However, behind all the glitz and glam of a world revolving around fine food, attractive women and fast cars, there seems to be nothing more than a bottomless pit of mediocre writing, shallow ideologies and immoral perspectives. So here I am feeling rather shaken and stirred that Bond has quite literally made the double 0, managing to have scraped up a spot alongside the literary greats as number ninety-seven in Time Magazine’s ‘Top 100 Books Of All Time’. This may not come to a surprise to most of you, as the several books and films make it clear that the popular franchise is an icon in pop culture.
But yet, I think we are forgetting that a classic should be more than just petty delight. Which leaves me asking; where is our appreciation of more than just commercial fiction? My concern is, in our own modernist age, mainstream society has brainwashed us to thinking the only books worth a second glance are those containing casinos and sex. Thus, the timeless lists of legendary literature are being pushed back to the dusty corners of our bookshelves, gradually becoming lost to time.
Given the lack of any literary fictional features whatsoever, I’m sure you can see why the appreciation of this pulp fiction only heightens my anxiety for the future of our fallen greats. Other classic literary novels on the other hand, tend to deal with universal social issues relevant to the historical context of its time. These works are strategically planted with underlying messages and riddled with implicit inferences, ready to be interpreted by the reader.
In addition to forcing us to re-assess our own views of the world, these ageless masterpieces stick with us even after turning the final page. As senior writer Natasha Robinson once said, “Quality literature demands the mind to be stretched – it requires us to thoroughly masticate the written word, when today we are accustomed to swallowing insipid ideas whole. ” And I couldn’t agree more. Besides slightly indulging our ingenuities, what other revolutionary message does Casino Royale leaves us?
Women are for recreation, murder is okay, oh and a quick lesson on how to gamble. Sure, it is undeniable that the espionage genre is still as popular as ever, but it just leaves me somewhat dumbfounded that the all wrong ones are getting the recognition. To my utter disappointment, tales of literary spy greatness such as the The Quiet American and The Secret Agent, have unacceptably not made the list.
Not only are these pure works of genius timely reminders of the complexity of world politics, but they even have the ower to make one doubt their faith in humanity. As a result, these twin classics linger on to be powerfully relevant and still equally as entertaining even today. Nevertheless, my ‘pretentious’ views aside and examining the novel from a purely entertainment driven perspective, the plot lacks originality and continuously conjures up one cliche’ after the other, hardly stretching the creative compulsion. The story is simple; bankrupt the villain to avert him financing any Russian missions.
Yet, I’m certain real spy work is nothing like being given millions to gamble away, but perhaps this is the appeal of the book although it still seemed predictable and one-dimensional. Even the action scenes, or what are deemed as action scenes, were written in such a bleak tone that all of the suspense was leached out of the words. Instead of having you waiting on the edge of your seat for Bond to make his next move in baccarat, you find yourself always aware of what’s around the corner and constantly working things out before Bond himself.
His actions frequently foreshadow his demise making the “surprise” ending expected and stale. Additionally, Bond’s unlikely good luck seemed to defeat the cool, calm and collected spy we all thought he was. Scarcely making it out alive, Agent 007 is continuously bailed out by others or just wins the lottery in plain dumb luck with little spy work involved. All he actually does is fall off a chair and swim. To make things even gloomier, Fleming indulges in several deviations such as the irrelevant failed assassination and lengthy descriptions of meals.
The extensive accounts of gambling and cards are hardly page turners with one chapter mostly dedicated to Bond explaining how to play the game. Were there enjoyable moments? Yes, but they were remarkably few and far between. Nonetheless, I don’t blame anyone for liking an easy, uncomplicated read. However, I just can’t disregard the, blatant sexism and misogynistic attitudes that saturate every page. Bond exhibits the chauvinism and patronising arrogances of his era, making it almost impossible to not feel morally outraged at his perpetual insults towards the female sex and unashamed ape-like behaviour.
Not only does he objectify his love interest Vesper regularly, but he even goes as far to describe that intercourse with her has “the sweet tang of rape”. Being sexist is one thing but having pseudo rape fantasies, is a whole other level of psychologically disturbed, which is why I found myself enjoying Bond’s torture scene for all the wrong reasons. Maybe this would all be tolerable if Bond reached some sort of moral epiphany. Perhaps maybe he could have finally regretted his vile arrogance and borderline abusiveness towards women.
Or maybe he could have recognized that ‘I was just doing my job’ isn’t an acceptable excuse to break your own moral code. But there is little character development with the archetypal characters being flatly uninteresting with blank personalities and hedonistic mindsets. By definition, classic novels tell the story of the voyage of the protagonist containing life altering moments, yet Bond is constantly described as “ironical, brutal, cold,” showing little emotion.
Although Fleming allows some of Bond’s conscious to surface, he hastily snatches it away soon after we first catch a glimpse of the sensitive, humane side we were all unware existed. But it seems Fleming dislikes the idea of a man having emotions, as back comes the prejudice ‘hunk’ we all know and ‘love’. Writing from The Listener, Simon Raven even went as far to dismiss Bond as an “infantile” creation. Seeing as he has the emotional and mental capacity of a teenage boy, this description seems accurate, bearing in mind his ignorant philosophies such as leaving ‘the men’s work to the men’.
Just like Bond’s opinion of women, Casino Royale is ultimately only for “recreation” and thus making it unworthy of its place amongst the long list of literary titles. Not only, does is it glorify immoral behaviour but it lacks creative vision and fails to leave the reader with any ground-breaking principles to leave with. In 1952, writer Italo Calvino stated that “A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say. ” But I think it’s time Casino Royale finally stops talking and moves aside to allow literary fiction to have its moment in the sun.