describes it at the start of the 60s:
"You have not only lost a great Empire, you have seemed almost anxious to throw it away with both hands...when you apparently sought to arrest this slide into impotence at Suez, you succeeded only in stage-managing one of the most pitiful bungles in history. Further, your governments have shown themselves successively incapable of ruling and have handed over effective control of the country to the trade unions, who appear to be dedicated to the principle of doing less and less work for more money. This feather-bedding, this shirking of an honest day's work, is sapping at ever-increasing speed the moral fibre of the British, a quality the world once so much admired. In its place we now see a vacuous, aimless horde of seekers-after-pleasure-gambling at the pools and bingo, whining at the weather and the declining fortunes of the country, and wallowing nostalgically in gossip about the doings of the Royal Family and your so-called aristocracy in the pages of the most debased newspapers in the world."