Review: Casino Royale
by Ian Fleming
published by Thomas & Mercer (an imprint of Amazon)
original publication: 1953 (this edition 2012)
size: 1719KB (189 pages)
categories: fiction; spy stories
simultaneous device licenses: six
part of the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library: yes
real page numbers: yes
Whispersync for Voice: no
“‘I intend to continue attacking the sensitive parts of your body until you answer my question. I am without mercy and there will be no relenting. There is no one to stage a last-minute rescue and there is no possibility of escape for you. This is not a romantic adventure story in which the villain is finally routed and the hero is given a medal and marries the girl. Unfortunately these things don’t happen in real life.”
Casino Royale was the book that introduced James Bond to the world, and you can see why it established a series.
The writing is clever and precise. You are drawn into a vibrant world, but not one without some very dark spots.
That’s one of the things I like best about this one. While I’m a fan of the movies, Casino Royale is probably much more philosophical than you think. There is an entire chapter entitled “The Nature of Evil”, and there is a great deal of discussion on the subject.
“‘You see,’ he said, still looking down at his bandages, ‘when one’s young, it seems very easy to distinguish between right and wrong, but as one gets older it becomes more difficult. At school it’s easy to pick out one’s own villains and heroes and one grows up wanting to be a hero and kill the villains.’”
“The Devil has a rotten time and I always like to be on the side of the underdog. We don’t give the poor chap a chance. There’s a Good Book about goodness and how to be good and so forth, but there’s no Evil Book about evil and how to be bad. The Devil has no prophets to write his Ten Commandments and no team of authors to write his biography. His case has gone completely by default. We know nothing about him but a lot of fairy stories from our parents and schoolmasters. He has no book from which we can learn the nature of evil in all its forms, with parables about evil people, proverbs about evil people, folk-lore about evil people. All we have is the living example of the people who are least good, or our own intuition.”
If the idea of James Bond questioning whether what he does is good or evil, even to the point of considering giving up the game seems shocking, it’s because it is the traumatic events in Casino Royale that shape his future character.
Yes, he is a Double O in this novel, licensed to kill (and he has done so), but it isn’t suggested that he is particularly good at it. This isn’t a superspy you would send after a madman in a volcano lair to take on two hundred henchmen. This is an agent with competent skills, and good luck at gambling.
He’s referred to as a “machine” for his dispassionate, businesslike approach.
Without getting into spoilers, that mindset is challenged by what happens.
It’s also important to say that Casino Royale is as much about the multinational nature of espionage and the plot as is about the character of Bond. The Americans and French are working with England, here, and there is naturally some inter-agency rivalry, but they all contribute to the effort.
I have to warn you that this is a violent book, although cruel might be a better word. There are many books nowadays that are more explicitly violent, but there is a scene here that passes most of them with its simple torture.
For modern sensibilities, I”m sure there are readers that would be troubled by Bond’s misogyny (not missing in the early movies). Bond says:
“Women were for recreation. On a job, they got in the way and fogged things up with sex and hurt feelings and all the emotional baggage they carried around. One had to look out for them and take care of them.”
However, the book doesn’t say that’s the right way to be. Bond is given some advice:
“Mathis opened the door and stopped on the threshold. ‘Surround yourself with human beings, my dear James. They are easier to fight for than principles.’”
Overall, I’d say it isn’t for everyone, and isn’t intended to be. This world is harsh, and there are certainly adult (and disillusioned adults, at that) themes. However, I think you might find it is more human than you anticipate.
Note: this is a book where I found the X-Ray feature, available on some Kindles, particularly valuable. It gives you background on things mentioned in the book, and if you aren’t up on your Cold War details, it can be helpful. 🙂
You may also find my take on Skyfall, the latest James Bond movie, interesting.
Feel free to tell my readers and me what you think about Casino Royale, but please try to avoid spoilers for people who haven’t yet read it.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.