Friday, July 31, 2015

The Spy Who Loved Me by Ian Fleming (1962)

The Spy Who Loved Me by Ian Fleming (1962) is the ninth novel in his James Bond series and by far the least beloved.

Unusually, the book is narrated in the first person by a female character, Vivienne Michel, a French-Canadian woman recently back in the Americas after an eventful five years "coming out" in London. She is taking some time to relax and rediscover herself by riding a motor scooter down the east cost from Montreal to Florida. Along the way she stumbles into a job working for a couple of weeks at an isolated motor lodge in the Adirondacks. The couple who act as the caretakers decide to take off on the last day of the season and leave Vivienne to close up the lodge and wait for the owner to come lock everything up the next day.

Viv is actually pretty excited about getting some alone time and spends the first third of the book sipping on some scotch and remembering her sexual and romantic past in London (which is given in great detail, to benefit the reader). After losing her virginity to a boyfriend who dumped her as soon as she put out, Viv finds herself romantically involved with her German colleague at a newspaper. At least she though it was romantic. When she finds out she's accidentally become pregnant, he very efficiently gives her money and instructions to go to Switzerland for an abortion, and then fires her from the newspaper. No wonder she needed a vacation.

Back at the travel lodge, two muscley dudes knock on the door and say they were sent by the owner to inventory the property. Viv doesn't like the look of them, but they have enough details that she lets them in. Unfortunately, they are as untrustworthy as they look and almost immediately start harassing and threatening her and then beat her up when she tries to fight back. Things escalate gruesomely, but just when they are about to follow through on their repeated threats to rape her, who should knock on the door but James Bond!

Bond just happened to be driving through the isolated Adirondacks when he got a flat tire right in front of the motor lodge. The heavies force Viv to act natural, but she is able to convey to the wary Bond that she is in trouble. He pretends to buy the inventory story and he and Viv talk quietly while she makes him some eggs and bacon. He gives a really weird run down of his most recent adventure fighting Russian spies in Toronto and he is ALSO now just taking a break by driving down the east coast. After everyone goes to bed, the bad guys try to kill Bond and Viv (and think they have succeeded) and then burn down the motor lodge for the insurance money. Gun play, fire, and lots of action ensue. Then Vivienne and James Bond sleep together in a part of the motor lodge that is not on fire and, as she describes the love making and her reactions to it, she gives us the regrettable line: "All women love semi-rape." That should be qualified that they love semi-rape when it is James Bond doing it, apparently. Viv has completely fallen for Bond but knows that he is the kind of man that can't be tied down so is not surprised when he is gone by the time she wakes up. He has also called the police and smoothed everything over using his government connections, even swinging it so that Viv gets a reward from the insurance company for discovering the plot.

When it was published, the book was immediately panned and Fleming tried to stop its distribution in London. He also refused to give film rights to anything but the title, so the movie of this name with Roger Moore has absolutely nothing to do with the book. Some reviews I've read online really bash this book for the sexism and the "semi-rape" line and, while that obviously isn't great, this was 1962 and the book was written for (male) fans of spy novels, not 21st century women. I actually thought having the first person narrative from a woman was pretty edgy and interesting for the genre, although it obviously didn't work out for Fleming, and the sexism and rape stuff isn't anything more intense than you'd find in a Jacqueline Susann novel. Like her or not, Vivienne is a relatively well-rounded character -- if anyone in the book seems one dimensional and tacked on, it's James Bond, who comes in deus ex machina-style, squeezes in his spy story as an awkward aside, and then shoots some people, has sex, and leaves. I wouldn't recommend this one for everybody, but if you like some highly dated pulpy reading, you could probably do worse.

1 comment:

mattress review Casper said...

I've listened/read all the Bond Novel and this one is special ; it's narrated and read by a female from Canada who gets in trouble with the wrong crowd in a dinky town in upstate New York where she accidentally meets Bond.

Enjoyed it a lot and i highly recommend it.