Ian Fleming – The Man With The Golden Gun

The last novel of the James Bond series by Ian Fleming is The Man With The Golden Gun (1965), published after his death. As only a first draft was written it is considered incomplete as Fleming normally wrote a second draft to polish the story and add details. That it was still published without any changes means that even a first draft was still a good read. So I will look at this review a bit differently, regarding certain weakness and flaws to the fact that it was incomplete.

Compared to the previous novel You Only Live Twice Fleming takes Bond completely back to the spy game. This even happens from the start, with an opener we are normally used to in the movies, while Fleming usually takes a slower approach in the novels. Fleming takes little time to slow down. Instead of giving Bond time to investigate he is thrown into the fray early on, which makes a more exciting read.

Bond himself feels more detached. As Fleming tells a continuing story in which the events of the previous novel can be an influence of the next, this can be explainable. However, he usually gives the reader more insight into Bond’s thoughts and reasoning. This is mostly absent. As this has been quite common in the series it can be attributed to the lack of polishing and adding of details. This is more a rump story, the plot more bare and more to the core. As I’ve noticed reading the novels Fleming does not like to repeat himself. Every next novel has a different approach than the previous. You Only Live Twice mostly lacked tension and had a great focus on the character of Bond and his environment. In The Man With The Golden Gun the tension is everywhere, there is little focus on the character of Bond. Now he is just a spy and the focus is on the story.

The story barely resembles that of the movie adaptation. A few of the main characters remain, but Scaramanga, the bad guy, is portrayed more normal (or rather, realistic) in the book. Locations, settings and events are all different. Because of this it feels like a new and original story, which feeling I didn’t have for several novels in a row. Even with a more detached Bond I greatly enjoyed the story. Only the ending I consider to be somewhat weaker. It wavered at times and there were some confusing moments.

So as being a first draft version, it having a more detached Bond and a somewhat wavering ending it obviously falls short of the average Bond novel in overall reading experience. Even so, it is a fun read, topping the so-called weaker novels. Of all the novels my ranking is as follows:

  1. From Russia With Love
  2. Moonraker
  3. Goldfinger
  4. Dr No
  5. Thunderball
  6. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
  7. You Only Live Twice
  8. The Man With The Golden Gun
  9. Casino Royale
  10. Live And Let Die
  11. The Spy Who Loved Me
  12. Diamonds Are Forever

The first three I consider to be the best. Then there is a middle group (nos. 4 to 7) of average Bond novels, not much weaker than the top three. They just lack that bit of extra that makes them really great. Last is the group of weaker novels (nos. 8-12). To those belong two incomplete stories (The Man With The Golden Gun and Casino Royale – which has the feel of a novella and should’ve been part of a bigger story) and the experimental The Spy Who Loved Me. Only two full novels I consider under par: Live And Let Die and Diamonds Are Forever. The other novels of the group just have at least as much to enjoy, while the two suffer from long rather dull parts with insufficient tension.

While the books certainly have their qualities I do have to say that the Bond-movies have taken the stories and the character to a new level. The movies lack the personal details and scale up events and adversaries to grand adventures. In most cases the novels are more realistic (relatively) and down-to-earth. Although the books may seem outdated, they also are a portrait of the times they were written in. Fleming’s unique style of writing is also something which provides a change from the usual prose.

With the novels completed, the ride is not yet over. There is still one Bond-book to go: a collection of all the short stories. One last joy to savor.

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