Shannon (Giraffe Days)'s Reviews > Casino Royale

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
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really liked it
bookshelves: espionage, 2009

The first book in Fleming's James Bond series, Casino Royale launches us straight into the high life at Royale-les-Eaux, there to gamble all the money away from Le Chiffre, an agent of the USSR, who needs the money to get out of his debts and save his life, since the money he initially lost wasn't his to begin with but belonged to a Soviet organisation.

To aid Bond he has his friend Mathis, a new friend in Felix Leiter from the CIA, and the beautiful but reserved Vesper Lynd from Section S in London. Attempts on his life barely put a dent in Bond's stride, but the abduction of Vesper by Le Chiffre leads to torture and worse.

This is only the second Bond book I've ever read - at uni I studied either Goldfinger or The Man with the Golden Gun - I can't actually remember which. It was a good thing to have approached the book from an academic perspective, or I might have felt betrayed by Bond's unabashed sexism. He's quite famous for it, but it's lightly glossed over in the films, which I grew up watching - hence he was my hero. Don't let the sexism put you off - it's ironic but the "Bond girls" are empowered in these stories, able to do and be things that would otherwise be out of their reach. I also get the sense of a hint of humour when Fleming boldly describes Bond's thoughts towards women - not laughing at the women, but at Bond, who in this is blind to the skills, abilities and talents of women - to his detriment. He always manages to under-value them and be surprised.

Because this is the first Bond book Fleming wrote, I expected there to be more about Bond's past, where he came from, what led him to join the secret service. But no. It establishes a character as if he had always been there and we had always known him, so it doesn't read like a first book. I liked that. And it left a lot of Bond to uncover and understand. As straight-forward as he thinks he is, it's deceptive; he's surprisingly complex because of how much we need to know in order to "get" him.

I was delighted to find just how close to the book they had stuck with in the movie - delighted and surprised, especially when it came to the infamous torture scene. Okay so the 50s isn't the 1800s, and Fleming describes around it, enough that you know what is happening without the bald words, but it's such a horrible form of torture to witness I had thought they'd devised it only for the movie. Oh yee of little faith.

There are some lengthy descriptions and explanations, especially of gambling and playing baccarat (which is helpful, because I had no idea what baccarat was exactly), but the writing is accessible and doesn't waste time. There's nothing fancy about the prose. It's a somewhat curious style, and I couldn't help but think that if Fleming were writing today he would be freed from social conventions to write more openly still. He reminds me of a toned-down version of Chuck Palahniuk: a different time and Bond would be swearing and shagging and fighting far more openly, I think. There are certainly hints of it here.

Whether you've seen the movie or not, it's worth it to read the book. I'd love to able to afford those gorgeous new hardcover editions that came out last year, but I'll settle for the cheap paperbacks.
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Reading Progress

October 15, 2008 – Shelved
Started Reading
January 5, 2009 – Finished Reading
January 6, 2009 – Shelved as: espionage
January 7, 2009 – Shelved as: 2009

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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message 1: by Gregory (new)

Gregory Funny, I've loved James Bond movies for years (though I don't like the new series and its Bourne-ing of Bond) and I had never read a Flemming book until this one. I honestly couldn't stand Flemming's prose style which sounded like a civil servant's daily journal. The first chapter or two read so dryly that I simply gave up on it and tossed it to a local library. It's rare I do that with any book but I guess I was as they say "not in the mood" when I picked this one up.

Shannon (Giraffe Days) Flemming's prose style which sounded like a civil servant's daily journal.

*laughs* It did, didn't it!! It was exceedingly dry, but I read another one for uni years ago that I remember being good so I was sure he'd pull through - it was his first though, wasn't it; I think he warmed up (and loosened up) as he went on.

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