Literary 007 Reviewed: Ian Fleming's 'Goldfinger'
With 2008 marking the centenary of Ian Fleming, the newest CommanderBond.net review series, Literary 007 Reviewed, now continues with the author’s seventh James Bond adventure, 1959’s Goldfinger.
As several CBn Forum members are already aware, every two months a James Bond adventure is chosen for members of the Blades Library Book Club to read. Proceeding in chronological order, the club first read Fleming’s Goldfinger back in February 2005.
What follows are selected reviews from the Book Club Forum members. For further details on the club or to post your own review of Goldfinger, simply click here.
Literary 007 Reviewed:
‘Goldfinger’ reviewed by… MystikTK
This is most certainly a very under-rated Fleming outing. It’s a fairly light read compared to some of his other work, but very enjoyable and a real page-turner. I remember reading it for the time when I was about 13 and not being able to put it down. Like all Fleming books that I read around that time (which, actually was all Fleming books), I remember getting in trouble many times for reading during class.
‘Goldfinger’ reviewed by… Thunderbird
My first Bond book was Goldfinger when I was about 14, and I re-read it about 3 times before I read my next one, From Russia with Love. In fact those two never quite made it back to the school library as I recall. *Blush*
I think then I read Thunderball, followed by John Pearson’s ‘authorised biography’ of 007, which read, to me, very much like Fleming.
By then I’d seen quite a few Bond films (the Roger Moore films were still being made then, shows how old I am!) and in fact Casino Royale I read quite late on.
I didn’t know then how much of a fan I would become, and if I could do it again I would probably read them in order. Imagine that! All the Flemings stretching out in front of you, unread… drool.
They’re all pretty easy reading, and you can finish most in a day or so. The ‘Fleming Sweep,’ at work, you see…
‘Goldfinger’ reviewed by… Double-O Eleven
It has always been a point of irony for me that my favorite James Bond film, Goldfinger, is adapted from one of my least favorite of the Fleming novels. The irony increases because Goldfinger was the first James Bond novel I read. I might have read no further had a friend not recommended Doctor No and addicted me to Fleming for good–for which I will always thank him.
I returned to Goldfinger to re-read it less than a year after the first time. I liked it much more because I had a better understanding of Fleming’s strengths after having read all the other books. The nuances of characterization and the internalized stream-of-consciousness for Bond were much more apparent and effective. However, I still placed the book near the bottom of my list of the Fleming novels, beaten out only by Diamonds are Forever and The Man with the Golden Gun.
Time hasn’t improved the novel significantly for me. Reading over it again for the Blades Book Club brought back into focus many of the book’s problems. Now Goldfinger has to stand the light of my cultish admiration for the film and my own development as a writer, which makes the flaws in it all the more glaring apparent.
In its pace, I find Goldfinger the slowest moving of all Fleming’s novels. Moonraker has a similar tripartite construction, but is far more engaging. Until its last third, Goldfinger moves so casually it feels like a country stroll, or a leisurely golf game. Most of the action consists of Bond thinking about problems and courses of action, pondering possibilities, and going off on tangents. Getting to know Bond in this way is one of the books better aspects, which I’ll talk about below, but it has a lethal effect on pacing.
Compounding the pacing is the way the book keeps drawing the reader’s attention to it illogical story. The plot problems are immense. The coincidence that Bond randomly encounters Goldfinger while in Miami, and then immediately afterwards receives an assignment from M to investigate him, is a tough one to accept. Twice is indeed coincidence: a bit too much or one! Even more outrageous is that after M learns that 007 has crossed swords with Goldfinger, he still sends the agent on the assignment to investigate the man. Why in the world would M think to send an agent whom Goldfinger already knows and has good reason to hate? It’s ludicrous. And why does Bond let Jill Masterson go back to working for Goldfinger after she helped Bond wreck his cheating ploy? He should have taken her back with him to England and as far away from her psychotic employer as possible.
Of course, the largest logic lacuna (or L.L.L.) in the novel–one that everyone points out–is Goldfinger’s amazingly stupid idea to keep Bond alive right at the last minute before a buzzsaw dissects him. If the villain had bothered to make a single phone call to his masters at SMERSH he would have discovered who Bond was and summarily iced him. Goldfinger does eventually make that call to Moscow, but only after operation Grand Slam has fallen apart! (I’m trying to imagine this phone conversation: “Auric, you really should bring up possible security breeches with us as they happen, okay? Just an FYI. So, when’s that gold coming in?”) Goldfinger’s excuse for keeping alive both Bond (who just tried to strangle him to death) and Tilly (who brought a rifle to shoot him) is limp: he needs two people to take notes for him. So, we are supposed to believe that this mad genius, who has planned rigorously for five years to execute this “crime de la crime,” somehow overlooked the need for some clerical work? Couldn’t he have at least gone to a temp agency? They cost less and killing them won’t draw immediate attention. Keeping tabs on Bond and Tilly causes a serious waste of manpower. There are certainly better things Oddjob could do with him time than keeping Bond in line. I would prefer that my killer bodyguard keep a watchful eye on the not-too-bright gangsters with interpersonal grudges whom I’ve hired, frankly.
You also have to hand it to the CIA for arranging for a whole town to lie around playing dead for a few hours. It’s a good thing Goldfinger didn’t think to do a check on one of the bodies, or the ambush never would have happened. And the CIA still lets him slip out from their fingers and then set up an operation inside a major U.S. aiport! D’oh! And why does Tilly hang around when she doesn’t serve any purpose once she fails in her assassination technique? Why does Pussy Galore, famed criminal, just abruptly switch sides?
Goldfinger turns into a litany of “whys?” Amazingly, the film solved almost all these problems in easy ways, and it’s astonishing that Fleming didn’t come up with some better fixes for a the obvious ones himself. Bond doesn’t meet Goldfinger accidentally in Miami; M sent him there a’ purpose. Goldfinger knows whom Bond is, but keeps him alive so to allay his superiors’ suspicions. Tilly gets killed at the factory and thus doesn’t hang around after she no longer serves any story function. Bond’s interaction with Pussy Galore is increased to not only make her a better character, but give her betrayal of Goldfinger a stronger basis. The robbery actually gets down inside Fort Knox instead of merely getting near it. Goldfinger gets Oddjob’s death and Oddjob gets an ‘electrifying’ new one at the vault, which gives him more to do than he ever receives in the book. (Admittedly, the film comes up with a completely new plot hole with the gangsters, since Goldfinger has no reason to explain his plan to them and then kill him after he obtains his shipments of the nerve gas. But it does show us that Delta Nine is lethal.)
This could stylistically be called Ian Fleming’s attempt to write his own version of a Raymond Chandler novel. Chandler’s Philip Marlowe books emphasis characterization, in particular the stream-of-consciousness of its first-person detective, over plot. Chandler’s plots are sometimes near incomprehensible and riddled with problems. Goldfinger isn’t written in first-person, but it sometimes seems as if it were meant to be. The reader has a direct link to James Bond’s mind and gets quite an earful from the agent’s thoughts. One excellent example is Bond musing about the girl (Tillly, we later find out) driving the Triumph who passes him on the road during his tailing of Goldfinger. In the middle of an important assignment, he can’t help letting his mind drift to a pretty girl behind the wheel. Much of what we know about Bond’s personality comes from this book’s look into his head, and Goldfinger is real “quality” time spent with the agent.
And then there’s Auric Goldfinger himself. He makes some weird decisions, but he’s nonetheless one of Fleming’s best villains. He gets a huge amount of time “on stage,” much more than any other adversary in the series, and he’s a delightful grotesque. When Bond at last “goes berserk” on the plane and throttles the man to death, you definitely understand how he’s feels. This pompous, murderous, greedy psycho deserves any kind of punishment you might want to heap on him. To Goldfinger’s mind made of money and numbers, human lives are nothing more than annoying statistics, and death is another way of doing business. His plan may be an outrageous fantasy (and the movie Bond politely explained why it is impossible), but there is a realistic personality deep within the caricature: a corporate avarice we’ve all encountered before.
Oddjob: Another wonderful Fleming flight of fancy, and the quintessential killer henchman of adventure literature. The buzzsaw-bladed bowler-hatted baddie anticipated the western fascination with martial arts more than a decade before the first kung-fu film frenzy (if you’ll pardon my skaldic obsession with alliteration). The only flaw in the character–aside from some unpleasant racism in Bond’s attitude toward him–is that he doesn’t have nearly enough to do. The movie skews perspective on this, however, since Oddjob vs. 007 in Fort Knox remains one of cinema’s great fights, and the book has no equivalent.
Goldfinger will always be one of Fleming’s most important books, since it inspired the film that sent the James Bond phenomenon into the stratosphere. The author’s characteristic style remains strong, something I can’t say for The Man with the Golden Gun. But I still count it as one of Fleming’s few failures, a poorly paced and plotted Chandler-esque exercise that always leaves me feeling a bit underwhelmed when I read it.
‘Goldfinger’ reviewed by… DLibrasnow
I’ve always really liked the book Goldfinger. I read the book many, many years before I saw the movie so I came to it with a completely open mind. I seem to be against the majority in considering one of the best Flemings, I particularly enjoy all the golf in it.
Always a fun read.
‘Goldfinger’ reviewed by… Qwerty
I just never really got into Ian Fleming’s seventh, Goldfinger. As I had seen the film first many, many times, I expected the novel to be one of the best as well. Truth be told, it’s a bit of a letdown really. The best part of the book is probably the opening. We are treated to an interesting introduction of our lead villain. The ‘Mr. Bomb’ touch is nice when meeting James Bond is also a nice touch. Similar highlights include the card cheating sequence as well as the golf match. After Bond later meets Oddjob though, the story just seems to run out of steam.
Fleming seems to be jumpy and sketchy in his plotting and further descriptions compared with past Bond novels. I wish Pussy Galore would have had much more time in the storyline. Never found Tilly to be an entirely convincing character.
Still, we get that great line: “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time is enemy action.”
Definitely required reading for 007 fans, but Fleming has written much better. A case of the film actually improving upon the original plot of the novel.
‘Goldfinger’ reviewed by… B007GLE
4 stars but I may be overly generous.
When you get down to it it is no where near as good as Live and Let Die, Moonraker, From Russia with Love or Doctor No. It is however, in my honest opinion, better than Casino Royale or Diamonds are Forever.
The main problem is that the film version is so far superior that the book feels “sickly” compared to it.
Keep your eyes on the CBn main page for further reviews of Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007 adventures in the upcoming months.