Casino Royale

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Casino Royale by Ian Fleming.

I had decided to read this first of the James Bond novels many years ago, and it took me a good long while to get around to it. In the interim, I ended up reading some other Cold War espionage classics that I consider to be much better books, such as Deighton’s Ipcress File and Greene’s Our Man in Havana. Still, Casino Royale has its charms, tending toward the violence and sex that characterize the enormously popular Bond franchise. It largely lacks the epistemological anxiety that I find to be one of the chief attractions of the spy genre.

The book reads very quickly, but has an unusual pacing, with two major climaxes and plot resolutions accomplished fairly early, and settles into what appears at first to be a long denouement for the final third of the book, focusing on Bond’s physical recovery from his earlier ordeals and the consummation of his love interest. Fleming is supposed to have drafted the novel just prior to his wedding, which seems a bit alarming in light of the grim eventuation of the romantic plot elements. Also, considering his reported ambivalence about the book prior to publication, it seems odd that its finish clearly intends to provide a point of departure for more stories about Bond.

One of my motives for reading the book was to assess the common claim that its villain Le Chiffre was based by Fleming on his acquaintance Aleister Crowley. Crowley may have contributed a few minor details and physical mannerisms, along with an aura of the sinister, but the resemblance is less vivid than those afforded by other Crowley-based characters in fiction, such as the Oscar Clinton and Apuleius Charlton of H.R. Wakefield.

Bond is no superman in this story, but he is harsh, calculating, particular, and not altogether sympathetic. The French agent Mathis with whom he is teamed comes off as both more fallible and more likable. Fleming’s prose throughout is efficient, and shows the fascination with hardware (especially cars and weapons), the predatory attitude regarding sex, and the attention to glamorous settings that would become hallmarks of the Bond works as a whole. [via]