Casino Royale – Ian Fleming

Book #518

Reviewer: Ms Oh Waily

CR

Well hello Mr Bond.

In Casino Royale we get to meet the literary Bond in the flesh, so to speak.  He does have more than a passing resemblance to his film alter ego, but not so much the current version.

Casino Royale is the first Bond novel and it runs to 213 pages in the edition that I have.  It is a very quick and easy read. There are no fancy literary flourishes or playing with language, other than an excessive fondness for French phrases.  Most readers would be capable of starting and finishing this over a weekend, or an afternoon would even suffice if you dedicated the time.

If you have seen the 2006 film of the same name you can rest assured that it is a fairly faithful representation of this story.  The main difference being an updated setting in geopolitical terms.

The book was written in the early 1950s and reflects that era.  Bond works for the British secret service and his mission is to bankrupt a fifth-columnist called Le Chiffre.  Most of the first half of the book is dedicated to this process, including quite a lot of description around the Baccarat table and the ensuing duel between the two men.  The remainder of the book follows what happens after the Baccarat duel is over.  Vesper Lynd is the “Bond girl” in this novel.  She is the personal assistant to the Head of Section S, and is assigned to help Bond in bringing Le Chiffre down.  She becomes the central figure when she is kidnapped, and Bond finds that he has come to love her.

If I go more in to the plot, and you haven’t already read the book or watched the film, then the whole game is given away.  So instead I am going to make some observations about the differences that are noticeable between the onscreen Bond and Bond as he comes across in Casino Royale.

Bond simply isn’t suave.  He’s sexist, cold and clearly manipulative.  He is also a gambler.  The book is quite clear on this, while the films blur this and give the impression of a roguish bad boy.

Bond saw luck as a woman, to be softly wooed or brutally ravaged, never pandered to or pursued.  But he was honest enough to admit that he had never yet been made to suffer by cards or by women.

Perhaps he becomes suave sometime in the series of eleven novels about him.

For those who may be interested in a couple of famous Bond traits – here are a couple of passages for you.  The first is the famous Martini.

‘A dry martini,’ he said. ‘One.  In a deep champagne goblet.’
Oui, monsieur.’
‘Just a moment.  Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet.  Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon-peel.  Got it?’

The second is an explanation of the “00” designation.

‘For those two jobs I was awarded a Double O number in the Service.  Felt pretty clever and got a reputation for being good and tough.  A Double O number in our Service means you’ve had to kill a chap in cold blood in the course of some job.’

And although I did say that there is very little literary flourish about the writing, there are still some nice crisp pieces to enjoy and even some thoughtful musing on the part of Bond.  It seemed so uncharacteristic of him, but the ideas are still very applicable today.  On his doubts about working for the secret service,

‘You see,’ he said, still looking down at his bandages, ‘when one’s young, it seems very easy to distinguish between right and wrong, but as one gets older it becomes more difficult.  At school it’s easy to pick out one’s own villains and heroes and one grows up wanting to be a hero and kill the villains.’

As part of this conversation, Mathis (Bond’s French equivalent and friend) makes a wry observation of this “new Bond”.

‘Continue, my dear friend.  It is interesting for me to see this new Bond.  Englishmen are so odd.  They are like a nest of Chinese boxes.  It takes a very long time to get to the centre of them.  When one gets there the result is unrewarding, but the process is instructive and entertaining.  Continue.  Develop your arguments.  There may be something I can use to my own chief the next time I want to get out of an unpleasant job.’  He grinned maliciously.

If you are a fan of the Bond franchise then reading this will certainly give you more understanding of what is going on in his head, and what sort of character Fleming actually had in mind.  For those who are not fans, but are interested in the origins of one of cinema’s largest and lasting characters, it will be a quick and painless visit with the world’s best known spy.

Happy reading.

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