Friday, December 3, 2010

Guilty Reading Pleasures: Live and Let Die

I came across an old copy of an Ian Fleming James Bond novel, Live and Let Die, and decided to give it a chance.  I'm not a fan of the few movies I've seen, newer ones that I've gone to with friends from the 90s and on.  They strike me as adolescent boy wish-fulfillment fantasy with a sugar-coating of explosions.  So I wondered if this book, which came out in the early 50s, would have the same sort of vibe.

Fortunately, it is harder to render explosions in a movie, and authors have less of an incentive to do so.  (If our imaginations came with dolby surround sound, box office sales would suffer.)  The book was the sort of fun, action based, semi-suspenseful romp I'd expected, with a bit of violence, some suspense (Fleming had the trick down of ending the chapters just where you wanted to keep reading), and the promise of sex more than the delivery of it.  But what I didn't expect was the elegant language, the vivid sense of place, and a colorful cast of characters which were not as one-sided as they come out on the screen.  Most of all, the book felt like an adventure.  

Bond is in the US for most of this one, with a finish in Jamaica.  The descriptions of Harlem capture both the grit and the elegance of the atomic age and the racial tensions of the inner city in the mid-century.  The train-travel scenes made me long to take a diesel-powered voyage in silvery cars.  And there's an underwater raid on a villain's lair with some truly delightful descriptions of scuba-diving amid teeming sea-life.  Of course there's the satisfaction of projecting yourself onto the persona of a handsome, cool-under-pressure protagonist with a dashing sense of style.  

There's an optimism in these ridiculous plots.  There's the sense that we can sacrifice a great deal in the fight against evil, accept our losses, and enjoy a full breakfast or a carefully prepared cocktail when we have the chance.  

And it's nice to be reminded that you can read for pleasure and still enjoy some fine language.

It's enough to make me forgive one of the stupidest lines of dialog I've ever read.  When Bond and his lady-friend are tied together and towed naked behind the villain's boat, seconds away from being dragged across a lacerating coral reef so that their blood will summon a swarm of frenzied sharks that will both kill them and dispose of their bodies, the lady-friend, Solitaire, comes out with this gem:

"I didn't want it to end this way."

I hope I'm not spoiling things if I tell you it doesn't.


  1. I have always thought the Bond movies were one of biggest massacres of a book ever. And that's saying a lot.

  2. Indeed. It's a shame I've waited this long to try one of the books, because of the movies.