“On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” by Ian Fleming

"On Her Majesty's Secret Service" by Ian Fleming — Kimia Wood — Bond Bond. James Bond. The whole world’s heard of him, and many of them have seen him (disguised as Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Daniel Craig, or any of nine other actors). How many have read him, I wonder? How many, after reading my review, will bother?

For the first few chapters, Mr. Fleming’s writing seems to be wish fulfillment: for readers who can’t vacation on a posh French beach, drive an expensive car at almost 100 mph, play for millions in a casino, nor sleep with beautiful girls they’ve barely spoken with — but who would rather like to.

I’m not particularly keen on any of those things, especially the sleeping with beautiful girls part.

Eventually, however, Bond gets down to hunting known terrorist Blofeld (of SPECTOR fame) using an ingenious bait — heredity. Americans might not understand this as well, but in aristocratic Europe the thought that you could be related to a duke, baron, or king – or even that you could claim ownership of a dormant title – inspires everyone from the criminal mastermind to the farm-girls who play a crucial yet unwitting role in his plot.

Bond himself seems more fallible and human than I had previously thought. He is afraid of things, he’s bored with things, he loves, investigates, is nervous while playing someone of another social strata, and is far from invincible – he gets badly injured at least twice, out-witted twice… He is no man of stone. While he shamelessly seduces girls, he tries to give them something in return. My faded memories of the movie You Only Die Twice depict him as much more sure of himself, more in control, more suave, more fearless, more unflappable. The book characterization makes him more relatable, and so more approachable.

The sinister plot turns out to be worth uncovering. Bond has the chance to slide helter-skelter down one of the Alps twice, dodging bullets on the way down of course. And the info about ancestry research, while a little slow, is interesting – especially since our informant for that section goes by the extraordinary moniker of Sable Basilisk.

And yet…for all that bread-and-butter excitement, the ending is so hauntingly depressing as to knock the book down to two stars. Suffice it to say this horrifying conclusion involves Bond’s marriage.

Added to this most unsatisfactory conclusion, the casual crawling-into-beds was certainly not edifying. I don’t know how explicit it was, since I skipped those paragraphs, but I can say as a young churchie girl still dealing with singleness it probably did me more harm than good. You’ll have to be the best judge of your own mind.

To conclude? I can see why Bond has been so popular over the years. As a cultural artifact, I can be glad I examined him for myself. As a role model – and a source of future entertainment – I now know enough to look elsewhere.

In Her Majesty’s Secret Service was published in 1963 and is available on Amazon – here in ebook form, and here in a hardcover omnibus.

Cover image is from the first edition, courtesy of Wikipedia.

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