Friday, July 1, 2011

From Russia With love - Ian Fleming

Cover from the first edition.
 From Russia With Love is the only Bond novel I have read before. I read it two years ago after finding a paperback copy at a second hand book sale. I read it that afternoon and was surprised by how the movie adaptation was an almost carbon copy of the novel. And like that day of two years ago I sat down and read From Russia With Love again last night.

 At 318 pages long it  is one of the longest Bond novels Fleming wrote. Suffice to say it is still the easy reading style of the preceding novels so 318 pages zipped on by pretty quickly. At first I wasn't going to re-read this novel and skip to Dr. No since I had read it before. But I'm pleased I did because it is regarded as the best of the novels, as its movie counter-part, and it was interesting to compare its quality against the first four novels. It comes out the clear winner by a long margin in my opinion.

 The movie is my firm favorite of the franchise. Sean Connery himself stated it was his favorite as well. It follows the novel almost slavishly with only a few very minor changes. The boat chase at the end of the movie being added for dramatic effect. I think with this lack of change it shows how strong a novel it is. It is funny to realise that when released in 1957 it was not an initial best-seller in the U.S. And yet after a article in Life magazine in 1961, where President Kennedy stated it was one of his top ten favorite books sales skyrocketed. Nothing like a bit of presidential promotion huh?!

 After Diamonds are Forever I stated that a lot of Fleming's somewhat biased views had been toned down, and yet in From Russia he has a go at the Turks and their appearance. As Bond enters Turkey Fleming has him calling the customs men 'ugly', and 'with cruel eyes'. He really doesn't hold back on his judgement of the Turkish race! It is absurd and so incredibly dated. Fortunately this is the only time his views slip out and after five novels I'm coming somewhat annoyed with them. They are dated, and while initially interesting in view of the times, I feel I can do without such rubbish now!

1959 paperback edition.
 This novel also has the first appearance of 'Q' branch. Bond receives a modified briefcase in which has money, extra ammo, and several throwing knifes. The introduction of 'Q' branch is interesting as the character of 'Q' himself is modeled on Geoffrey Boothroyd, an English firearms expert who helped Fleming with the design of the cover above ( notice the modified trigger guard ). In the movie Dr. No  there is an Major Boothroyd ( played by Peter Burton ), in acknowledgement of his help to Fleming. The character was then changed to 'Q' in the movie  From Russia With love and made famous by Desmond Llewellyn.

 To be sure I haven't yet read the following nine Bond  novels but I doubt if Fleming was able to top From Russia With Love. It hasn't dated as badly as the first four novels and is a really good, ripping yarn. If you enjoyed the movie then you may not need to read the novel as it is virtually the same. Yet if you wish to read the novels in sequence it is indicative to read it just to see how Fleming's writing abilities strengthened along with his imagination and confidence.

 Probably the best of the Bond novels. With a very strong plot it hasn't dated as badly as its predecessors. And with a Presidential backing you can't go wrong can you?!

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