This was chosen for our book club and I was not looking forward to it after reading and hating Goldfinger.
SMERSH (a name I mistakenly thought Fleming made up), the Soviet intelligence agency want to do something to show their new ‘hard policy’ in the Cold War, so unbelievably decide that out of all their targets England (!) is the biggest and best so they decide to kill James Bond;
” Their security Service is excellent…MI5 employs men with good education and good brains.”
The journalist William Cook observed that “Bond pandered to Britain’s inflated and increasingly insecure self-image, flattering us with the fantasy that Britannia could still punch above her weight”, which definitely seems to be the case in this novel.
As bait they offer Bond the Spektor ( a kind of Enigma machine) and the beautiful Tatiana Romonva who has the ridiculous cover story of having fallen in love with Bond after only looking at a picture of him.
This book is definitely representative of some attitudes of the time, however it is still impossible not to be absolutely shocked at the sexism, for example;
“In their dreams they (women) long to be slung over a man’s shoulder and taken into a cave and raped”
“There was the confidence of having been loved in the proud breasts and the insolently lilting behind”.
Fleming also seems to have had an obsession with the ugliness and lesbianism of the villainess Rosa Klebb, who is described as a toad-like figure. There is also a bit of casual racism thrown in, Istanbul is seen to be as dirty as the Turkish.
The book is much scarier than the film, and James Bond doesn’t appear until the second-third of novel. The first part explains the background of the villain Red Grant. The Soviets are obviously a Cold War stereotype, as you would expect of a book written at this time, and also extremely sinister. In fact you think that Romonova would have ended up dead after defecting, rather than the happy ending of the film. Fleming actually claimed the descriptions of SMERSH, their headquarters and some of the members of are true.
Well, despite all this I sort of enjoyed it in a strange way.
Anyway here is a little youtube clip mocking James Bond, warning – its very rude but funny. Dont watch if you think you might be offended!