Monday, July 11, 2011

Dr. No - Ian Fleming

Cover from the first edition.
 'I'm an Englishman. I'm interested in birds'.

 Bond introducing himself to a totally nude Honeychile Rider on Crab Key.

 Dr. No is the sixth Bond novel and the first adapted by Albert Broccoli into the 1961 film. Ian Fleming lived long enough to see only two of his novels adapted thus, Dr. No and From Russia With love. I read this novel on Sunday, then started The Guns of Navarone immediately after it. So again this Bond novels follows the last in being very light breezy reading.

 I didn't think I would enjoy a Bond novel as much after From Russia With Love. That novel is considered the best of the lot and yet I really enjoyed Dr. No. I think that after five previous novels Fleming was well into his stride and Dr. No is a very fine novel for it. For me the character of James Bond comes to the fore here because in the last five novels he never felt like a secret agent to me being more just a tough cop. In Dr. No he really feels like a secret agent at last and this is why I liked this novel so much.

 The novel was well adapted in movie but the last third of it is altered significantly. Firstly Dr. Julius No in the novel lost his hands to the Tongs after stealing $1 million from them, ( he lose of hands denotes a thief in the criminal world ), whereas in the movie they were lost to radiation exposure. Also his demise is altered as he drowns in a pool of reactor coolant, whereas in the novel he is buried by Bond under a huge pile of dried bird dung! The movie also sees Dr. No aiming to disrupt a US manned space flight through laser beams, whereas in the novel he is using beams to crash US military missiles and selling the technology off to the highest bidder.

 But really that is all that is significantly changed. The only other big change was through 1960's necessity. This is due to Bond girl Honeychile Rider being seen by Bond totally nude on the beach. Of course in the movie Ursula Andress is wearing that famous yellow bikini as she comes out of the surf on Crab Key. For me Honeychile is the best of the Bond girls so far in the novels. She is only twenty, somewhat naive, and yet almost physically perfect. She has a broken nose though from a rapist, the only man to have 'had' her. The word 'virgin' ( Honey still considers herself one when she finally gives herself up to Bond ), comes up in the text and must have been pushing the envelope back in 1958. Fleming really pulled out the stops with Honeychile, and she is a very visual character, more so than Bond.

 This novel is interesting because Fleming has alluded to rape through Honeychile, and for the first time swearing. The word is actually printed  -ing instead of the whole word. Also for the first time Fleming has Bond use four letter expletives! So this novel is somewhat more explicit in nature than its predecessors, and hence has less of a dated feel to it. This is probably why I liked it more than the previous five novels. The other interesting point about this novel in particular is that Fleming initially wrote it as a proposed screen play for a 1/2 hour television show titled, Commander Jamaica. It fell through so Fleming adapted it into novelised form.

 From Russia With Love ended as a cliff hanger as Bond had been poisoned by Kleb, and this novel picks up several weeks later after Bond is recovering. All the novels so far have picked up almost straight after the last, virtually within weeks. If you read my review of From Russia With Love I mention the fact I couldn't believe that Fleming armed bond with such a puny handgun as a .25 Beretta. As in the Dr. No movie though M orders Bond to hand it in for a harder hitting . 32 S & W Centennial. Bond is also ordered to train on the Walther PPK he was to become famous for, ( and for which he used in all the following novels ). This novel too is the first time the MI6 armourer, Major Boothroyd appears, to become better known as Q in future novels. ( See my From Russia With Love for the story behind Fleming's development of Q as a character ).

Cover from the movie tie-in
 Dr. No for me has been the best of the Bond novels so far, even surpassing From Russia With Love. Bond feels more like a secret agent at last, and even the case of Dr. No has the scenario which a secret agent would be assigned to. The first four novels felt more like police matters but Dr. No, with his expensive mad man lair, is better suited to the whole premise of James Bond and his 00 suffix. The plot is strong with one scene even having Bond battling a giant squid which wasn't in the movie, but it is really good and would have looked great with Sean 'Bond' Connery! But for me the character of Bond girl Honeychile Rider is the star here! She is lovely, both physically and as a person, and Ian Fleming out does his main character Bond with her. She may be nothing but words on a page but Fleming's descriptions are vivid and I think any make reader will fall for her!

 The most enjoyable Bond novel so far, and the least dated as Ian Fleming uses swearing and nakedness for the first time. Bond finally feels like a secret agent which makes him more like his movie persona. Overall just fun, absolute fun, and Honeychile Rider is the best Bond girl yet!!


  1. "Dr No" is a longstanding semi-guilty pleasure of mine, and for the record, this feminist female reader also fell in love with the novel's version of Honeychile - she's wonderful.