Phil's Reviews > Live and Let Die

Live and Let Die by Ian Fleming
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May 20, 2012

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Read in May, 2012

Live and Let Die is Bond Novel #2. There's a general feeling that this novel is racist. Now, Fleming was a snob and definitely sexist - and quite possibly racist too, I don't know enough about him, but I think that looked at through a different prism, Live and Let Die is actually racially progressive .... for 1954.

Consider: this was written a full year at least before Rosa Parks made her famous refusal to stand up for a white man on a segragated bus. US society was still almost fully segragated along race lines - supposedly "equal" but only in that services were supplied to blacks and whites, not that equal *quality* services were provided (whites, for example, always sat on public transport and if there wasn't room, blacks had to stand and make room). Into this millieu, Fleming puts a black crime lord, Mr Big - a hugely intelligent (if psychotic) man who is cultured, exacting, a ruthless bon vivant who can out-think and out-plan everything that the white-dominated secret service could throw at him (apart from James Bond of course).

Mr Big's entire gang - which spans New York, Florida and Jamaica - is staffed and controlled by black people. When 'M' and Bond talk about how the world's black population is producing great scientists, great writers, great musicians - and will therefore no doubt produce a great criminal mastermind sooner rather than later - Fleming is being socially progressive, not regressive. Sure, the language wouldn't pass as being PC nowadays - negro is no longer a valid word, but in the 50s wasn't considered racially offensive, and his attempts to reproduce the patois and dialects of Haiti, Jamaica and Harlem are embarassing, but not really different from Mark Twain's attempt at the same in Huckleberry Finn.

On to the story then. As in Casino Royale, Fleming manages to reproduce - almost word for word - a memorable paragraph twice in the same book (the speech about black scientists, writers .... will one day produce a black criminal mastermind - first it's said by M and at the end Mr Big says exactly the same thing while he leaves Bond unattended, assuming that he won't escape. The plot is a lot moer interesting than in Casino Royale - where CR was basically a card game and a kidnap, L&LD involves a hoard of pirate gold being laundered onto the black market, plus a kidnapping and an angry Tiger Shark. Things are starting to get a little more like the movies - and Bond this time is a tad more likeable - at least, you can actually imagine that he'd rather kiss a woman than punch her.

The plot is more interesting and varied than Casino Royale, but so far, the movies are definitely greater works of art than the books.

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