R.W. Clark's Reviews > Casino Royale

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
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Read 2 times. Last read May 19, 2016.

Casino Royale (James Bond, #1) by Ian Fleming Casino Royale (1953)

Introduction

The following review consists of my deconstruction of this novel into what I call The Elements of 007. I describe these elements in a linear, skeletal form in the James Bond discussion group. You will see many of these elements in bold face headings.

Scene setting, Brand naming

Fleming's use of brand names is part of the fabric of 007's setting. Fleming doesn't fail to paint the scene with terms that echo somewhere in the conflict. Bond's Martini, the Vesper, is named for the violet hour of sunset. (This term is reprised in the same location, in On Her Majesty's Secret Service.) This is a quick example that actually goes to the major weakness of Casino Royale: its cloying sentimentality with the doomed heroine.

Locations, Confrontation at Cards

Casino Royale parallels Fleming's war experience of being bankrupt by a Nazi diplomat in Portugal. Beyond this, the significance of the game (either chemin de fer or baccarat) adds another element found in Bond's games of psychological strategies where the opponents play at even odds with absolute defeat. Oddly, the game requires no skill whatever.

Accomplices, Women

Bond typically (although this typical point is rarely encountered) works alone. In this first story, that point is both founded and confounded. Here, we first encounter Felix Leiter who appears quite frequently through the series. We also encounter the first of many women foils.

Unfortunately, Vesper Lynd appears as a very (literally) weak character. Fleming's lack of her development forces the narrative into weak story telling. Bond goes ga-ga over her, even to the point of his (their) resignation from the service and his proposed marriage to her. Progressing into this narrative cul-de-sac, Fleming fumbles on by making her a double agent, and then compounds his poverty by having her commit suicide. This weak writing occupies the fourth act of a three act shaped story.

Collateral Damage, Stooges

Along the minor paths of 007 elements, we come to collateral damage in the form of the two bumbling Bulgarians who blow themselves up. Bond's encounters with Le Chiffre's stooges is more challenging and perfectly gives the authentic sense of Bond's loss of control. So, it appears that Fleming gives us a set-up of bumbling opposition to then produce highly skilled opponents.

Flashback, Exposition, Limited Point of View

Fleming's early use of flashback arrives as full blown episodes, another weakness that changes the narrative arc back against itself … especially when the novel also contains exposition. These two elements are basic to Fleming's writing. Over the years, the flashback fades to quick observations from another character's limited point of view. Through those same years, Fleming often returns to exposition for plot outlining (explaining the mechanics of the Bond's challenge). Unfortunately, here in Casino Royale, Fleming chooses to expound upon the cloying philosophy of “The Nature of Evil,” how-to-play-Baccarat, and the recipe of the Bond Martini. This is very heavy load of exposition.

Bond's Martini is given an historical pass as this fabled drink entered the 007 canon, the how-to-play-Baccarat serves the average reader with its economy of writing, but the philosophy is trite (as Bond admits later). It is fine that Bond reconciles this point, but he shows little concern for it (doesn't live it) in this story—aside as a sophomoric conceit. However, in later stories, Bond frequently visits the philosophy's basic tenets that finds him visiting his qualms between the distinctions of cold and hot blooded killing.

Confrontation with Enemy, Injuries, M

Le Chiffre introduces the ultimate assault against masculinity. Although it is shrouded in elliptical writing to suit the tastes of readers of the early 50s, Fleming's descriptive writing leaves little doubt to the nature of torture. Bond's assault and recovery span an anguished, cloying path of writing that expresses fear, but doesn't really visit it. Bond fantasizes about a different life, but he fails to examine his necessary abandonment of the narcotic of juvenile power that M panders him with.

M is encountered only briefly through the series. M is infrequently offered as avuncular, but his mask at these times is put on to serve himself. Bond fully recognizes this mask. At regular intervals (early in the narrative), M sets the wheels in motion to relieve Bond of his torpor, or to send him to recuperation. To M, the 00s are expendable, who survive with a limited shelf-life before the dissolution through their addictions erodes their utility.

The major interaction between protagonist and antagonist occurs across the Baccarat table. This interaction calibrates Bond's future tactics. In Casino Royale, Fleming adroitly introduces the fiction of physical security within a civilized society when Bond finds a gun held against the base of his spine while sitting at the game. This combined with the torture emphasizes the threat of emasculation that more motivates Bond than patriotism or justice.

In Conclusion

Casino Royale exhibits many of what I identify as the elements of 007. Their contribution in each title within the 007 series may differ, but Casino Royale exhibits them clearly and without alteration when viewed from the last book of Fleming's work.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
Started Reading
May 19, 2016 – Shelved
May 19, 2016 – Finished Reading
October 2, 2016 – Shelved as: pulp-and-mystery

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