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  1. The 007th Chapter: From Russia With Love – The Wizard of Ice

    A literary meditation by Jacques Stewart

     

    FRWLWC600

     

    Not that it matters, but a great deal of the background to this piffle is inaccurate.

     

    Where would we be without James Bond? Before you bother me with “You do know he’s fictional, don’t you? We’d be exactly where we are, you meretricious clown”, I’m happy – no, overjoyed – to put on record that I am aware of it. Thank you. Well done on “meretricious”, by the way. Such a scrumptious word.

     

    Never interrupt me again.

     

    If From Russia with Love has a purpose beyond entertaining us with underdressed women all a-grapple, together with gleefully-grasped opportunities for Ian Fleming to be fabulously rude about ugly people, it is in pointedly inviting us to consider our dilemma, were James Bond forever face-down in the carpet of the Paris Ritz.

     

    I suspect the answer to be extrapolated is “a Soviet colony, if you don’t buck your ideas up”.

     

    Perhaps the most common observation about this book – apart from Phwoaaar! Lezzas and gypsies, which is undeniably very common (sorry) – is about its structure. In particular, the risk of encouraging boredom / bafflement in the impatient B / C reader with all the foreignistan-speak and by not immediately introducing our favourite overfastidious psychotic bigot.  Y*b**nna mat!, you might say (if fluent in asterisk), what’s Peter Fleming’s little brother – Alan? – doing now? First he said an avocado was pudding, when everyone knows it’s a badger’s egg, then he taught one to speak like a (cover the dog’s ears, dear) Negroid – try that in Derry & Toms and see how far you get – and latterly he thought we’d indulge his turning it American, as appealing as their reprehensible remake of football or the abuse they mete out to innocent words like “aluminium”, “pants”, “pussy” and “fanny”. Now he’s not even put James Bond in it at all! l I won’t stand for it, it’s… ooh, a neuter porcine murderess in pink satin knickers. ‘Scuse me a minute; feeling a sudden urge to be non-kulturny.

     

    Spend half the time banging on about a threat, build and build and build and then introduce said menace halfway through and gawp in horror at how – through immense luck and contrivance – he gets close to winning but at the last minute he is stabbed and crashes down. Still, he was being beastly to little Judi Dench, wasn’t he? Depending on whose side you take, From Russia with Love demonstrates a similar structure to one seen in (say) Dr No: we get to know the goodies first and they spend ages talking about how rotten the villain is and how he must be destroyed. Then the bad guy stumbles in, leaving us in thrall to how he nearly wins, so much so that everything comes down to a desperate conclusion in which he is finally vanquished and drowns in guano / headlong hits the wine-red floor. All we have here is a comedy reversal of an adventure norm. The mission briefing, the loveable cast of colourful scamps and the loonbag ladykiller with his odd little ways just happen to be Russian/Irish rather than British. I suggested in an earlier one of these that Fleming wasn’t an amusing writer. This, however, is one of his better jokes.

     

    History is moving pretty quickly these days and the heroes and villains keep on changing parts, etc.

     

    The structure is critical if what (I believe) Fleming intends to work, can. He’s scaring us. He needs us to swallow that the Russians are this determined, this meticulous, this horrid. Admittedly, with some (very) minor balancing sentiments from minor characters aside, the conspirators are invariably unpleasant and not the decent, well-meaning snobs of the British Establishment. Arguably, these Russians are more honest about what a grubby little trade it is in which they find themselves, rather than the chandeliers-and-Bridge crowd kicking around Blades, all dressed up as “gentlemen”, as if that’ll prevent the bomb from dropping. This crowd of beastly Commies have – need – no such pretence. A blemished mirror is being held up, and although one can read it as how much more decent “we” are at this spying malarkey, I tend to take it as intentional criticism. When Bond mucks up, he gets a mild rebuke from M, and then an invitation to dinner; when this lot fail, they’re shot.  That’s how ruthless the Russians are, how devious, how they treat their own people never mind us, and they’re only a few hours away. They might already be here, if you let that bastard Gaitskell in. Don’t park your tanks on my lawn, Hugh, nor anything else in my wife for that matter.

     

    Having told us in the preface that there are real officials who meet for purposes similar to the ones written about, Fleming demonstrates that the best the British can do to resist these true-to-life machinations emanating from number 13 Sretenka Ulitsa is unleash a fictional, none-too-bright drunkard who, even though he’s super, still can’t get through it unscathed. If you didn’t have my James Bond, you lot, yes you, sitting there all high-and-mighty and sniffy about what I’ve been trying to tell you, and you had to use a real person against the likes of General G. and Kronsteen, you’re doomed. All you have is Commander Crabb, not Commander Bond and even my superman nearly dies. Wake up; to arms! The Russians are coming, and this is what they’re like. It’s spectacularly paranoid to imagine them not just under the bed but in them as well, and few will come with a black velvet ribbon around the neck. Piano wire round yours, perhaps. When they do arrive from Russia, it won’t be with love. That’s why I’ve heroically run off to Jamaica and taken your pal Rothermere’s wife with me, so stick that up your marrowbone and good luck to you all.

     

    Ultimately, it’s a propaganda piece lightly dusted with blistering lovelies and sexual deviancy, much like the first draft of The Communist Party Manifesto before the jokes were removed and Engels had a change of heart about all those car chases. A shift from having Drax lay into the British – well, he would say those things, wouldn’t he? – much of the dialogue between Bond and Kerim Bey is overtly barbed about a ) how much of a threat the Russians actually are and b ) how unprepared the British are for them, really and c ) how the Soviets have weapons of mass destruction capable of being launched in 45 minutes.

     

    The first two, anyway. This is not the blinkered Union Flag-waving of many Eon films, although Skyfall comes close: a surface-level jolly adventure with the Bond saving the day that is quietly, but determinedly, prodding the open wound about how ready the country really is to cope with live threats, getting by (barely) on making it up as one goes along and trusting to dumb luck. Savagely exposing how exposed the nation is, exploited by its pretensions towards eccentricity by the willingness to walk into an colossally obvious trap because it’ll be an adventure, Britain’s weaknesses are capable of being horribly turned against it if it’s not very, very careful. In due course, Burgess and Maclean get a mention in this book and it’s none too subtle a reference when it happens. A lot of the opening is an exercise in picking Britain apart, far more brutally than any sentiment expressed about the Dark Races in Live and Let Die, and those ideas have come from somewhere in the author’s mind. It’s not an anti-British piece, though; these are the scared sentiments of a patriot who wants us equally fearful and needing to toughen up to meet the threat, to stand tall and face it all, together. Albeit a patriot who buggered off to the West Indies and left us to it.

     

    Dark thoughts rise about why this book was so revered by President Kennedy, according to that famous list of his favourite reads. On the one hand, if he ever read it, he enjoyed it as lighthearted fiction, on which level the book is grubbily satisfying adolescent amusement, and putting it on the list give a pal of his a sales boost, which isn’t remotely corrupt. Alternatively, with its claims of veracity in depicting the ruthlessness of the Russians, it helps exaggerate one’s foe in the minds of the populace now encouraged to read the book, which is important for keeping them docile and in check and the opportunity to spend, without too much objection,  their tax money on whizzbangs from your family’s arms dealing pals rather than repairing the potholes in the roads or putting half-a-dozen more Customs Officers on duty (****ing immigration queue: apologies to those practising their conversational asterisk). I wonder if he thought there was any truth in it? The Scarlet and the Black aside (rouge et noir… tingalings a bell…) the other books on that list were factual or (auto-) biography, and the Stendahl is intentional social commentary. Whilst John Buchan appears twice, they’re non-fiction rather than anything Hannay. Other than not wanting the President to appear worthy and dull – I mean, The Emergence of Lincoln doesn’t have many scorching gypsy women and bloodthirsty lesbians, Mrs Lincoln aside – From Russia with Love’s inclusion on the list seems readily explicable, if for slightly disturbing, manipulative and sinister reasons.  With all the books expounding a political philosophy, it fits. Although if you think I’m only having a go at JFK because the administration at the airhovel now bearing his name is rampagingly inadequate, I couldn’t immediately contradict you. Anyway, he can’t sue; he’s dead (I think).

     

    As a spy story, it’s one of the few in the Fleming series. As an adventure with persons exotic both of appearance and character to titillate us in scenes of overseasoned description, balanced with bothering with a plot this time, it’s probably the strongest. As a horror story offering us no redemptive solace at all by appearing to kill off the one man who can stop it, it’s bloody terrifying. Next time, Ian my lovely honeysuckle, how about taking us well away from it, perhaps a nice holiday in your favourite part of the world, and give us a medically impossible loony, space rockets, venomous centipedes, a nudey nature child and a truculent mutant cephalopod?

     

    Ta.

    The 007th Chapter – From Russia with Love: The Wizard of Ice

     

    Is that a pun on The Wizard of Oz? We’re definitely not in Kansas (the clue being “chess” rather than “Klan burning”) and we will shortly be meeting up with a (very) wicked witch who appears to be a Friend of Dorothy. More amusing – a challenge to be less – is that it’s utterly butterly that the 007th chapter of From Russia with Love shares much with the 007th minute of the film, Kronsteen’s pawn show interruptus. I suspect it’s no more than editing coincidence, but fun nonetheless.

     

    The image of the chess clock peering over the table like a sea-monster is an unexpected one, but vivid, tremendously eerie and ever-so-Fleming. His habitual use of nature’s brutes as anthropomorphised threat metaphors continues with “Kronsteen sat motionless and erect, as malevolently inscrutable as a parrot.” Ah, the birds of the West Indies, and we’ve encountered this avian style of description before (and will see it again), particularly when it comes to that jack-knife falcon Felix Leiter with his “hawk-like” features, despite the CIA having more than enough hawks already. Shame it’s only a descriptive image; were Kronsteen actually a parrot he could at least have a nibble on the “worm-like” vein throbbing at his temple.

     

    Oddly for a villain – or at least for this book – Kronsteen escapes both justice and a spiteful Fleming description – he’s not a “Fle-minger”, as t’were. He has a big head and a bulging brow, which given some of the freaks otherwise on show doesn’t amount to much, unless we’re meant to draw both suspicion and our breath at descriptions of the “pursed lips”, “slanting black eyes” and the “pout of hauteur and disdain”. Doubtless he’s a mongrel hotchpotch of various European races, because they all are (bad people, not parrots). Tell a lie; in a little while his hand is likened to the “pincers of a pink crab”, which presumably is similar to having a monkey’s paw. He’s getting off lightly; the animal comparisons shortly visited upon Klebb are immeasurably crueller.

     

    Hindsight bingo! “The spectre of a false move…” He said SPECTRE, he did. That’s like the film. It is. It is.

     

    There’s almost another zoological image when we’re told that Kronsteen’s game is likened to “a man eating fish”, and given what we have been told so far, one starts thinking sharks and pirhanas and those nibbly pedicure minnow things that cretins use. But, no! Witness, my darlings, the importance of punctuation: the missing hyphen is not insignificant. He really does mean “a” man eating “a” fish. That said, considering how expertly (I think) he’s tearing this Makharov guy apart, likening Kronsteen to a peckish barracuda isn’t too far off. Swings both ways, and the audiobook version must be slightly perplexing at this point. Equally perplexing is whether it’s “From Russia, with Love” or “From Russia with Love”. I suppose it’s only right to go with the Chopping cover’s comma, despite seeing / owning plenty of other editions without it, and it’s bereft of its punctuation in places such as IFP’s website. Perhaps it’s that first edition art that’s the anomaly.

     

    “Kronsteen had introduced a brilliant twist into the Meran Variation of the Queen’s Gambit Declined.” Oh had he? Good lad. Well done. The Meran Variation, eh? Fancy! Hmm. Readily exposing my colossal ignorance again, my knowledge of chess on a par with that of Bridge, although now I know that one can sweat away a pound of weight in two hours ten minutes because it’s a Real Sport and not a Superannuated Parlour Game. Would save a lot on the monthly gym subscription if I can lose that much weight in that amount of time simply by sitting on my backside and occasionally manipulating a couple of bishops and assorted members of the Royal Family. Fleming does suggest that such moves are capable of engendering mass debate, “all over Russia for weeks to come”. Poor loves will be knackered. Still, it might put them off annexing other countries for a while.

     

    Interesting play by Fleming himself to have wound us all up with the cliffhanger in the previous chapter of the decision toKill! Bond! Now! and yet, despite the change of location, we’re still not getting any James Bond; instead, chess. Yay. Shifting the pieces into place with his own risky Gambit Variation, before going in for the kill, one supposes. Stylistically, the chess match is interesting as, nature parallels aside – and Makharov is given a bullseye with his guts “writhing in agony like an eel pierced with a spear” – it’s tersely written, short and punchy sentences mimicking both the ticking clock and the increasing tension resulting from Kronsteen’s defiance of his orders, a metaphoric struggle of life and death turning horribly real for him. When the stress of both is released from writer and character later in the chapter, Fleming and Kronsteen relax and join forces to let fly with the most flamboyantly offensive description of Klebb. Fleming’s playing with structures and tempo within the space of a handful of paragraphs; there’s a symphonic quality to the writing. One may want to consider how flat – competent, accurately detailed and full of incident but energetically flat – many continuations are. This stuff tangibly undulates. Back to that idea of the Fleming Feel, the bravery – bravado, perhaps – to buckle a swash in how as well as what he writes.

     

    So, this Makharov Johnny is the “Champion of Georgia”, eh?  And yet it is most definitely chess and not a Klan burning. Wrong Georgia?

     

    The insubordination of Kronsteen is a diverting little character flourish. Up to now, the Russians have been uniformly ghastly and therefore the threat behind the message commanding him to attend, and the consequences of disobeying it, do not need spelling out. The man is putting himself at risk and we are meant to – sympathise? At least, appreciate danger may come his way. Despite his representation as a cold fish parrot, and given that it’s all his scheme anyway, he’s oddly the most human of all of the grotesques amongst the principal villains. He’s almost normal, in comparison to PyschoKlebb and her pet proto-Werewolf. Even has a wife and kids, although he doesn’t think very highly of them. Maybe it’s another manifestation of Fleming’s point: Bond can give the circus sideshow baddies a damned good thrashing because he’s as comic-book as they are, but he can’t get anywhere near the real danger to Britain which is this chap, who I’ve made more realistic because he’s exactly the sort of person they have. And he survives. There you were feeling engaged by him and his disobedience. I’m telling Senator McCarthy on you. Don’t need to look too far for a witch to hunt, though: there’s the mother of all hags coming up in a couple of pages.

     

    Scared, yet? Bloody should be.

     

    Not wanting to turn this into “compare the books to the films”, which is pointless, but as the “007th” of each on this occasion covers similar ground, it’s amusing that the film retains the manner in which Kronsteen “coldly and rudely” exits the match in victory. Don’t quite get the feeling from the film that Kronsteen is impressed – let alone scared – by either Klebb or Blofeld in the same way the character in the novel is patently discomfited by having ignored the immediacy of General G.’s summons, but that internal conflict may have been tricky to get across and, in any event, it takes a fair old time in the film before we first encounter Bond (the trick of the pre-credits aside) so that Kronsteen and his chess appear (reasonably) faithfully at all is some achievement. Doubtless “these days” it would all be CGI and Kronsteen would have to let the Wookie win.

     

    The copy I’m flicking through to “research” (ha!) this spurious rubbish – it’s the Richie Fahey pulp cover (no comma) with the nice lady in her stockings, as strangely drawn as I am to her – suggests that outside the tournament hall there’s a “ZIK” saloon, rather than a ZIL. As all editions to hand suggest the same thing, I’m taking this as deliberate rather than a typo. Pretty sure someone would have picked up on it before now. Live and learn, eh? Never heard of those before, but then years of marriage and several children have successfully reinforced (daily) my lack of omniscience.  As, for that matter, does trying to understand Bridge and chess. And cars. Cress, women, Pokemon, the purpose of Canada and why anyone with an IQ above 3 would ever see fit to use Wingdings. Admittedly, that’s about it.

     

    Clever little bugger, this Kronsteen (and that’s why you should be more frightened of him than the bachelorette neuter pigbitch and her catstrangling freakshow chum). Splendid defence of total outmanoeuvre he puts up to the unspoken court-martial and heinous charge of dereliction of duty. “If, with only three minutes to go, I had received a message that my wife was being murdered outside the door of the Tournament Hall, I would not have raised a finger to save her.” Know how that feels. Goes a tadge further than I would with the astonishingly callous remark that he “shall have to put a child in hospital for a week to support the story”. Amidst all the knuckle dusters, bookguns, hordes of sweatmoistened Romany strumpets, Garboesque beauties and circus sideshow acts (on both sides, oddly) this comes across as What a total bastard, and the most shocking of the lot. A throwaway comment, but an upsettingly arresting one. I think we’re meant to feel it. This is the sort of person the Russians have, reader dear. James Bond is a daffy old dollop of dopey sentimentality in comparison, and he’s basically the best we’ve got.

     

    Run.

     

    “Kronsteen would repay him with the full coin of his mind.” A moment ago, it was worth diamonds. Socialists just don’t know how to keep an economy stable, do they? Living to die another day, he reviews Bond’s file and we’ve been entertained with its fuller content in an earlier chapter, during which we were told that 007 has worked for the Secret Service since 1938. This renders foolish anyone looking for continuity in (say) the Gardners and the Bensons, with their penchant for using political figures and incidents contemporaneous to the dates of their discharge. Just as well that these writers came up with their own undernourished dullard invertebrate nearly-men in Captain Boldman and Commander The Actor Pierrs Bronsnon respectively, so it didn’t matter too much.

     

    “Weakness for women (therefore not homosexual, thought Kronsteen)”. Yes, that’s exactly how that one works. Seems an oversight not to draw any equally generalised conclusions from the choosy breakfast / penchant for perfumed soaps / rampant misogyny / lovely American chum with the conveniently well-designed hook. “Drinks (but nothing is said about drugs)”. Well, we know better, so nurr to you. “Success to be achieved within three months.” I wonder if that’s a SMART objective, albeit I suspect that General G.’s career development review process doesn’t adhere too rigorously to prevailing employment legislation.

     

    And now… a solid ten paragraphs of outlandish, dementedly extravagant description of the abnormal Rosa Klebb. Starting fairly calmly – in comparison, almost flatteringly – with “pale moist lips”, within a blink we’re given “the nicotine-stained fur over the mouth”, and it’s suddenly open season on the dreadful old bag.  “Dreadful?” Well, yes. Mouth jabbering away like a puppet, delivering a hoarse and flat voice, this is – despite the unconvincing protestation of the observer’s lack of interest – a no-punches-pulled character assassination. It gets even worse in the next couple of chapters, if I recall correctly.

     

    “Kronsteen was not interested in human beings – not even in his own children.” Yep, noticed that. In a long passage that places him as “neuter” in emotion as he assesses Klebb is in sexual persuasion, Fleming bothers to go explicit with something we guessed, that the character sees people as pawns, etc. Query whether this needed spelling out, other than to ramp up even further why we should be terrified of this man – his utter disfavour for human life and complete lack of care about “good” and “bad” being on the same level as whether one draws to play white or black. Quite whether it is a wholly coherent philosophy is moot, given its ostensible emotional detachment as the player of these human pieces and yet “one had to understand their individual characteristics”, but it does fit, on reflection. It’s “understand”, not “like”, “admire” nor “appreciate”. “And, of course, people’s lives and behaviour would be partly conditioned by physical strengths and weaknesses”. This is true of Fleming’s villains to date, all bent out of shape, be it mind or body or both – apart from this guy, who appears unafflicted, and quietly gets on with being the most dangerous one yet.

     

    “…it was as well to refresh the memory…” of Klebb, and so he does. It’s always cringe-inducing when characters sold to us as longstanding acquaintances suddenly start reflecting on the length and / or quality of their friendship for our coincidental entertainment via conversations no-one ever has because they already know

     

    – “Tell me, how long have we been friends?” “Nine years” “Nine years, is it really that long?” “Yes” “Well, with that now announced, no need for us to convincingly act that this may have been the case. Nine years, eh? Well, well, well. Remove yourself from my dog” –

     

    and it does come across slightly jarring that Kronsteen would pick Klebb apart for the hundredth time just when we happen to be looking over his shoulder, but it would have been a short chapter otherwise, there’s rudeness to be delivered to bulk it all up and by gum, it’s top-drawer abuse.

     

    Running through his theory of humanity – self-preservation, the sex instinct and the herd mentality – that suggests Kronsteen has spent time as a British private schoolboy / centre-half for Blackburn Rovers / a Christmas guest at Sandringham, we have the ruthlessness of the self-preservation first, the historical placing of Rosa Klebb at specific historical dates and incidents not simply because they were contemporaneous but they were so horrible as events they build the character. Again, the fallacy of updating Bond into the 80s and beyond with the implication – is it more overt than that? – that adventures such as this one happened reasonably closely beforehand. No: Klebb’s critical characteristic of survival is formed directly by her experiences in the Spanish War, with POUM and the clutching for power post-Beria. Her time is fixed and critical to her nature and this nature of hers is itself critical to what develops over the course of the next few chapters. She did not – cannot – happen in the (say) 1970s. It would dismantle her scaffolding and render her empty and unconvincing. It’d be like lifting Tiger Tanaka from his specific time and his formative incidents and blithely plonking him in a book set nearly forty years later and… oh. A character created to tip-toe negotiate around the minor issue of wartime enmity developing into pragmatic alliance, stripped of meaningful purpose for the sake of a specious reference.

     

    Anyway, thank you Professor History. It’s time for Dr Kinky to come hither and splay his wares. “She was a neuter”. Das Klebb, for whom sex is “nothing more than an itch” and for whom “the instrument” (the mind somersaults) was of no importance. “Sexual neutrality was the essence of coldness in an individual. It was a great and wonderful thing to be born with”. Blimey. Envious, Kronsteen? The subversion of Klebb’s sexual character is paralleled by equivalent subversion to a romantic norm in rendering her an object of desire not because of allure but because of its complete absence.

     

    Is what’s being set up here a comparison to Bond, whose capacity for survival, sexual practices and lone-wolfishness are well-known to the reader both coming in and having been analysed in the chapters preceding? As much as the superhuman – and slightly supernatural – Grant is established as the physical threat, there’s amusement to be drawn – deliberately intended? – in having Bond compared to Klebb. Is his cold attitude to sex – at least that espoused in Casino Royale – really that far removed from hers? At the end of the book, he ends up rug-munching too. Bond is likewise a product of formative fixed points in time, and not evidently a pack animal. I only raise it as a thought: patently, Bond’s demonstrations of these three key attributes we are meant to admire, and Klebb’s to loathe. Kronsteen may well be right – just pawns, all, “good” and “bad” are meaningless as distinguishing factors. History is moving pretty quickly these days… no, I’ve done that one already, haven’t I? Alternatively the author’s too lazy to create too many different character types, but it’s politer to think of it as by design.

     

    The greater difference is that Klebb relies on plans; Bond on luck. There’s a vein of anti-intellectualism running through this one, pulsing worm-like at its temple. The “cleverest” character, Kronsteen, is a villain, and whilst Bond has guile and is physically resourceful, he’s not called upon to be terribly intelligent to foil the scheme. It’s a solid joke that the intricacy of chapter upon chapter of careful planning is undone by a big punch-up and a bullet hitting a cigarette case, which was probably a terrible old cliché even in 1957. Rather than a well-planned, overthought gambit, it’s chance that wins the day. The triumph of Luck (in which we were told, in Casino Royale, Bond does not believe) over The Plan. Admittedly, at the end good fortune runs out, but that’s just reinforcing the point: Britain cannot ride its luck forever, especially with its last great hope incapacitated.

     

    “…temperamentally, she would be a phlegmatic – imperturbable, tolerant of pain, sluggish. Laziness would be her besetting vice…” The blubbery arms of the soft life had Rosa Klebb round the neck and they were slowly strangling her. She was a woman of war and when, for a long period, there was no war, her spirit went into a decline… That noted (and noted largely to start an argument, if not follow one through), there’s not too much of Bond’s prissy shampoo fixation in the description of Klebb’s routine, with its gougingly impolite observation of the “warm, hoggish bed” and “slovenly, even dirty” private habits vividly suggesting that the scent and smoke and sweat of Rosa Klebb is nauseating at any time of the day. Hasn’t even got round to describing her physically, yet. Basically, she’s a pig, as much of the animal kingdom as Kronsteen (or anyone subjected to a right old Fleminging) but a different, more swinish beast than he. Welcome to Animal Farm.

     

    Late forties. Short. Five foot four. Squat. Dumpy arms. Short neck. Thick legs. Drab. The devil knows what her breasts are like (well, lucky old devil). A badly packed sandbag. Big pear-shaped hips. Figure like a ‘cello. Not sure any of that helps her body-image. But she’s got such a lovely personality. We haven’t stopped there. Thinning orange hair in a tight, obscene (?) bun. Yellow-brown eyes. Large-pored nose. The wet trap of a mouth. Pale, thick chicken’s skin scragged in folds. Big peasant ears, hard dimpled fists like knobkerries (fnarr), a big bundle of bosom. Coldness, cruelty and strength. A hot little morsel and no mistake. Fleming misses a trick by not giving her trotters. Needs a makeover; possibly an abundance of self-esteem issues, poor old sow. Perhaps she just hasn’t met the right man or woman or boar to bring her out of her shell, lure her from her sty.  She may not have (visible) scars but Fleming is afflicting her with ugliness, and equating that to evil is a bounteous seam running through the faultlines of his work. No oil painting himself – have you seen his teeth? – the school of writing in which Ian Fleming enrolled is one that can’t manage its bullying problem.

     

    Kronsteen’s eyes are now “fathomless brown pools” – weren’t they black and slanted, before? Maybe he does have a macabre physical ailment after all.

     

    The reference to Fouché is an interesting parallel to draw, and makes one wonder about Kronsteen’s wisdom as he’s not a flattering person with whom to be compared, although of what we know of General G., it’s completely fair. One, perhaps, for the As in Fleming’s audience to understand and shudder at the thought that the Russians have an equivalent. Don’t worry, you Bs and Cs out there, if this was, in part, incomprehensible – lezzas and gypises coming soon. There’s a hot babe in the next chapter, too.

     

    “The English pride themselves on their eccentricity.” We know what comes after pride, don’t we? Headlong down to the wine-red floor, old loves. Vanity is letting these Russians devise such traps. Change your ways, or they’ll change them for you. Arm yourself, because no-one else here will save you. Certainly not James Bond, because I’m about to kill him off. I’m prepared to ditch the complacency and become ruthless – what about you?

     

    With James Bond achieving oblivion by the end of the book, it seems a sound point to pause and reflect on the findings of this loose experiment thus far. It’s definitely arguable that each of the 007th chapters to date has, to a greater or lesser extent, demonstrated distinct attributes for a written Bond. International travel beyond the reader’s potential, absurdly overafflicted villains disguising lunatic opinions and pejorative attitudes, high-level gamesmanship, racing-changes up and down the pace of writing, chewable atmospherics, animalistic personalities, vicarious living in a world of drab denial. The constant appeal to the senses. The smell, the sweat, the smoke. A challenge for whoever dares follow. Why bother?

     

    If it had stopped here, where would we be? Apart from an outpost of the Greater Soviet Empire. Five distinctive books, as pulled out of regular shape as some of the villains they contain, but each set in a heightened reality, or (as here) a claim to it. When Bond comes out of hospital, it’s time to realise that they weren’t listening to you, damn them to their fate and leave all that behind, to recuperate in tropical fantasy.

     

    James Bond will return in the 007th chapter of Dr No. Jacques Stewart made you read this.

     

     

    H.Sc. @ 2014-05-06
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