The Man with the Golden Gun, by Ian Fleming

November 2, 2011 at 18:42 (Book Reviews, Fiction, Mediocre Books, Thriller) (, , , , )


Rather a slow book, and it feels like Fleming might possibly be running out of ideas. Thrill as James Bond sits in Third World airports. Pinch yourself as he checks into sensibly-priced hotels, and hold your breath as he makes small talk with waitresses. Immerse yourself in MI6’s psychological reports – now in triplicate!

And so on and so forth. Scaramanga is neither the debonair madman imagined by Christopher Lee, nor even the megalomaniac tyrant facing off against Bond in other of Fleming’s adventures. He is a third-rate actor in a dry and dusty squabble between East and West, and very much like Fleming’s portrayal of James Bond in many ways. Both are drawn as callous and cruel misogynists, and both are tired and grey almost to the point of exhaustion. Both are forgotten experts in depressingly unappreciated tasks, treated cynically and coolly by distant and faceless superpowers. They seem to recognise this familiarity in each other, but without either much enthusiasm or vigour.

“‘For instance?’ said M. quietly, knowing that death had walked into the room and was standing beside him, and that this was an invitation for death to take his place in the chair.”

-The Man with the Golden Gun

It is a peculiar exercise to wonder where Fleming might have taken Bond next, or if in recognising his own mortality (either unconsciously or intentionally) he began to allow his creation to gradually fade away. But the bookend to the debut of Casino Royale takes a vigorous and amoral superhero and departs with only the energy diminished. There is action (often suitably melodramatic) and plenty of tension introduced–but it does seem that much of the tension is nearing its breaking point: that there is very little at stake. If Bond survives, there is not much of him left to be celebrated. Likewise, if either the concrete-faced Soviet Union or the shabby and grey-suited West triumph, the world will have lost. A very bleak picture, and a book that is not so much gritty as it is sad.


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