Friday, June 22, 2018
By Ian Fleming
Casino Royale is the first novel written by Ian Fleming featuring the 00 agent Commander James Bond, published in 1953. The plot revolves around a plan to take down Le Chiffre, an agent of SMERSH, by bankrupting him in a high-stakes game of Baccarat Chemin-de-fer.
Casino Royale has the unique distinction of being the only James Bond novel to be adapted three times: as a 1954 American TV production, a 1967 spoof film, and finally as the basis for the 2006 film of the same name.
The head of Station S, Fawcett formulates a plan to take down SMERSH operative Le Chiffre who is the head of communist sympathizing trade unions in northern France, who is attempting to earn money in game in Baccarat Chemin de fer in order to compensate for the loss of his chain of brothels which were shut down after a law banning prostitution surfaces. M sends out his finest gambler, 00 agent Commander James Bond to play in the game. Station S's Vesper Lynd, Texan CIA agent Felix Leiter, and Frenchman René Mathis of the Deuxième Bureau are sent by their respective superiors to assist Bond in his endeavour.
Bond checks into the hotel and prepares his operation. Before Bond has a chance to face off with Le Chiffre, the Soviet agents make an attempt on his life. Bond survives a bomb blast unscathed. He makes it to the casino and confronts Le Chiffre. Bond then squares off against Le Chiffre. During the game, Bond is nearly killed by a gunman sent by Le Chiffre. Soon Bond goes bankrupt, but Felix Leiter provides him with extra capital to continue playing. Bond ultimately wins and bankrupts Le Chiffre, earning a sum of 40,000 Francs. After his win Bond takes Vesper out for a drink. She is lured into the parking lot and kidnapped by Le Chiffre. Bond pursues her in his Bentley and, after he crashes his car, is captured himself.
Subsequently Vesper is taken away by Le Chiffre's men while he physically tortures Bond, who wants to know where the cheque for the money he won was hidden. After a while, he decided he couldn't extract information from Bond and begins sadistic mental torture on him. Shortly after, a SMERSH agent enters and executes both Le Chiffre and his two men by shooting them in the head. The agent spares Bond's life because he had been given no orders to kill him, then tells him about SMERSH's ideals: That they are only known to give mercy by chance or by mistake (Both of which have been done in a single day to James Bond) then cuts a "Ш" (A Russian/Cyrillic symbol associated with spies) into Bond's left hand for future reference. Delirious, exhausted and in tremendous pain, Bond passes out immediately afterward.
Two days later, Bond regains consciousness and Vesper nurses him back to health. While in the hospital Bond contemplates his future as a spy. Three weeks later, they go on vacation where Bond starts a romantic relationship with Vesper. They take a vacation at a French seaside inn. They start a passionate relationship and Bond decides he will ask Vesper to marry him.
Vesper soon realizes that a SMERSH agent using the guise "Adolph Gettler" was watching their movements. Vesper grows increasingly fearful of her death and Bond's death from this man. Bond catches Vesper making a secret phone call and acting duplicitously. Bond is frustrated and their relationship becomes strained. It comes to a head when Bond demands to know her secret. She promises to tell him the next day. They make passionate love and Bond retires to his own room. Finally, unable to handle the guilt, Vesper deliberately overdoses on sleeping pills that night to commit suicide.
In the morning, Bond finds a letter from Vesper explaining that she was working for the MWD to free her boyfriend who served in the Polish RAF. She had also nearly sabotaged the operation in the casino by not getting in between the gunman. She then tells Bond she started to fall in love with Bond, and this ended up drawing the ire of SMERSH, who sent the agent to track Vesper and Bond. Vesper also stated she wanted to escape to South America, start up a new life with Bond, and have a baby with him. She then finishes the letter with "My love, my love."
Because of Vesper's lies and the engraving of "Ш" into his right hand Bond decides to oppose SMERSH, an act which sets the entire series in motion. The novel then ends with Bond telling a liaison officer, that "the bitch is dead now".
Casino Royale was the first James Bond novel to be adapted as a daily comic strip which was published in the Daily Express newspaper and syndicated worldwide. It ran from 7 July 1958 to 13 December 1958, and was written by Anthony Hern and illustrated by John McLusky. All strips are missing the familiar "JAMES BOND" heading in the top left corner which was used on all subsequent adventures.
To aid the Daily Express in illustrating James Bond, Ian Fleming commissioned an artist to create a sketch of what he believed James Bond to look like. The illustrator, John McLusky, however, felt that Fleming's 007 looked too "outdated" and "pre-war" and thus changed Bond to give him a more masculine look.
Thursday, June 21, 2018
Irvine Welsh's Top Ten List
1. Ulysses by James Joyce (1922). Filled with convoluted plotting, scrambled syntax, puns, neologisms, and arcane mythological allusions, Ulysses recounts the misadventures of schlubby Dublin advertising salesman Leopold Bloom on a single day, June 16, 1904. As Everyman Bloom and a host of other characters act out, on a banal and quotidian scale, the major episodes of Homer’s Odyssey—including encounters with modern-day sirens and a Cyclops—Joyce’s bawdy mock-epic suggests the improbability, perhaps even the pointlessness, of heroism in the modern age.
2. Underworld by Don DeLillo (1997). A finalist for the National Book Award, this literary page-turner is about the second half of the twentieth century in America and about two people, an artist and an executive, whose lives intertwine in New York in the fifties and again in the nineties. With cameo appearances by Lenny Bruce, J. Edgar Hoover, Bobby Thompson, Frank Sinatra, Jackie Gleason and Toots Shor, it has been called a “dazzling, phosphorescent work of art.”
3. Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy (1985). D. H. Lawrence famously remarked that the archetypal American hero was a stoic, a loner, and a killer. Cormac McCarthy’s tale of the formation and dissolution of a band of scalp hunters in northern Mexico in the late 1840s embodies that dire maxim. Led by a soldier named Glanton and a mysterious, hairless, moral monstrosity known as the “Judge,” these freebooters wipe out Indians, Mexicans, and each other amidst a landscape of such sublime desolation one feels it leaching into their very souls.
4. Cities of the Red Night by William S. Burroughs (1981). This novel follows various plot strands – including 18th century pirates seeking to live lives of freedom according to articles written by Captain James Mission; a present-day detective, “Clem Snide, Private Asshole,” investigating the ritual sex murder of young boys, and the rise of a radioactive virus that may involve the CIA. An opium-infused apocalyptic vision from the legendary author of Naked Lunch, it is the first of the trilogy with The Places of the Dead Roads and his final novel, The Western Lands.
5. A Disaffection by James Kelman (1989). Patrick Doyle is a 29 year old Glasgow teacher in an ordinary school. Disaffected, frustrated and increasingly bitter at the system he is employed to maintain, Patrick begins his rebellion, fuelled by drink and his passionate, unrequited love for a fellow teacher.
6. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1880). In perhaps the consummate Russian novel, Dostoevsky dramatizes the spiritual conundrums of nineteenth-century Russia through the story of three brothers and their father’s murder. Hedonistic Dmitri, tortured intellectual Ivan, and saintly Alyosha embody distinct philosophical positions, while remaining full-fledged human beings. Issues such as free will, secularism, and Russia’s unique destiny are argued not through authorial polemic, but through the confessions, diatribes, and nightmares of the characters themselves. An unsparing portrayal of human vice and weakness, the novel ultimately imparts a vision of redemption. Dostoevsky’s passion, doubt, and imaginative power compel even the secular West he scorned.
7. Men at Arms by Evelyn Waugh (1952). Meet Guy Crouchback, a 35-year-old divorced Catholic. Though the armed services really don't want him, he manfully succeeds in joining the Royal Corps of Halberdiers during World War II. There he meets Apthorpe, an eccentric African who is devoted to his “thunderbox” (aka chemical closet). Together they make quite a team. This is the first book in Waugh’s “Swords of Honour” trilogy which explores war, religion and politics. It is followed by Officers and Gentlemen (1955) and Unconditional Surrender(1961).
8. Lanark: A Life in Four Books by Alasdair Gray (1981). In the maverick Scottish author’s testy allegory, four (eccentrically illustrated) “books,” which are presented nonsequentially, trace the lives of two protagonists who are a single frustrated artist. Grim naturalism depicts Glaswegian painter Duncan Thaw’s losing battles with public indifference and chronic illness. Blakean fantasy traces the parallel sufferings of Thaw’s eponymous alter ego, whose misadventures in the dystopian city of Unthank represent Thaw’s continuing miseries in the hereafter he inhabits following his suicide. Accusatory, opaque, redundant—the novel is also, oddly enough, compulsively readable and perversely memorable.
9. Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1934). The heartbreaking, semiautobiographical story of two expatriate Americans living in France during the 1920s: a gifted young psychiatrist, Dick Diver, and the wealthy, troubled patient who becomes his wife. In this tragic tale of romance and character, her lush lifestyle soon begins to destroy Diver, as alcohol, infidelities, and mental illness claim his hopes. Of the book, Fitzgerald wrote, “Gatsby was a tour de force, but this is a confession of faith.”
10. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886). This novel might easily have become a victim of its own surpassing fame, which has removed all suspense from its central riddle: What is the relationship between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Yet as our narrator plumbs Dr. Jekyll’s descent into drug-addled, alter-ego madness, we are riveted by Stevenson’s portrait of the good and evil that lurks in one man’s heart. “This, too, was myself,” Jekyll says of Hyde. Somehow we suspect it’s us, too.
Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Howards End by EM Forster
TUESDAY, APRIL 12, 2011
FIFTY BOOKS PROJECT
Well, it is odd and sad that our minds should be such seed-beds, and we without power to choose the seed. But man is an odd, sad creature as yet, intent on pilfering the earth, and heedless of the growths within himself. He cannot be bored about psychology. He leaves it to the specialist, which is as if he should leave his dinner to be eaten by a steam-engine. He cannot be bothered to digest his own soul. Margaret and Helen have been more patient, and it is suggested that Margaret has succeeded--so far as success is yet possible. She does understand herself, she has some rudimentary control over her own growth. Whether Helen has succeeded, one cannot say.
Howards End is about two families. The Schlegel sisters, Helen and Margaret, are intellectuals, deeply interested in what they call "personal relations," and the life of the mind. The Wilcoxes, who own the titular country house, are pragmatic and businesslike, care little for "personal relations," and only value what is useful to them. If one of these sounds preferable to you, it sounds also preferable to me, and when I tell you that this novel is about the essential struggle between these two perspectives perhaps you will understand why I do not think Howards End is quite successful.
In short: Margaret Schlegel befriends the Wilcox matron, Ruth, who promptly dies and leaves Margaret Howards End, though it is written in a note to the remaining Wilcoxes who proceed to ignore it. Margaret then befriends the widower (and much older) Henry Wilcox, who, surprisingly, asks Margaret to marry him. Margaret, surprisingly, accepts. (Observant readers may note that this puts her on the path to inherit Howards End anyway, which is the only way the book could end, really.) The engagement is not conflict-free, and Howards End represents the stakes is in this allegorical battle: England, the world, the future, etc. In this passage Forster rhapsodizes over a hilltop view of the English countryside and coast:
England was alive, throbbing through all her estuaries, crying for joy through the mouths of her gulls, and the north wind, with contrary motion, blew stronger against her rising seas. What did it mean? For what end are her fair complexities, her changes of soil, her sinuous coast? Does she belong to those who have moulded her and made her feared by other lands, or to those who had added nothing to her power, but have somehow seen her, seen the whole island at once, lying as a jewel in a silver sea, sailing as a ship of souls, with all the brave world's fleet accompanying her towards eternity?
Though it sports some nice prose, I am ambivalent about this passage. It very tidily expresses the novel's entire theme, but to do so Forster, as he frequently does, stamps all over the book, showing his footprints. Was he this intrusive in A Room with a View?
The larger problem, for me, is that I simply don't buy the central plot point of the book's second half, that Margaret would accept Wilcox' proposal. Wilcox is a lout, dismissive to Margaret, disdaining of servants and the poor, valuing only what he can use or buy and throwing the rest on the mind's rubbish-heap. Margaret keeps insisting on his fundamental goodness, but I fail to see it. Forster's own opinion seems to be that the Wilcoxes are worthwhile because, as one character puts it, "They keep England going, it is my opinion." (I suppose Forster wrote too early to know how Mussolini was respected for making the trains run on time.)
But through a convoluted series of happenings, Wilcox is redeemed and all is set right. His redemption fails to redeem Margaret's poor judgment in marrying him, which in turn undermines Forster's regard for her sense of "personal relations." Thinkers and doers are reconciled, and you yourself may guess where they spend the rest of their happy days.
FIFTY BOOKS PROJECT
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
AS Byatt's Possession
Is it possible to love a novel for all the wrong reasons? Yesterday, I finished A.S. Byatt's Possession (1990) for the first time—"a romance" (the front cover tells me), "an intellectual mystery and triumphant love story" (the back cover continues) about "a pair of young scholars researching the lives of two Victorian poets." Jay Parini's New York Times review of the award-winning novel describes its mass of fictional research material—a completely fabricated trace of poems, letters, diaries, and scholarly biographical excerpts—as its "most dazzlingly aspect." While this artificial archive is certainly impressive and no doubt brilliantly composed and arranged as a counterpoint to the main plot, I confess that I fall into the camp of bad readers who skimmed the letters and diaries and often skipped the poetry altogether. I found it difficult to invest my time and mental energy in this material, especially since most of that energy is currently going toward research projects of my own or class prep for the upcoming fall semester. Although I enjoyed Byatt's style and the novel's plot, characters/caricatures, and settings (and I am certainly interested in reading her Lawrentian quartet), I just didn't—couldn't—care about the affair between Chistabel LaMotte and Randolph Henry Ash.
As I scroll through the Goodreads reviews, I find myself chastised, "READ THE POETRY, PEOPLE!" and left out of what, for many readers, appears to have been a profound, transformative experience. And yet I'm beginning to wonder what sort of ideal reader the novel itself presumes. It seems to me that Possession's ideal reader is a patient student who will slow their pace when appropriate (a three-page poem does not read as quickly as three pages of narrative, after all; letters or diaries do not function dramatically the way realist dialogue does). Byatt's ideal reader is also a detective who, like its main characters, will search epigraphs and long lost research material for clues or echoes that amplify the novel's plot and ideas (about love, death, literary studies, public funding, Anglo-American difference, etc.). Maybe I resisted this role, since I was not looking to study this novel or to become the sort of academic sleuth exemplified by Maud Bailey, Roland Michell, and others. (I'm neither an archivist nor a researcher on a heroic quest for solutions to mysteries.) And maybe I resisted for good reason, since the novel itself seems ambivalent about the value of its ideal reader (who is doubled and tripled by its characters). Indeed, the obsessive and possessive investment of its characters in uncovering the truth of what happened between these poets—especially when seen through the non-academic eyes of family members or journalists—looks overinflated, self-centered, or misdirected. Even the plot must personalize the truth of the LaMotte–Ash affair; in the end, this postmodern Dickensian novel is really all about the discovery of a major character's familial connection to the very mysteries driving her.
And so I'm left with a few questions: How does one depict or explain an academic's attachment to their subject of study? Is "possession"—ownership of an object, of a copyright, of a favorite author, of a field of study, of a lover, of a future—the most convincing metaphor? Reading on . . .