by Ian Fleming
I went to see Skyfall and it got me in a James Bond kind of mood- I watched a few of the old movies and decided to hit the books again, which I’d been meaning to do for a while. I hadn’t read any of them in almost ten years, and they were just sitting on my bookshelf, staring at me, calling to me. I debated jumping into the middle of the series, to the books that I remembered as being my favorites, but that’s soft. Gotta start at the very beginning, like Maria taught us. To recap: skipping shit is soft, musicals are not soft.
I admit, I was somewhat worried that I wouldn’t enjoy these books as much again as I did when I was thirteen. Perhaps I would find them trashy or superficial, or the sex wouldn’t seem as exciting as it did then. I don’t know. I must say, though, that Casino Royale held up pretty well. It was a different experience, for sure, but definitely still very entertaining.
Now, as opposed to when I first read it, everyone knows what happens in Casino Royale. I think that it was so new and visceral when I read it because it had not yet been made into a movie; it was and is in many ways the most unique of the Fleming novels. That impact is gone now, not just for me, but for any casual Bond fan who saw Casino Royale in 2006, which has already become one of the most iconic Bond films. Of course, surprise isn’t the only element at play in Casino Royale, and I found it very enjoyable, if not entirely new.
So yea, you already know who James Bond is and that he’s on a mission to destroy the bad guy Le Chiffre at the Casino Royale, aided by fellow Briton Vesper Lynd, American Felix Leiter, and Frenchman Rene Mathis. The difference here is that Le Chiffre works for the Soviet Union, and the game is Baccarat. It is, after all, 1952. Bond, as the best card player in the Service, has been charged with bankrupting Le Chiffre, thus crippling the French Communist Party. Action ensues almost immediately.
The odd thing about this novel, and what I think makes Casino Royale unique, is that there are essentially two separate climaxes; one violent, one emotional. Le Chiffre’s story is wrapped up about two thirds of the way through, leaving Bond essentially to his own devices. I don’t want to ruin anything for those of you who may not have seen the movie, but believe me, the last third not only fits in with the story, but is just as interesting and exciting as the rest. As for those of you who know what happens, I’ll just say that I was on the edge of my seat despite the lack of surprise.
Fleming doesn’t waste time, and writes plainly when he has to, in a way that complement’s Bond’s stoic attitude. This makes the story’s pace incredibly quick, and I finished Casino in only a couple of days, though part of that is attributable to how short it actually is. It’s so short, in fact, that I was tempted to think of it more as a novella than a real novel, not that the distinction really matters. It’s probably best to think of Casino Royale as a quick punch to the gut anyway, a rough (and fitting) prologue to the rest of the series.
For those of you who want to read the James Bond series, I would highly recommend starting here, even if you think you already know what happens. Don’t watch The Dark Knight without seeing Batman Begins, and don’t start reading Bond by skipping Casino Royale.