Books of 2015, #11: Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

A few years ago, for my birthday, some friends of mine got me a t-shirt that bears the inscription, “The book was better,” because I’m that kinda guy.

I would, in many cases—perhaps most—rather read Roger Ebert writing about movies than see the actual movies. Sadly that option is now only historical.

The only Bond novel I ever read was For Special Services by John Gardner when I was, I dunno, 13 or 14. I remember, 5 or 7 years later, being surprised that this same guy wrote Grendel.

(Hint: It’s not. These things were less easy to find out before Wikipedia.)

Anyway, I figured that the Bond books would be a fun little stroll to pad my books/week numbers (finally up to 1:1 and gaining)…and by the end found myself thinking, “The movie was better.”

It’s funny because I have found myself at odds with some of Chet’s reviews because I feel they fundamentally misunderstand the books in question, generally as a result of the intervening decades—I’m thinking specifically here of The Forever War and A Fire Upon The Deep, about both of which I feel he was terribly wrong.

And yet, here I am, saying that 60 years later, this Bond doesn’t hold up.

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”

I mean, the story does well enough that the basic structure served to create a film that truly revitalized a moribund property. But even with the crutch of first-person narration, intentionally blunt instrument or not, Fleming cannot possibly make me believe in this character.

It’s not even the sexism-verging-on-mysoginy; in fact, quite the opposite—it’s the mooning teenager, “Oh, I’ll ask her to marry me,” that’s necessary to set up the ending that left me speechless with its ineptitude.

I figured there would be antiquated stuff, and I was actually prepared to scoff more at the different economics of the time, and the Cold War mentality—I went in thinking I knew how much the Bond mythology is more a product of the movies than the books.

I was wrong.