Sunday, February 8, 2009

007: Diamonds are Forever

Either Fleming is stuck in a rut or I am. Diamonds are Forever, The fourth novel in the 007 series, hews to the dull formula that the third (Moonraker) avoided. Bond scouts out his mission, flashes back to his interview with M, infiltrates the villain's organization, meets the girl, etc. As with Live & Let Die, the job is a treasure hunt (diamond smugglers) rather than actual espionage. But the targets aren't Russian spies, they're the American mafia. Why MI6 would infiltrate the Cosa Nostra is never quite justified.

Nor does Fleming bother to give these villains depth. These are yeggs right out of central casting, grimacing goombas in loud suits. I get the sense that Fleming spoke with a contact in the FBI, but that he only used what confirmed his stereotypes. The previous 007 books had memorable baddies, but this one has no flair (despite his taste for Nudie suits).

Then there's Bond himself: he is a terrible, terrible spy. He can't keep a low profile, palling around with a known Pinkerton agent (recurring character Felix Leiter). And, bored after a week on the case, he stirs up trouble that gets a G-man killed, himself tortured, & the girl raped. Oof. And then there's the girl, a streetwise American named "Tiffany Case". She's frigid until Bond melts her with his tough, forceful love. I haven't even mentioned the pair of homosexual hit men. My god, this is conservative writing!

And yet, it's not bad writing. It barrels along like a train. Bond, despite it all, is somehow compelling. Partly he's such a cad & partly he's authentically smart (except when he isn't). And Fleming's getting better as a writer: previous novels have had one or two nice set-pieces that kindle the imagination (gambling scenes, usually). Here, there are several good ones, most notably an apocalyptic climax that has Bond derailing a steam locomotive in the desert.

There's pleasure in Fleming's series -- in its tight, confident style and, yes, in the reactionary satisfaction of righteous violence -- but it diminishes with each return. And while I'm enjoying 007, I find the racism, the sexism, & most of all, the sadism kind of disgusting. But my greatest disappointment is that 007 isn't actually a spy. I'm crossing my fingers that From Russia with Love has bona fide espionage. I've already got that novel, so I'll read one last insane, violent, thuggish adventure. Then I'll stick with the kineticism of the flicks.

Diamonds are Forever
date: 1956
writer: Ian Fleming

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