Monday, July 1, 2013

Full of Surprises—Live and Let Die by Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming

In high school, I read every Ian Fleming James Bond book. I liked them, but wasn't motivated to read them a second time until recently. I started with Live and Let Die, the second book in the series. The novel was full of surprises. I remembered that Bond was a different character than in the movies and the plots were less extravagant.  All true. James Bond is vulnerable and feels fear in the books. He is not as much of a loner and makes friends easily. The plot doesn't make sense in either the book or movie, but the action/escape scenes tend to the more realistic side in the novel. There is a fetish about equipment, but in the book, Bond is given somewhat specialized scuba gear, while in the movie, Roger Moore wears an electro-magnetic watch that can pull a wooden row boat by it metal rowlock. Fleming does not give Bond futuristic gadgetry. A steel-toe shoe is about as exotic as it gets.

Original book cover
First Edition Cover
Fleming was a much better writer than I remembered. His pacing was pitch-perfect and descriptions excellent. Although the dialogue often seemed pedestrian, Fleming was a great storyteller. Live and Let Die was an easy read, and there were more than a few times when I reread a section that showed skillful writing.

The big surprise was the racism reflected in this 1954 book. Fleming occasionally writes favorably about his black characters, but for the most part he relies on offensive words and stereotypes that were more generally accepted than we would like to remember. Fleming’s attempt to reflect black ghetto dialects seems crude and wrong. This novel demonstrates that racial attitudes have improved in the last sixty years. Perhaps everyone, especially the young, should read Live and Let Die to gain a fuller understanding of the 1950s.

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