Monday, March 31, 2014

Moonraker by Ian Fleming, Chapters 1-12

For better or worse, Moonraker is a lot different from the first two Bond novels. That's apparent not just from the first few chapters, but also from the way Fleming divides the story into three parts that cover a traditional work week. Part One is called "Monday," Part Two is "Tuesday, Wednesday," and Part Three is "Thursday, Friday."

The plot is more than just following Bond through a typical week, but you can't tell it from the first couple of chapters. Rather than repeating the cold open technique of the first two novels, Fleming begins Moonraker at the Secret Service shooting range where he reveals that Bond is the best shot in the organization. It's a cool, gadgety range with targets that use beams of light to shoot back at the firer, but Fleming is intentionally mundane in his description. This is routine activity for Bond on a Monday morning.

The first chapter continues the theme of routine. The name of the chapter is "Secret Paper-Work" and that pretty accurately describes the level of action. After the range, Bond heads up to the office he shares with the other two Double-O agents and a secretary named Loelia Ponsonby whom Bond insists on calling "Lil." Fleming explains that all of the Double-Os have hit on her at some point, but have also all been shot down.

It's interesting and cool that Fleming fleshes Ponsonby out more in a few paragraphs than he did Solitaire in all of Live and Let Die. I felt like I got to know her well and I like her dedication to her job despite the serious sexism she encounters there. Fleming doesn't pull any punches describing it either and he shows a lot more awareness that it's a problem than he did about racism or ageism in Live and Let Die. "It was true," he writes, "that an appointment in the Secret Service was a form of peonage. If you were a woman there wasn't much of you left for other relationships. It was easier for the men. They had an excuse for fragmentary affairs. For them marriage and children and a home were out of the question if they were to be of any use 'in the field' as it was cosily termed. But, for the women, an affair outside the Service automatically made you a 'security risk' and in the last analysis you had a choice of resignation from the Service and a normal life, or of perpetual concubinage to your King and Country."

Monday, March 17, 2014

Live and Let Die by Ian Fleming, Chapters 11 - 23

I covered the first half of Live and Let Die a couple of weeks ago. Since this post wraps up the novel, I'll be spoiling some things about the ending.

As Bond and Solitaire make their way by train to Florida to see where Mr. Big is bringing his pirate treasure into the country, the couple begins to flirt, but agree not to have sex yet. For one thing, Bond's hand is still bothering him where Tee Hee broke his little finger and the spy doesn't feel like he can work his moves properly one-handed. Beside that, they suspect that Big has people on the train wanting to kill them, so they're not too keen on getting naked and making themselves vulnerable. They also have to get up early, because Bond wants to sneak off the train in Jacksonville instead of riding it all the way to St. Petersburg/Tampa as planned. Lots of excuses.

The couple is obviously into each other though and pretty much promise to do it as soon as they get the chance. Bond is attracted to Solitaire - she's an aggressive kisser and seems to be a strong, confident woman - and she believes he's the strong man she's been waiting for. Sadly, that's not just about helping her escape Big, but I'll have more to say about that in a minute.

Bond stays very friendly with Solitaire, but it's worth pointing out that he still doesn't seem to entirely trust her. He asks her lots of questions about Big's organization, but he never offers her any information or confides in her about his mission. Like I mentioned in the first half of the novel, Bond's relationship with Solitaire is absolutely not a repeat of what he went through with Vesper. He's having a fun time getting to know Solitaire and seems at ease around her, but he's not letting her in. That's important to the long-term arc of Bond's character throughout the series. He got burned badly in Casino Royale and though Fleming isn't explicit about saying it, Bond's not letting that happen again in Live and Let Die.


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