The Official Blog Of Edward Cline

Review: Goldeneye, Where Bond was Born

“Nothing propinks like
propinquity.”
So remarked Felix
Leiter
to James Bond in Ian
Fleming
’s fourth Bond novel, Diamonds
are Forever.
It was propinquitous that someone at Pegasus Books thought
that I’d reviewed another of Fleming’s books,
For Your Eyes Only, a collection of
five of Fleming’s short stories featuring Bond, and queried me about reviewing
Matthew Parker’s newly released Goldeneye,
Where Bond was Born: Ian Fleming’s Jamaica
. I hadn’t reviewed Eyes Only anywhere, but asked Pegasus to
send Mr. Parker’s book on anyway.  
I very rarely review
biographies because the best-written ones I could not do justice to, whether or
not they are worth recommending (or deep-sixing). Goldeneye is an exception, for it is about Fleming and one of my
favorite thriller heroes, James Bond. I have read over a score of biographies
of Fleming and dozens of books about
Bond alone. Most of these are forgettable in that they are either bland or
slyly critical of Fleming and dismissive of Bond or blatantly exploitive of
Fleming’s cash value. I won’t name names here.
But Parker’s book is a balanced
melding of the biographies of Fleming, Bond and Jamaica. He weaves such an
indelible and integrated portrait of all three that one can almost feel the
heat of Jamaica and move through Fleming’s retreat from the world, Goldeneye,
which he had built, and become one of his guests there. Parker has painted a
compelling, colorful landscape that includes all three subjects.
This includes Fleming’s apparently
insatiable appetite for women, married or not. But even when he was married, he
did not believe monogamy was healthy for any marriage. Neither did his wife.
My passion for the Bond
novels (not for the movies) is such
that for years I spent not an inconsiderable amount of money on collecting a
set of first editions of the Bond novels and short story collections published
by Jonathan Cape. I have that complete set and early editions of his other
fiction and nonfiction, such as The Diamond Smugglers,
Thrilling Cities, and an illustrated
children’s novel, Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang.
As for the Bond movies,
allow me to speak a heresy here: It has always been my opinion that the superb
actor Patrick McGoohan (of Danger Man and The Prisoner fame) would have made a far better (and
brainier
) Bond than Sean Connery. He was offered the role, but
turned it down
because he thought the action in Dr. No, the first Bond film, was too violent and full of sex.
This is not to score
Connery, a fine actor. But fine actors too often are not the best judges of the
material they are asked to bring to life. The producers of Dr. No and subsequent Bond films, Harry Saltzman and Albert R.
Broccoli, started a trend that would see the diminishing of the hero to a
parodied, tongue-in-cheek joke in all the subsequent Bond films, including
those based on all the bogus Bond
novels written by others after Fleming’s death in 1964. I never cared for any
of the Bonds that followed Connery’s, either.
I wrote a review of the
fourth of these bogus
Bond novels
, License Renewed, for
the Wall Street Journal in June, 1981. I was not aware then that there had been
three previous
pastiches
. My literary philosophy concerning the cannibalization of another
author’s works compelled me to excoriate the plot and more or less tell such opportunistic
hacks to write their own damned novels, to conceive of their own ideas and not
“borrow” others’ works.  
It’s a literary crime
tantamount to having the brass to write a sequel to Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead (although the estate of
Rand would come down like a ton of bricks on the heads of the author and
publisher who tried). Numerous other successful authors, such as Raymond
Chandler, have had their work “continued” by such writers. I have no use for
them or their bogus books, and neither should anyone else who values
originality in literature. Someone might ask: But how would Fleming’s James
Bond remain current, relative, and in the public mind except to hire
second-handers to write what Fleming never wrote?
Does durable fiction or
art of any kind need second-hand hacks to perpetuate the durable? I don’t think
so.
But, back to Matthew
Parker’s Goldeneye. Parker’s easy
prose draws one into the private and public life of Fleming as he discovers the
charms of Jamaica. It would not be for years until he decided to try his hand
at novels and created James Bond, a name he cadged from an ornithologist whose
book he liked. The book is interspersed with chapters on the history of Jamaica
as an outpost of the British Empire and a refuge for expatriates seeking to
escape the constricting confines of British culture and society, to its rise as
an independent country within the Commonwealth. When Fleming first visited
Jamaica in the 1940s it was still the retreat of millionaires and eccentrics
and retained the character and milieu of the old but vanishing Empire. By the
time Fleming died in 1964, it had been “ruined” and dragged into a fast-moving
world kicking and screaming. Well, at least it was the British social elite
that kicked and screamed.
By 1955 it was a changed
environment. Fleming and others, such as another eccentric, playwright and
multi-talented Noël Coward, who built
his own house and became a close friend of Fleming’s, bemoaned the political and
social changes, but rolled with the punches. Jamaica was being “discovered” by
hoteliers of every imaginable stripe. Racecourses disappeared and private
beaches became public. Bridal paths became golf courses, and exclusive clubs
and hangouts of the white elite were open to one and all.
But
all this was to serve as the genesis of James Bond. Dr. No, a Bond novel that was written Fleming at Goldeneye. That
novel is all about Jamaica itself, writes Parker.
The
“repackaging” of the Bond character, in the written word as well as in the
cinematic venue, continues unabated, and, frankly, gets worse and worse. I
never much cared for any of the Connery depictions of Bond, except in Dr. No, but I was not enthralled by the
senseless denouement in the 1962 film, in which the arch villain Dr. No is
boiled alive in a tub of radioactive water instead of being smothered in a
mound of guano dust. What was so difficult about shooting that scene? But, we
had to have our gimmicks and toys and hokey technology.
The
balance of the movies actually based on the novels that Fleming wrote were just
“kinda-sorta” based on Fleming’s plots. The only memorable things for me about
the films are most of the scores. After that, publishers and hack writers took
Bond on rides Fleming never intended Bond to experience.
The cover art of the Thomas & Mercer editions of Fleming
novels, including the bogus ones, look as though they’ve been designed by a
computer, while the Penguin/Jonathan Cape Books covers are either intriguingly
symbolic or feature lovingly drawn, come-hither, gorgeous women imagined by a
human with a decided fondness for the female body. See this chronology of the
Bond novels here,
vs. here
and here,
and judge for yourself.
There is a sour note concerning Fleming’s estimate of his own
work. Or perhaps it’s Parker’s estimate. We have only Parker’s assertion about what
Fleming thought of his own work. Parker contends that Fleming didn’t take James
Bond seriously.  Discussing Live and Let Die, Parker writes:
The story is
framed by the Cold War and contains a nod to modern Jamaica with the mention of
the strategic importance of bauxite. But with its lost pirate treasure, sharks
and killer centipedes and black magic, it is really an old-fashioned Boy’s Own adventure story. One American reviewer
would call it a ‘lurid meller contrived by mixing equal parts of Oppenheim and
Spillane.’ Fleming concedes this with his soon-to-be customary knowing looks to
the reader: Bond describes his mission as an ‘adventure’; one villain looks ‘like
the bad man in a film about poker-players and gold mines’; Bond’s Jamaica
colleague Strangways, on hearing that the heroine needs rescuing, exclaims, ‘Sort
of damsel in distress Good show!’ (pp. 153-4) (There are no numbered endnotes,
so I was not able to identify the cretin whom Parker is quoting, only that he
took the quotation from “LLD 239” and “LLD 278.” The London Literary Digest?)
And, again on p. 184, discussing the reception of Diamonds are Forever,  Parker asserts that Fleming gave his readers
the “knowing looks.”
There are some
excellent set pieces in Diamonds are
Forever
– the drive-in, the mud-baths, the racetrack at Saratoga (where
Bond appreciates ‘the extra touch of the negroes’), but the story misses the
crazy central megalomania of the villains of the previous two books. The ‘knowing
looks’ to the reader – ‘He had been a stage-gangster, surrounded by stage
properties’; ‘Mike Hammer routine. These American gangsters were too obvious’; ‘That
was quite an exit. Like something out of an old Buster Keaton film’ – feel more
tired than arch. ‘For Bond it was just the end of another adventure,’ Fleming
concludes, his weariness palpable. (p. 184) (These are cited in “DF,” whatever
that stands for. There is no legend that identifies the various literary
publications Parker quotes from. Otherwise, I would name that culprit, as well.)
I didn’t sense that “knowing look” in any of the Bond novels. I
take Spillane as seriously as I have Bond. That will never change.
It is unfortunate that Parker spoiled his book by making these
unsubstantiated assertions.
All in all, however, Goldeneye is a delight to read and
educational, to boot, an contains information about Fleming and his work regime
not otherwise available in other books about Fleming and his craft.
I  recommend Parker’s Goldeneye, not highly, but with the
cited reservations.
Goldeneye,
Where Bond was Born: Ian Fleming’s Jamaica
, by Matthew
Parker. New York: Pegasus Books. 388 pp.

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2 Comments

  1. Joe

    Sounds interesting Ed. I'm glad you mentioned the music of some of the Bond films… In my opinion some of those scores outshine the actual movies.

  2. Edward Cline

    Joe: Yes, John Barry's scores to the Bond films are indeed memorable and in many instances more so than are the films themselves.

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