Literary 007 Reviewed: Ian Fleming's 'You Only Live Twice'
With 2008 marking the centenary of Ian Fleming, the newest CommanderBond.net review series, Literary 007 Reviewed, now continues with the author’s twelfth James Bond adventure, 1964’s You Only Live Twice.
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 You Only Live Twice back in December 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 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, simply click here.
Literary 007 Reviewed:
You Only Live Twice
You Only Live Twice
You Only Live Twice reviewed by… Harmsway
I believe You Only Live Twice to be Ian Fleming’s masterpiece. What is great about You Only Live Twice is how unique and refreshing it is. Fleming certainly liked to experiment, as he did with The Spy Who Loved Me, but here it’s quite successful. Rather than just being a spy thriller or entertaining read (like OHMSS was before it), You Only Live Twice is largely character driven.
There’s not a whole lot of incredible excitement here to be found in plot events. This story isn’t really about the villain/hero conflict, as it has been in so many other Bond books before – it’s about James Bond himself. That’s a refreshing focus, and instead of a plot-driven novel, Fleming gives us a character-driven one. You Only Live Twice gives the most unique and shocking portrayal of James Bond: James Bond as a broken man.
The final coda with Bond and Kissy together is perhaps the best segment of any Bond novel, ever. It’s utterly heartbreaking and astounding that such a finale was written. It’s unfortunate that Fleming didn’t end the series here and instead went on to write the lackluster and somewhat conventional The Man with the Golden Gun, because this ambiguous ending adds a tragedy to the character that fits all too well.
You Only Live Twice reviewed by… Flash1087
Re-read it not too long ago…didn’t get the hubbub then, and even after the hindsight of reading all of Fleming’s Bond entries (minus 007 in New York) I still think it’s a touch overrated.
Yes, it’s got some very touching moments with Kissy. She’s one of the more interesting Bond girls (in part for her love of David Niven) and a lot of the scenes with Bond living the quiet village life with her serve as a heartfelt counterpoint to Bond’s typically high-class lifestyle.
I thought Henderson was hilarious, kind of a disgruntled Australian Leiter, and I wish he would’ve gone to Shatterhand’s island with Bond. Tiger, on the other hand…well, I thought he was more enjoyable the first time we met him, back when everyone called him Darko Kerim.
It’s a very well-written novel, as far as descriptions go. Fleming’s accounts of Japanese architechure, culture, and landscape are top-notch.
So what don’t I like about it? Honestly, it’s the way the plot is set up. Thar be massive spoilers here, matey! Garrrr!.
“Hey James, we noticed you’ve been kinda sad lately about your dead wife. Tough luck, that. So we got you a new, safe, diplomatic assignment. Hey, what are the odds, you can keep your old number! Alright, off to Japan it is. This is Tiger, he’s a nice fella. But he also belives in quid pro quo. And if you want that new cypher thing, by golly you’ll have to do something to help him too. There’s a creepy Swiss doctor named Shatterhand whose garden keeps making young Japanese people want to kill themselves. Can you kill him for us? What’d you say? Shatterhand is secretly YOUR ARCH-NEMESIS AND KILLER OF YOUR WIFE, FORMER SPECTRE LEADER ERNST STAVRO BLOFELD?! Boy, what are the chances of THAT?! Quick, we’ll disguise you as a deaf and dumb Japanese miner. Now go kill him.”
Sorry. I know that was long-winded and perhaps a bit unfair, but amazing coincidences do not an amazing novel make. Honestly, it made Bond’s revenge for Tracy feel kind of hollow to me, because if he had not been assigned to Tiger’s care at the exact moment that he was, he may never have killed Blofeld. At least in the film for Diamonds are Forever, Bond was looking for him. Barring that, it’s a decent enough novel…the problem being that so much of the novel is built on a series of happy occurances cheapens it for me. I’ve heard talk that this was meant, for a time, to be the last Bond novel, with Fleming leaving Bond’s fate rather ambiguous. I would’ve been rather unhappy with that; it’s not the greatest note to end a novel series on and I’m glad The Man with the Golden Gun came along to at least tell us what happened.
So You Only Live Twice gets 3 (out of five) from me. It’s not Moonraker or Casino Royale, but it’s better than The Spy Who Loved Me.
You Only Live Twice reviewed by… Bon-san
Recently finished a re-read of this baby, and was completely captivated. I was particularly impressed by how efficiently Fleming immerses the reader into Japan and it’s culture. This is a fairly short novel, and as such it is quite impressive that there is no “adjustment” period, wherein the reader is getting used to this new place. We’re just there, and it feels exotic and exciting and authentically so.
The story itself unfolds at a leisurely pace, which works in the context of this book. There are few, if any, slam-bang moments up until the climax. But things never get boring, thanks to the marvellous rendering of Dikko, Tiger and Kissy. Bond’s interactions with Dikko and Tiger are endlessly rewarding, surpassing any of the Bond/Leiter exchanges from previous novels (sorry Felix!). And once Bond enters the Ama community, the reader feels (even when Bond doesn’t) an inexorable draw toward Kissy. She is a wonderful Fleming creation. Beautiful and headstrong, like many of her predecessors, but lacking that touch of neurosis that Fleming so often injected into his female leads. Kissy seems to be very much at peace. The only thing she’s missing is a good man. I was really rooting for her to keep “Taro” on that island for herself forever!
All the bits centering around Shatterhand’s garden are macabre and fascinating. The first time I read this book, as a teen, I was haunted by it for some time afterwards. The exchanges with Blofeld in the Question Room, the sword fight, the strangulation, the baloon, the amnesia, it was all so horrible. And the melancholy denouement is a long, drawn-out affair. Where the ending of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service hit you right between the eyes when you were looking the other way, You Only Live Twice approaches you slowly, with a sad smile, and there is so much pain everywhere that you don’t feel the knife go in.
I would stop short of calling this “Fleming’s masterpiece”. Not that I don’t think it’s wonderful, because I do. In my opinion, it ranks alongside Casino Royale, From Russia with Love and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as the best of Ian Fleming’s James Bond. It is different than the Fleming we’ve read before. More mature, more beautiful, more reflective. But better? For some, perhaps. For others, perhaps not. For me, it is one great James Bond book.
I give it five stars out of five.
You Only Live Twice reviewed by… cmburns
I like this You Only Live Twice quite a bit. It obviously is quite different from the others, which in itself is neither good or bad. I agree with some of the earlier posts that the coincidence of Bond being in the right place at the right time to get Blofeld is a bit much. However, I think that Fleming made it that way intentionally. I say this because of the jabs he took at himself/the Bond series in M’s obit of Bond.
I like Kissy but I am surprised that she would be allowed to intentionally deceive Bond during his amnesia. Much of the novel centers around the Japanese culture doing things honorably. To lie to a man who has performed a great service is hardly honorable. True that Kissy does things her own way but her parents, the doctor and the village elder let this go on.
Bearing that in mind, I found it a good and quick read both times that I read it.
You Only Live Twice reviewed by… B007GLE
I gave this a 4 but it is really a 4.5.
I do not think this is Fleming’s best Bond novel, but it may be his best novel nonetheless.
What I am saying is there are better “Bond Novels”, you know exciting larger than life thrillers, but this is an excellent novel about death. About a man whose wife dies and he finds himself obsessing with death all the way up untilt he moment he looks it in the face and now lives a second time.
It could have been about a man whose wife dies in a car accident.
The second half is great Bond stuff reminding me very much of Dr. No with it’s Fu Manchu like villain and it’s naked girl who loves shells but the first half is not a spy novel at all, and yet it is soaked with death.
I first read this at the age of around 25 and I could not appreciate it, I kept wanting Bond to get to that damn castle. Now at 42 I can really understand it, relate to it and enjoy it as a wonderful work of literature and not just a thriller.
You Only Live Twice reviewed by… manfromjapan
Whilst I greatly enjoyed You Only Live Twice, and found it haunting, memorable and pleasingly bizarre, I have to admit I believe it to be a little over-rated. So far (I am reading the books in sequence), it is the fifth best book, after From Russia with Love, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Casino Royale and Dr. No. Mmm. 4 stars. Why not five stars? Too many coincidences, I thought Blofeld and Bunt came across unconvincingly, and whilst I enjoyed the Garden of Death, I didn’t really buy it. As a 7 year resident of Japan, I can’t believe a man of the world like 007 wouldn’t get more insight into the country than he appears to have. Still, Kissy, Tiger and Dikko all come across vividly, the final chapter is memorably sad, and whilst lacking the sweep of other novels, it is a thrilling read, and quite unique in the canon.
You Only Live Twice reviewed by… Bwanito
You Only Live Twice is one of the greatest novels written by Fleming. I gave it four stars.
It’s very well connected with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The supporting characters are very well described. I like Dikko (even if he has a low impact on the story) and Tiger (one of the best ally in the Bond novels). The background is full of lovely details (“The Fleming Touch”). Bond gets involved into action in the second part and you can’t stop reading until you have reached the climax scene between Bond and Blofeld.
Besides, the story of the novel is very far from the story of the movie (it’s not like From Russia with Love). For me, the novel is more interesting (I always manage myself to know why the film makers throw away some marvellous Fleming stories).
You Only Live Twice reviewed by… Byron
I gave it 3 stars although 3 1/2 was more appropriate.
It was good but I really can’t see why some people rave on about it so much. The Japan setting would have been exotic to readers when the book was first published but not so much today.
Henderson was a bit of a caricature but Tiger was more interesting and well written. Garden of Death and the climax were also quite good but overall i was hoping for more and came away just a little disappointed.
You Only Live Twice reviewed by… 00Twelve
Just finished re-reading this one…and it really is a wonderfully character-driven piece. This is such a surprisingly introspective novel…exactly what seems appropriate after the shocking finale of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. It wasn’t until the end that I noticed how little “action” occurred in this story, and, again, I thought it quite appropriate. This is about Bond’s trauma and recovery. It’s about facing the pain of death. It’s about self-examination. Fortunately, after all of this, Bond gets an unexpected opportunity for vindication. It’s at this point that Bond returns to his professional best. And still, I found myself wanting him to settle with Kissy on Ama. Part of me actually wanted him to remain an amnesiac and finally live in peace. However, this is still the perpetual civil servant known as James Bond, and, inevitably, “James Bond will return.” I enjoyed the ending, and while I wish I could have seen him be a father, I was excited and compelled by the ambiguous prospect of traveling to Russia to find his origins. If only EON had the courage to do a character-driven piece such as this.
As a tag, I really loved Tiger and their relationship, even moreso than the same with Kerim. I also loved Dikko, truly a worthy Australian adaption of (or improvement upon?) Leiter.
Keep your eyes on the CommanderBond.net main page for further reviews of Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007 adventures in the upcoming months.