At The Casino

I have rather varied reading tastes at times…

[Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy, 1877. Photo by me, 2021.]

I put down Anna Karenina for a few days.

I concentrated instead last week on reading the very first “James Bond” novel: Casino Royale.

It took me only a few days to read all of “Bond.” Part of the reason it was such a quick read, I suppose, is because clearly it is meant to be a quick read:

[Ian Fleming, Casino Royale, photo by me, March 19, 2021.]

If you have seen the 2006 film, the first serious attempt to take this story to the screen, the novel is a much “tighter” story.

Set mostly in France it is fundamentally a simple tale of secret agent (and killer) “James Bond,” a casino, cards, and spies.

The novel also has an extended torture scene – that is not reproduced nearly as violently in the film. In 1953, readers did not know what was going to happen. However, they must have assumed, I am sure, that Bond would survive because he is the main character.

[Ian Fleming, Casino Royale, photo by me, March 27, 2021.]

That is just for starters. While graphic violence is now commonplace in action-adventure literature, that torture scene in 1953 in particular must have been “shocking” reading to many.

It is hard also not to suspect its grittiness and ugliness may have been reasons the book was such a huge hit and helped lay the groundwork for another eleven years of “Bond” novels from Fleming.

And “James Bond’s” attitude toward women is, uh, well…

[Ian Fleming, Casino Royale, photo by me, March 27, 2021.]

…let’s just say “Mr. Bond” is definitely NOT a “nice guy.”

The book got broadly good reviews (if at times somewhat mixed ones) upon its initial release. I am not the first say this, of course, but having now read it I see what so many have meant about it over the decades. It does indeed strike one as, essentially, a “guy” book.

[Ian Fleming, Casino Royale, photo by me, March 31, 2021.]

For example, that above is “Bond” observing “Vesper Lynd” – the major woman character – at their first meeting. Whatever you think of Fleming having spent almost an ENTIRE PAGE just describing “Vesper” as seen through “Bond’s” eyes, it is what “Bond” sees and not what “Vesper” is thinking. That distinction is also vital.

Overall, man or woman, a read of an original “Bond” novel is not a waste of your time. As the modern detective genre we all take for granted might be said to have started with The Maltese Falcon (1930) and The Big Sleep (1939), the modern secret agent/spy thriller genre started largely with Casino Royale.

Have a good day, wherever you are. 🙂