Friday, June 24, 2011

Live And Let Die - Ian Fleming

Cover from the first edition.

'If you want an extra navel, Mister Bond, you can have one. I have six of them in this gun.'

Mr. Big to James Bond. 

 Another one bites the dust...oops! that's Queen isn't it? And yet it could easily be the title of a Bond novel couldn't it?! I read this, the second of Ian Fleming's Bond novels, over two nights. It is only 272 pages long and with such big print it was easy reading.

 The first thing to notice over Casino Royale is how far Fleming had developed as a writer. Live and Let Die is a much taunter novel that its predecessor. Casino Royale is a fine debut novel but Live and Let Die is streets ahead of it. Fleming still engages his simple writing style but the action sequences are fuller and the tension ratcheted up further. I liked the movie adaptation which I believe was one of the stronger Roger Moore outings. It is the usual deviation from the novel but it does capture its essence, especially the tension.

 The second thing of note is the datedness. Ian Fleming's, and possibly many other's, attitudes to the American Black community comes through. He is quite dismissive of Black culture. Remember this is just before the Civil Rights movement came to the fore. It appears that Fleming was a racist, and he sure isn't impressed with the Black community of the time. He really has a quiet, smug dig at the way they spoke. Nor is he impressed with American food ( especially the eggs and coffee ), or their cars!! It is amazing, and a unique historical snapshot of prevailing 1950's European opinions of America in general. When I read Flemings words I was surprised that this volume was ever published in the States for its almost anti-Black/American attitudes. To us today it would appear quaint, and certainly mis-guided, but in its day Fleming was only mirroring a popular outlook. Fortunately this attitude was left out of the movies.

 One scene is unusual in that it is from this novel and not used in the movie of the same title. I refer to the scene where Felix Leiter is intentionally mauled by a shark. If you know your 007 then you will be aware that this scene appeared in License to Kill. I think it was left out of Live and Let Die because the plot was changed from the novels as to be incompatible, and yet fit well into License to Kill's.

 Two scenes in the novel stand out for me though. The scene where Bond first encounters Mr. Big is very similar to how it plays out in the movie. It is quite tense and Bond has his left little finger broken. He is to be killed but escapes after killing three of Mr. Big's goons. The second stand out scene is the end where Bond and Solitaire are dragged behind Mr. Big's boat. They are to be bloodied up for the sharks and barracuda by first dragging them over some coral. Of course the mine explodes and bond escapes and gets the girl!! It may be dated pace wise but it still has an appeal. ( Actually Fleming has Bond encounter a swarm of frenzied Barracudas earlier as he attached the limpet mine to Mr. Big's boat. It is a chilling, well described scene that will make your skin crawl ). The scenes in Jamaica are well described as Fleming delves into his own observations and knowledge of Jamaica from living there whilst writing the Bond novels.

 Live and Let die then is a real step forward from Casino Royale. As a character James Bond in the reader's mind will make a giant leap away from that of the movies. Throughout Casino Royale I kept trying to picture Daniel Craig, and yet with Land Let Die I at no time saw Roger Moore in my minds eye. The Bond of the novels had crystallised. Some of the attitudes are now dated and quite funny really as they are very much 1950's. I didn't take them too seriously. This then is a better and more rewarding novel than its predecessor. The action sequences are stronger, and Bond is a more palpable figure.

 A good enjoyable read that will not tax too much time or effort. Dated yes, but the Bond excitement is still there for all to enjoy.


  1. Always been tempted to read one of his novels, just might now.

  2. If you are a fan of the movies it is worth reading the novels. The great thing is is that they are very, very easy reading. I mean I read this in about 5 hours.