My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Casino Royale (1953) by Ian Fleming is the book that launched James Bond‘s career and his iconic following ever since has enchanted countless readers and moviegoers.
At baccarat, a game of chance, James Bond attempts to bankrupt Le Chiffre, who is an agent for the evil organization called SMERSH. Several attempts are made on Bond’s life, but Bond survives, defeats Le Chiffre, and gets the girl. But there is so much more to this classic Bond novel than one might imagine. After all, it was the beginning. What really makes this James Bond novel special is Fleming’s treatment of Bond’s psychology as both a spy and as a man.
Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale is instant realism and a huge leap away from the more Minimalist approaches to novel writing. In Bond we have a man who is willing to be a man’s man, which includes drinking, spying, killing, fighting, gambling, smoking, knowing how to order a meal, and not being overly sentimental. That is, until Bond falls for Vesper.
The first few words we know the story writing is going to be sharp and vivid and interesting. At the time of its publication in 1953, much of Britain was still recovering from World War II and Bond’s world of fancy casinos and expensive dinners is almost quite fantastical for the readers of that time period (and one could argue the same during these times as well).
”The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning. The soul-erosion produced by high gambling–a compost of greed and fear and nervous tension–becomes unbearable and the senses awake and revolt from it. James Bond suddenly knew that he was tired” (p 1).
This initial scene is as bold and as exotic today as it was sixty years ago.
Fleming also chooses to show the reader a deeper side to James Bond. Bond isn’t just a dull lacky working for British intelligence, and Bond is quite refreshingly given a depth to his character not often shown in the early James Bond films.
Here is Bond sizing up one of Le Chiffre’s men: ”Bond guessed that he would kill without interest or concern for what he killed and that he would prefer strangling. He had something of Lennie in Of Mice and Men, but his inhumanity would not come from infantilism but from drugs. Marihuana, decided Bond” (p 93).
Bond is clearly an intelligent spy who is not only good at what he does but he is precise and well-read. And the reader gets a closer look into Bond’s psyche after he is tortured to the brink of death by Le Chiffre. Afterwards, Bond recovers in a hospital and talks with his friend Mathis.
Bond says, ‘History is moving pretty quickly these days and the heroes and villains keep on changing parts” (p 170).
And a little later, Bond adds:
” ‘Now in order to tell the difference between good and evil, we have manufactured two images representing the extremes–representing the deepest black and the purest white–and we call them God and the Devil. But in doing so we have cheated a bit. God is a clear image, you can see every hair on His beard. But the Devil. What does he look like?” Bond looked triumphantly at Mathis.
Mathis laughed ironically.
‘A woman’ [Mathis said.] .”
At the end of Bond’s little speech, Mathis can only reply: ”Surround yourself with human beings, my dear James. They are easier to fight for than principles” (p 175).
Somehow I know exactly what Mathis means.
At times, but only briefly, Fleming does begin to creep around the thin edges of those mawkish moments. Fleming’s temerity, however, keeps the reader grounded in Bond and that reality he has created around himself.
Le Chiffre is dead. Bond and Vesper are in love and staying at a seaside inn and having a wonderful affair. Bond has decided to retire.
”Vesper looked at him thoughtfully.
‘People are islands,’ she said. ‘They don’t really touch. However close they are, they’re really quite separate. Even if they’ve been married for fifty years.’
Bond thought with dismay that she must be going into a ‘vin triste’. Too much champagne had made her melancholy” (p 204).
Fleming’s deft hand at intelligent storytelling balances those precious moments we long for in reality and in fiction without completely crossing over into maudlin or bathetic scenes we so despise. Not an easy task at all for the writer.
What surprised me most is how Ian Fleming created in James Bond (in Casino Royale, that is) an insightful and deep character that is able to cross genres. Casino Royale is not only a story of espionage but a psychological debate of good versus evil and the book is also a love story between Bond and Vesper.
The film version of Casino Royale came out in 2006 with Daniel Craig, and I thoroughly enjoyed the film. Fleming’s Casino Royale, however, is a far better treatment of Bond and his profound character. Therefore it is with a strong conviction that I recommend that you read the book and then go watch the film and make up your own mind. After all, Bond would not want you to miss out on all the fun.
CG FEWSTON is an American novelist who is a member of AWP, a member of Americans for the Arts, and a professional member and advocate of the PEN American Center, advocating for the freedom of expression around the world.
CG FEWSTON has travelled across continents and visited such places as Mexico, the island of Guam, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Macau, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Singapore, Thailand, Taipei and Beitou in Taiwan, Bali in Indonesia, and Guilin and Shenzhen and Beijing in China. He also enjoys studying and learning French, Vietnamese, Cantonese and Mandarin.
CG FEWSTON earned an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership and Administration (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors) from Stony Brook University, and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and Fiction from Southern New Hampshire University, where he had the chance to work with wonderful and talented novelists like Richard Adams Carey (author of In the Evil Day, October 2015; and, The Philosopher Fish, 2006) and Jessica Anthony (author of Chopsticks, 2012; and, The Convalescent, 2010) as well as New York Times Best-Selling novelists Matt Bondurant (author of The Night Swimmer, 2012; and, The Wettest County in the World, 2009, made famous in the movie Lawless, 2012) and Wiley Cash (author of A Land More Kind Than Home, 2013; and, This Dark Road to Mercy, 2014).
Among many others, CG FEWSTON’S stories, photographs and essays have appeared in Sediments Literary–Arts Journal, Bohemia, Ginosko Literary Journal, GNU Journal (“Hills Like Giant Elephants”), Tendril Literary Magazine, Prachya Review (“The One Who Had It All”), Driftwood Press, The Missing Slate Literary Magazine (“Darwin Mother”), Gravel Literary Journal, Foliate Oak Magazine, The Writer’s Drawer, Moonlit Road, Nature Writing, and Travelmag: The Independent Spirit; and for several years he was a contributor to Vietnam’s national premier English newspaper, Tuoi Tre, “The Youth Newspaper.”
You can read more about CG FEWSTON and his writing at
A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN won GOLD for Literary Classics’ 2015 best book in the category under ”Special Interest” for “Gender Specific – Female Audience”…
Finalist in the 2015 Chatelaine Awards for Romantic Fiction…
Finalist in the 2015 Mystery & Mayhem Novel Writing Contest…
Praise for A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN:
“Fewston delivers an atmospheric and evocative thriller in which an American government secret agent must navigate fluid allegiances and murky principles in 1970s Tehran… A cerebral, fast-paced thriller.”
“A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN is a thrilling adventure which takes place in pre-revolutionary Tehran. Author CG FEWSTON provides a unique glimpse into this important historical city and its rich culture during a pivotal time in its storied past. This book is so much more than a love story. Skillfully paired with a suspenseful tale of espionage, A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN is a riveting study of humanity. Replete with turns & twists and a powerful finish, FEWSTON has intimately woven a tale which creates vivid pictures of the people and places in this extraordinary novel.”
CG FEWSTON‘s new novel,
A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN, was published on April 2, 2015 —
10 years to the day of the publication
of his first novella, A FATHER’S SON (April 2, 2005)
“Thus one skilled at giving rise to the extraordinary
is as boundless as Heaven and Earth,
as inexhaustible as the Yellow River and the ocean.
Ending and beginning again,
like the sun and moon. Dying and then being born,
like the four seasons.”
found in Sources of Chinese Tradition, p 5