Review: Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
“Bond. James Bond.” The well-known introductory line of this British hero likely strikes up a chorus in most minds of the theme music introducing the beloved film series. Ever since Sean Connery’s emergence on screen as 007 in the 1962 Dr. No, through Daniel Craig’s latest 2015 Spectre, James Bond has never gone out of style.
Published in 1953, Casino Royale by Ian Fleming was an immediate success and was the first of 12 Bond novels and two collections of short stories. Interestingly, as an avid bird-watcher, Fleming named his hero after the ornithologist James Bond, author of Field Guide of Birds of the West Indies. In a world where the privations of World War II were still in effect—food rationing and the absence of luxury goods in the 1950s were strong reminders of the recent horrors of war—Bond’s extravagant habits of smoking 70 cigarettes a day and complaining that “the trouble always is, not how to get enough caviar, but how to get enough toast with it,” made for an appealing hero.
In the introduction to the new Folio Society edition, John Banville writes, “To British readers in that austere time the book must have seemed like a millionaire’s yacht, taut-sailed, with polished timbers and brasses agleam, gliding out of a pea-souper fog into the Pool of London. The defeat of the Axis powers had proved something of a pyrrhic victory for the gallant Albion. Divested of its empire, Britain had suddenly found itself a second-rate international power, squeezed like a sprat between the twin leviathans of the United States and the Soviet Union.” Bond was just who they needed.
Casino Royale has much the same plot of the 2006 film adaptation with some small differences, perhaps most notably the change from a duel of baccarat to one of Texas hold’em poker. The book also offers further insights on the interworking of Bond’s thoughts. From rather light-hearted, humorous opinions, such as that “good Americans were fine people, and most of them seemed to come from Texas,” to more sinister views on luck in cards and on dealing with women: “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. One day, and he accepted the fact, he would be brought to his knees by love or by luck.”
This last, rather prophetic, quote illustrates the callused side of Bond that, while certainly present in the films, shines through all too harshly in the book. His chauvinistic opinions and lustful desires are reiterated a couple of times in general and in regards to the heroine, Vesper, even though he falls genuinely in love with her. While this attitude was no surprise in the character of Bond, it was rather distasteful to have it presented so clearly and was a reminder that as a woman, I was not the originally intended audience.
This being said, I still thoroughly enjoyed the novel as an exciting, thrilling tale, and it delivered as James Bond always does. As Banville writes, “[James Bond] remains astonishingly fresh in its glamour, its insouciance and flamboyant sheen.” So whether you have already seen the latest in Bond, Spectre, or still have it on your to-watch list, you may find your new favorite entertainment to be the Bond novel series.
Buy this book here.