Name: Casino Royale
Author: Ian Fleming
Genre: Spy, Thriller
First of all, I hope all of my readers and followers had a very Merry Christmas and I wish you all a very Happy New Year. For my first review of the year, I have decided to review the classic spy novel which introduced the world to James Bond, Casino Royale.
The novel begins with James Bond already in the middle of a mission at the Casino Royale in France. We quickly learn that Bond is there in pursuit of Le Chiffre, a treasurer for SODA, the Soviet Union’s main trade union. It appears Le Chiffre is in a vulnerable position after he used the trade union funds entrusted to him to fund a brothel in France which subsequently went under after the French Government passed a new law restricting brothels in the country. Therefore, Le Chiffre is aiming to recover the funds at the Casino.
Bond’s mission therefore is very simple, to play him and beat him at the tables so that his Soviet spymasters, SMERSH can “retire” him. To assist him in his mission, Bond is assigned a female agent from the department of MI6 which concerns the USSR, Vesper Lynd.
At first Bond is very sceptical at having a woman assist him but over the course of his mission he develops a deep attraction and love for Vesper. However will Bond beat Le Chiffre at the tables and what brutal cross to bear will Le Chiffre have in store for both him and Vesper if he does win? Furthermore, is the beautiful and loyal Vesper all she seems or is Bond heading for a spectacular downfall?
Firstly, I am not going to beat about the bush in guessing why people will actually first pick up this novel to read, as more than likely it will be because of the James Bond movies (indeed, the huge number of them shown almost daily on TV over Christmas was probably a factor in myself reading the novel).
For these fans, Casino Royale presents a very fine literary introduction to James Bond and it is clear even in 1953 most of the core elements of the series were already here in Fleming’s first novel:- the glamorous location of Royale-les-Eaux, the women in Vesper, the devious villain of Le Chiffre and even a slight hint at the gadgets in the films (with Le Chiffre’s spike trap in the car chase scene) and it is quite amazing as a fan of the film to see how the movie came out with fairly minimal changes to this book when it was released in 2006 – some 50 years on from the initial publication.
There are however some material differences in the novel from the film – for example, Le Chiffre has Soviet Union connections rather than terrorist connections, Bond drives a Bentley and there are many references to World War Two which when the novel was released had only ended 8 years previously but in terms of tone the novel is more or less the same.
The story is paced very well with lots of slow burning tension followed by quick bursts of action to liven it up. This is probably due to Fleming himself being a spy and focusing more on the espionage aspect of being a spy rather than the action we see in Hollywood movies. As such there is a huge amount of attention placed on Bond himself and his feelings and thoughts throughout the novel which build a very complex character – on the one hand he appears to be caring as shown in his growing relationship with Vesper but this is hidden underneath the fact he is a cold and brutal killer.
Also as the novel focuses more on espionage, the plot is a slow burner with Fleming revealing information very slowly which keeps you guessing and he saves a huge twist at the end which will surprise people who have not seen the film.
However, there are some less enjoyable aspects to the novel. For fans of the film as I stated above the plot focuses more on espionage as opposed to action so if you come along to the novel expecting an action-packed experience then do expect to be disappointed as the book is almost cerebral in comparison to the film.
Another problem for modern readers may lie in the book’s age. Though Fleming was probably writing as society thought in the 1950’s, there are some aspects which to modern readers may irritate them and haven’t aged well. Most significantly, Bond is sexist, indeed very sexist towards Vesper and though he is attracted to her he rarely talks about her actual qualities and abilities – often talking about her as if she is a silly girl trying to operate in what he believes is a man’s world which will grate on some readers. However, in terms of the plotting it could be argued as being a very clever move because of the twist at the end which I will not wreck here for people who haven’t read the novel.
If you are a modern James Bond fan, do not come to this novel expecting a pulse-pounding thrill ride of a novel as you will not get one. Though some aspects may grate, the novel is a fantastic introduction to the literary character of James Bond.