Friday, March 27, 2015
The Man With the Golden Gun by Ian Fleming
That's not a good thing. I started writing about the Bond novels with the theory that Bond actually grows as a character over the course of the series. And that's been born out. It's been a great and interesting trip watching the selfish, sullen spy take more and more interest in the people around him. That comes to a head in You Only Live Twice, which would've made a perfect ending to the series if Bond had more say about his fate at the end of that book. Fleming had a wonderful opportunity to wrap up the series with Bond's making a conscious choice to either continue in the Secret Service or stay with Kissy on the island. Either decision would have made a powerful statement about Bond's character and contrasted beautifully with the Bond of Casino Royale. But instead of Kissy's encouraging and supporting Bond in determining what kind of life he wanted, Fleming had her deceive Bond, raising his curiosity and propelling him into another adventure. That's great for the continued potential financial success of the series, but not for its artistic achievement. Fleming gave up a great ending in order to keep the series going.
Unfortunately, Scaramanga isn't a great villain. He's really just a glorified henchman. But he's still plenty dangerous and Fleming does a nice job keeping Bond in danger. Fleming's always made Bond squeamish about killing in cold blood (though Golden Gun makes it clear that that's just something Bond finds extremely distasteful as opposed to something he believes is objectively immoral). Because of that, Bond chooses not to assassinate Scaramanga when he has the chance, but decides to go undercover as Scaramanga's personal assistant. It's rooted in Bond's established character, so it sort of works, but it also smacks loudly of dragging out a very thin plot. Even so, Fleming is able to create tense moments all throughout and Golden Gun is a fun, adventurous read.
I have such mixed feeling about The Man With the Golden Gun. It's simultaneously a solid little entry in the series and a horrible disappointment. As the final book in Fleming's series, it sucks and I'd prefer if it didn't exist. But as the start of something different - a new chapter in Bond's life - I kind of dig it and wish Fleming had been given more time to convince me he was headed in a worthwhile direction.