Sunday, December 11, 2011


I have been a life-long James Bond fan since before I can even remember, but I'm a little ashamed to admit that I've only recently read my first James Bond novel. I have tried reading the original stories by Ian Fleming over the years, but for whatever reason I was never able to get into them, maybe because they were a little too dry and cold while the movies were over the top and exciting. I finally decided to give the series of books and stories another try because I'm planning a big James Bond movie review marathon at some point in the future and wanted to immerse myself as much as possible in the entire mythology, both cinematic and literary. I wanted to start with Casino Royale and work my way through the series chronologically, but I found a copy of Goldfinger for a dollar at my local used book store, so I started there.

And boy was this book awful.

Of course, Goldfinger is probably the best James Bond film ever made -- which makes it one of my picks for all time best movie ever -- so it had a lot to live up to since my expectations were so high. But then again, isn't the original book always better? Well, not in this case. I quickly discovered early on that Goldfinger might have been the best adaptation from page to screen in the history of film. Fleming may very well be a wonderful writer whose work I won't judge until I've read more, but it was clear that he had an idea for a wonderful villain and an overall concept but lacked any idea of what to do with these things in any real, satisfying way. Frankly, this novel is just a mess.

To begin with, it's so full of plot contrivances, coincidences, and simply unbelievable ideas. This novel opens with Bond accidentally running into some former acquaintance who asks to help him figure out how Goldfinger is cheating at their regular game of bridge, and then, after doing so, Bond is asked by M (his superior at British Intelligence) to look into Goldfinger's smuggling operation. Come on! The film fixes this ridiculous coincidence by having Bond assigned to Goldfinger first, and then using the fixed bridge game as their first introduction. Throughout, the novel is filled with these kinds of plot contrivances and logical oversights that the film smooths out and fixes with just minor changes.

Here's another example: Remember that iconic scene in the film where James Bond is bound to a table and about to be split in two with a giant laser, and he only manages to free himself by outsmarting Goldfinger with a bluff about Operation Grand Slam? Well, in the novel the scene is almost identical, but it doesn't end with Bond saving himself, but with Goldfinger simply deciding not to kill him at all, because he never intended to in the first place. In fact, almost every scene in this novel where Bond almost dies, he is repeatedly saved by another character or some other insane plot device that has you wondering why this stooge is out main character at all. 

And even forgetting the bad plotting and poor writing, but this novel is also incredibly dated, racist, and sexist. I don't want to judge a date novel by current sociological standards, but I find it hard to believe that even in the 50s and 60s people wouldn't have taken issue with how Fleming talks about women, lesbians, and Koreans. Both Goldfinger (or villain) and Bond (our hero) discuss at great lengths how Koreans are a degenerate, evil race of ruthless savages. At one point, Goldfinger rewards his Korean manservant Odd Job by letting him eat his pet cat. I was also surprised to learn than in this novel, Pussy Galore is a lesbian. Well... sort of. It becomes clear that neither Bond the character nor Fleming the writer actually believe that lesbians actually exist, because she ends up having sex with James Bond at the end anyway. She gives some nonsensical explanation that she always thought she didn't like men, but it was just that she had never met one until James Bond came along. Ugh.

I can only assume that by the time this novel was published, Fleming had become so popular and powerful a force in the publishing industry that he no longer allowed for any kind of editorial oversight. I honestly can't imagine any other way such a bad book could get published with some many problems that would've been easy to change. Skip the novel and watch the movie, since the bad book was somehow turned into a wonderful film.


Justin Garrett Blum said...

It has been a long time since I've read this, but to be sure, one of the things I kind of like about James Bond is what a dick he is in the books.

Though I'll admit the thing about Odd Job being fed a cat is kind of hilarious.

Mugato said...

It sounds as if I wrote this book. I must agree that turning that into an amazing film is an incredible achievement. Just based solely on that "almost getting your nuts lazered off" scene.

What was the dialogue in the book?

"Do you expect me to talk?"

"Well ... um, yeah I kind of did. Boy you're stubborn Mr. Bond, well I guess I'll just let you go. Oh and be careful getting off of the table, Odd Job spilled some soy sauce over there, it may be a bit slippery."

Donald said...

I don't want to give away any spoilers, but I did start reading Thunderball the other day and it's a LOT better.

Donald said...

"What was the dialogue in the book?"

I wish I had kept a copy of the novel next to me when I wrote that review so I could've quoted from some of the more racist sections. Maybe I'll find some and add them in later.

As for the dialogue in the laser scene... there was none. There was a nice section where we heard Bond's inner monologue about how to deal with torture and he even tries to hold his breath in order to kill himself, even though he knows it won't work. And then then he passes out and the scene is over and he wakes up in another room and it turned out Goldfinger just wanted to scare him so he'd come to work for him. Or something.

Mugato said...

That is just ridiculous