Saturday, March 3, 2012
Casino Royale: Review
"Mine's Bond--James Bond."
Casino Royale by Ian Fleming. Where it all began--the first book in the 007 legacy. This book introduced the world to what has become the most well-known British Intelligence agent in fiction.
I first read this one back in the mists of time when I was about 14 or so. There seemed to be endless rounds of James Bond Marathons with Sean Connery running on the television (that my Mom and Dad never wanted me to watch)....so I decided to take a look at the books--reading Casino and then Dr. No. My parents never monitored my reading the way they did the television-viewing. Perhaps they thought the visuals were more likely to warp me. Either that or, not being the heavy-duty readers that I am, they didn't realize the effect the written word might have. Not that reading about gambling, drinking martinis, and wild nights of passion, set me on the road to ruin...pretty boring Mid-Western life going on here. :-)
When Man of la Book posted his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Challenge and included "read any James Bond novel" as one of the criteria, I wasn't sure which Bond book I wanted to try. I was tempted to reread Casino simply because I was curious whether I would still like it after almost 30 years. But I also thought I might want to try reading one that I hadn't read before. So...I asked one of our resident Bond experts in the English Department which book he would suggest if I were only going to read one Bond book and he narrowed it down to either From Russia With Love or Casino Royale. And when the Friends of the Library offered up the pictured copy for sale, my decision was made.
In 007's first written mission, Bond has been commissioned to out-gamble a deadly, high-rolling Russian operative known as "Le Chiffre." or the cipher. Le Chiffre has been playing games with Soviet funds and stands to be permanently relieved of his spying status if he doesn't have a run of luck at the Baccarat table to replenish his bankroll. Bond's goal is to bankrupt Le Chiffre so the Soviet organization SMERSH will punish their own. But even when it looks like Bond has gambled on a sure winner, he finds that the odds can quickly change--especially when some people just won't play by the rules. Add a beautiful female agent to the mix and the stakes become even higher. We're all set for an exciting finish...including a surprise assist from an unexpected quarter.
I have to admit that I still think Ian Fleming writes one heck of a spy thriller. Not my usual thing--but when I read them, I want my spy novels to be exciting. And Bond definitely delivers. You can't beat James Bond for smooth and debonair with all the glitz and glamor of the gaming world. An excellent story as long as you're prepared for the world you step into. I gave this story four stars on my first read and we're almost there this time. My only major problem with it on this go-round is with Bond's attitude towards women. I realize that he's a product of his time--but his views on romance (making love to Vesper will always "have the sweet tang of rape"?? Um. yeah. That goes over big in 2012.) and women's proper place ("These blithering women who thought they could do a man's work. Why the hell couldn't they stay at home and mind their pots and pans and stick to their frocks and gossip and leave men's work to the men.")...well, his views just don't go down well for me at this point. So, we'll deduct a bit for that. Three and a half stars for the latest reading.
Above all, he liked it that everything was one's own fault. There was only oneself to praise or blame. Luck was a servant and not a master. Luck had to be accepted with a shrug or taken advantage of up to the hilt. But it had to be understood and recognized for what it was and not confused with a faulty appreciation of the odds, for, at gambling, the deadly sin is to mistake bad play for bad luck. And luck in all its moods had to be loved and not feared. (p. 42)
Luck in all its moods had to be loved and not feared Bond saw luck as a woman, to be softly wooed or brutally ravaged, never pandered to or pursued. But he was honest enough to admit that he had never yet been made to suffer by cards or by women. One day, and he accepted the fact he would be brought to his knees by love or by luck. (p. 42)
Bond didn't defend the practice. He simply maintained that the more effort and ingenuity you put into gambling, the more you took out. (p. 43)
History is moving pretty quickly these days, and the heroes and villains keep on changing parts. (Bond, p. 135)
Englishmen are so odd. They are like a nest of Chinese boxes. It takes a very long time to get to the centre of them. When one gets there the result is unrewarding, but the process is instructive and entertaining. (Mathis, p. 136)