Arjun Mishra's Reviews > From Russia With Love

From Russia With Love by Ian Fleming
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M 50x66
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Jul 20, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: literature
Read in July, 2012

You can tell that Fleming intends this particular book to be his masterpiece of the Bond series. I am not so sure that it is the best one (then again, I am only halfway through the Fleming series), as I thought Casino Royale and Moonraker to be on par with this. However, the methods he employs in setting the scene, the story; the strength and effort he puts in describing new characters and treachery; the sheer intrigue that is accomplished by creating a plausible backstory; it all really does culminate in something that could be the masterpiece of the series. The overt USSR aspect of it also sets it in that direction, as no matter where Bond is taken on his myriad of adventures, the USSR is the lingering enemy behind all scenarios. Mr. Big from Live and Let Die is after all, a USSR agent of sorts. SMERSH has featured throughout the series. Here they are in full-throttle. The chief executioner of SMERSH reveals himself as a lunatic killer but a poised and careful one, like a genetic and professional killer. The internal politics and activities of the USSR apparatus are revealed to us and this provides insight into how Fleming's USSR characters operate. They are always fearful and obsequious to the state. Life and body are in full service to the state, whereas Bond and M16 have a voluntary, yet definite connection to service.

Perhaps a symptom of the masterpiece attempt was Fleming's neglect of getting to Bond until the 70th page. It was an audacious attempt and I would daresay that he succeeded. We should be well-acquainted with Bond by now to know what he is doing. When he is in England, he is itching for some work because being a civil servant with desk work is the antithesis of his existence. After a mission, he is reconciling his female difficulties and close calls on his life, and vacationing somewhere English people find romantic. Otherwise, he is directly engaged in a mission. Despite his predilection to avoid routines in favor of not being predictable, he has established a fairly routine life with predictable activities. Breakfast is the same and even though the story is fascinating by itself, breakfast is where Fleming shines. The psychological insight into Bond's interaction with May and his insistence on the same products from the same place every day is like Bond's rapport with bartenders and his drink, which he named Vesper.

Fleming had to create a new friend for Bond, as M was largely missing other than in name and Felix is for American missions. Darko takes that role, and he is shown to be a maestro within the Turkey region. Turkey plays a perfect setting for this seduction, as it is a major battleground between the USSR and the West. Of course, it was designated a NATO ally to much criticism during the Cold War because it was strategically necessary. It also was the recipient of aid from the Truman Doctrine to stave off Communism, along with traditional enemy Greece. Fleming does not seem to take too kindly to Turkey, though. He extols a few aspects of the country, but he avoids its history and foundations, leaving his depiction of Turkey as belligerent Gypsies. He also indulges the classic Orient Express, which is a staple of murder stories like these. I must say that I was severely disappointed in Bond for many reasons here. He almost fell out of the protagonist lenience gaze that he is afforded into pure idiocy. What is he doing so seamlessly and moronically being seduced by a SMERSH agent? It looks like a transparent set up. I am surprised that M and Bond fell for it, even as Darko advised him to deny it. It results in the death of Darko and then Bond inexplicably allows the chief executioner to board the train with him and become his confidante, despite his egregious awkwardness and inability to connect with Bond on the majority of English customs (perhaps because he has anti-social personality disorder, but that is an anachronism). If this leads to Bond feeling that he is severely out of touch with his spy instincts, I am okay with the intrigue this otherwise confounding situation delivers.

Another symptom of the masterpiece is the conclusion. After all, there is a cliffhanger as opposed to a resolution. Any series of possibilities are bound to happen. I am excited for Dr. No.
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Quotes Arjun Liked

Ian Fleming
“Just as, at least in one religion, accidia is the first of the cardinal sins, so bordom, and particularly the incredible circumstance of waking up bored, was the only vice Bond utterly condemned.”
Ian Fleming, From Russia With Love


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