Monday, August 29, 2011

You Only Live Twice - Ian Fleming

Cover of the first edition.
' Stop staring at my Black Cat '.

' Why is it called that?'

' Guess!! '

 Kissy Suzuki to James Bond. I'll leave you to figure it out...wink wink!!

 You Only Live Twice is the the 12th James Bond novel and the last published while Ian Fleming was alive. The next two published novels, The Man With The Golden Gun and Octopussy/ The Living Daylights were published posthumously. YOLT was published in 1964 several months before Fleming's death and was adapted to film in 1966. It was adapted by Roald Dahl and the finished film was released in 1967. It was the film that saw Sean Connery relinquish the role for the one film, before returning for his final outing in Diamonds are Forever.

 The film adaptation was the first that deviated markedly from the novel. To be honest while it is a strong novel, I don't think it would have made a particularly good film. The film uses several characters and place names, but that is about it. It is also the novel that concluded the so-called 'Blofeld Trilogy'. In it Bond gets his revenge on Ernst Blofeld, and the repulsive Irma Bunt, by strangling him and killing her in their castle's destruction. But in the process he is badly knocked about and suffers amnesia. The novel basically ends with Bond's obituary in The Times which was written by M.

 Of course Bond is alive and slowly works out he doesn't belong in Japan. He makes his way to Vladivostok in Russia as the novel concludes. YOLT follows on from OHMSS quite well as Bond is a shattered man after his wife's murder at the hands of Blofeld. M is thinking of retiring him as his effectiveness as an agent has dropped off. But he is persuaded to give him one last chance and he is packed off to Japan. Once in Japan I thought he novel dropped of somewhat, as it became nothing more than a tourist guide on Japanese etiquette!

 But more than that Fleming is on top form again with his xenophobia. This time with the Japanese. On only the second page he gets stuck in with Bond wanting to 'demonstrate the superiority of Western instinct over the wiles of the Orient'.  Then urtherf on it goes like this '...a country with the highest suicide rate in the world.....a country with an unquenchable thirst for the bizarre, the cruel, and the terrible'. Ian Fleming actually went on a two week research trip to Japan to prepare the novel. He obviously came away thinking Japan was a country that had only left the barbarian age behind only a century before. Bond all but says so in the narrative!!

 ( And of course what would a Bond novel be without some rampant sexism??!! Here Australian Diplomatic Corp character Dikko, Henderson, smacks a girls bum so hard she nearly falls over. Bond laughs and the Aussie replies ' What's a girls' bottom for anyway?!!! ).

 So Fleming obviously thought little of Japan. He even brings to light the Japanese strategy of bombing Pearl Harbor, bringing the US into the war, instead of the more sound strategy of just fighting the British in the Pacific. Fleming just can't help but bring up the war and rub the Japanese nose in their defeat!! But then he goes on to sound off about how dumb England was to lose its pre-war colonies, and the social ills of his own country ( he especially tirades against the trade unions! ). He really was a prejudiced opinionated prig! 

 As stated the novel reads like a tourist guide at times and doesn't get 'Bond' again towards 2/3 into it. Bond is almost rail roaded into penetrating a so-called 'House of Death' to kill the mysterious Doctor Shatterhand. At first Bond doesn't realise it is Blofeld until he is shown a photo of the 'Doctor'. Suffice to say Bond gets in, gets beaten up, escapes, kills his arch nemesis and his crony bitch, and escapes to live another day. If you have seen the film believe me there is virtually nothing in it that is recognisable from the novel. The film was criticised in having Connery's Bond appearance altered to appear more Japanese like. This is actually in the novel and is one of the few things the film does follow.

 I have read that many regard YOLT as a lesser Bond novel. I tend to agree. But that must be tempered by the fact that Fleming was a seriously ill man whilst writing it and it tends to show. It isn't a good Bond novel, and while not bad, it is a let down after Thunderball and OHMSS. I think it rates with the earlier novels in quality even though it hasn't the datedness of them. But even though ill in body, he still manages to spout out his poisonous views on the world in the form of his sexism and racism/xenophobia. Even dying the leopard didn't change it's spots!

 If you are expecting the film, forget it!! Overall You Only Live Twice is an average Bond novel, but it can be forgiven somewhat in light of the fact it was written by a dying Ian Fleming.

 One thing about the success of the first Bond films was that they helped increase sales of the novels. In fact between 1962 and 1967, over 22 million Bond novels were sold worldwide!! Staggering stuff huh??!!

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