Goldfinger, 1959

With the previous book, the literary Bond began taking shape into the agent we generally think of from the Sean Connery films, yet remained very much distinctive as well. Despite the differences between the two versions, literary 007 takes huge (but subtle) steps to become ever closer his on-screen counterpart. More than that, Ian Fleming has found a new level of enthusiasm for his creation and has hit his stride as a writer. The adventure is one of a grand scale caper, the ladies are more than competent and can hold their own, one of those ladies is one of the most popular Bond girls of all time, the villain is one of the most familiar in the lexicon, the henchman is the most infamous in the lineup, Bond’s got his Walther PPK, and he’s (finally!) driving an Aston Martin (the DB3, not the iconic DB5 yet to be introduced in the film). All this, and 007 hits the ground running, having already killed a man as the book opens. In short, this is classic Bond. Just like the film, this book sets a standard for me.

While the story is extremely similar to the film version, there are differences that are fun to explore. Some are better, some aren’t, but it’s always important to remind myself that Fleming was first. In this case, there are only 4 years between print and screen, so the differences aren’t nearly so great as they are in the first few novels. It’s amazing to realize how much culture and pop culture changed just in the decade of the 1950s, and how much it would change in the 60s, partly as a result of the Bond franchise.

Fleming’s love of cars, food, drink, cards, etc. are all once again on display here, but this time around it all seems to be part of the cohesive whole rather than just side points that Fleming diverted towards.  I think I can safely say everything I know about the game of golf I learned from this book.

This was the first of Fleming’s Bond novels that I read back in the day, a direct result of being hooked on the films.  When I first bought it, I didn’t realize that there was a particular order to them, and it was the only one the book store had at the time, so I bought it without a second thought.  Honestly, for some of them it doesn’t so much matter.  Goldfinger is one of those that could be read at random without much of an issue.  These days, I tend to read the entire set in order.  I find Goldfinger to still be a comfortable, nostalgic read for the most part, and certainly a favorite of mine in the series on account.  Obviously, there are attitudes and language choices that don’t really pass the test of time, as always.  For the most part I give Fleming a pass on this just on account of these works being of their time and place.  What really stood out for me, however was his attitude towards Koreans.  Mostly I can defend Fleming on his “casual racism,” pointing out that much of what he says was both normal and acceptable for his era, but such is not always the case.  Here, he seems to have something of a personal grudge.  I’m wondering how much of it has to do with the Korean War.  Or if perhaps I’m just reading into it.  You know how perceptions can be sometimes.

I mentioned the ladies.  I think I can skip the obvious in regards to Fleming’s treatment and descriptions of women.  It’s part of the world, and everyone knows it.  Goldfinger does introduce a new element to the Bond lore with Pussy Galore, the tougher-than-nails woman who is seemingly immune to Bond’s charms, at least until the end of the book.  The idea, of course, is that only Bond could seduce her.  Her response to him kills me every time: “I’ve never met a man before.”  Looking back at this, I think my original reading of this book may be where I learned about Lesbians.  Today it’s not a big deal, part of the ever-shifting acceptance of our culture.  It was a different situation in the mid-80s when I read it, and it must have been a huge shock to readers when the book first saw print.  Whatever else can be said of her, she is one capable woman, and if not for her it’s likely the end of the book would be very different.  It places her in the upper echelons of Bond girls, even before Honor Blackman portrays her on screen.

Once more, this has been a buddy read with my friend BrokenTune.  Behind the scenes one of her favorite things is to call Fleming out on his BS.  She’s good at it.  I love to play devil’s advocate and try to defend him because I know she’ll come back with a mountain of evidence.  And as we all know, some things are simply indefensible.  In this case, it was a question of Oddjob being one of the only three black belts in karate.  I’m sure she’ll have plenty to say about this, so I won’t steal her thunder.  Suffice to say, for my part I’d always been under the impression that Bruce Lee opened up the Eastern cultures to Western pop culture, so I’ve taken this in the past as Fleming not really having any research or prior knowledge to fall back upon in this case.  I’ve never really considered it in any depth before now.  Based on what BT dug up, we almost have to assume that perhaps he either didn’t do any research at all, which is pretty common for pulp novels anyway, or… is it possible that he knew that if he made something up off the cuff, somebody would come forward to correct him with all of the research in-hand?  It worked with the introduction of Boothroyd, so why not?  I know, that’s not a likely scenario, but it’s fun to think about.  What’s most probable is Fleming simply had fun telling the story, and that’s ultimately what comes across for me.  It’s precisely why I like I pulps in the first place, and it’s why I keep coming back to Bond.

5 stars

Goldfinger