Archive for the ‘Thriller’ Category

Ian Fleming – Goldfinger

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

With Goldfinger (1959), the seventh installment of the James Bond series by Ian Fleming, I have come halfway. As usual I assume everyone knows about how it works with the plot and the typical Bond-characteristics so that I mainly focus on what is different from the movie adaptation (without spoiling anything) and commenting on good or bad points.

Goldfinger was a strange reading experience for me. In the beginning the story seemed to unfold more slowly than the movie and at a certain point I had the idea it was going to drift into a different direction considering the ending, but Fleming still had some twists up his sleeve that made it all worthwhile. All things considered it is hard to say if the movie or the novel is better. Their different approach and development of the story are such that they balance out against each other. What seemed weak in the movie is stronger in the novel and the other way around. In the end both are very satisfactory, making Goldfinger certainly one of the better novels, similarly as it is considered one of the best movies.

More than ever James Bond is like we know him from the movies, more reckless, determined and a woman’s man than the earlier novels. As the novels follow a chronological order it can be seen as a natural development as Bond has gotten more experienced and has been through more hardships so that he feels a greater urge to live life to the fullest.

There is one other thing I want to mention. The James Bond novels were written in the fifties and early sixties. Although they represent the lifestyle and society of those times Fleming adds unusual progressive elements in the novels and provides commentaries on some of the societies that Bond visits. One example is homosexuality. He presents it in a neutral way and although he makes certain comments one cannot discern them as negative as the addition of this element to the story is not made for that reason. In that case he would have presented them in a different way than as a colorful addition to society.

There are more small things like these that enrich these seemingly adventurous and short thrillers. There is more to find and when one recognizes that one will understand why the novels got critical acclaim in those times besides being fantastic thrillers. Even today, when some elements might seem outdated, they are a great read.

Ian Fleming – Dr No

Sunday, September 18th, 2011

The first movie adaptation of the James Bond novels was based on the sixth novel. The story of Dr No (1958) by Ian Fleming resembles the plot of the movie closely, but like From Russia With Love some changes have been made in the movie on the beginning and the end while the middle part has been greatly expanded. In a way the novel is thus a simpler story, but with more background and details, elements the movie pretty much avoids as it slows the action and development, something which is of course not as bothersome in a book. So at least in these parts there are new things to discover, but overall the difference in the story of the book and the movie is not that great.

So how does the novel stand among the other novels? From Russia With Love was a strong and good spy novel and although the story is much different Fleming manages to give it a genuine spy-ish atmosphere with a trademark villain we have come to expect in the movies. There is certainly an improved level of quality and consistency in his writing. What was good in From Russia With Love he sticks to and he doesn’t fall back to the flaws of Diamonds Are Forever. This is a solid and well-paced thriller which solidifies the character of James Bond.

As the novel stays so close to the movie it is hard to say more about the novel. Some removed scenes from the novel would not have been a waste in the movie, but of course that is a choice the screenplay writers make. As they expanded the middle part with new plot lines this allowed less time and space for other scenes. Personally I think they made a good choice as most movies usually lack a greater complexity (unlike the book it has been adapted from), but in this case they managed to make some improvements. The novel itself can certainly be appreciated and there are plenty of minor differences which make it a worthwhile and entertaining read.

Ian Fleming – From Russia With Love

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

One thing that surprised me in the James Bond novels that I’ve read until now is that Ian Fleming has put them in chronological order. Events in earlier books are referenced to and sometimes have impact on the later story. While I was somewhat disappointed with Diamonds Are Forever, the next book, From Russia With Love (1957), takes us completely back into the spy game. Like Casino Royale the movie adaptation sticks close to the actual story. There are some differences. The early part of the story is greatly extended, partially as the movie changed certain motives which didn’t allow this long startup anymore. On the other side the final part has different and more scenes than the movie, also partially caused by the change of motives which didn’t require the last part to be follow strictly. Last of all is the middle section. While following the book it has expanded certain scenes and added more. Even as plenty is happening in the book, the movie managed to add a lot more, which is surprising as most movies need to cut scenes in an adaptation.

The cutting and adding changed the story, but only in the general sense. Overall it stayed true to the story and one will enjoy the novel just as one would have enjoyed the movie. It’s the details that make the book more than interesting to read as well, because there are many minor differences and background information that allow for plenty of new to read.

In my review of Diamonds Are Forever I complained about the extensive detailed descriptions that Fleming used in his style. In From Russia With Love he has toned this down again so that it is more functional and fitting as in Moonraker. The more complex plot and greater pace certainly played their part as well. The James Bond novels are on average about 200 pages long, so this probably plays a role in how much words Fleming spends on more extensive descriptions.

The James Bond depicted in this novel is much less vulnerable and naive than in the previous novel and much more like we know him. Still he is not as confident and dominating as we know him from the movies. This is not a bad thing, just an observation. In a movie it is not always possible to portray the character exactly as in the book, as it requires the scenes to back it up. The inner thoughts are usually lost.

From Russia With Love is certainly one of the greater James Bond novels and the most spy-ish one of the series until now. Here the opponent is strong and smart and really playing against Bond instead of Bond having the advantage. These certainly make the more powerful plots. This one’s highly recommended.

Ian Fleming – Diamonds Are Forever

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

After a pause of a few months I have returned to the world of Ian Fleming‘s James Bond with the fourth novel Diamonds Are Forever (1956). In my reviews a recurring elements has been the comparison with the movie adaptation. The movie only takes some characters and the main location from the book. Of course diamonds play a role, but this is less prominent than the movie. From these few statements one can already conclude the novel will provide plenty of new story to discover. Even as this is the case, it is not as much story as one could have hoped for and perhaps would have expected when having read the previous novels.

The overall pace of Diamonds Are Forever can be considered somewhat slow except for a few events. Fleming takes his time to tell his story and goes into a lot of detail. I don’t mind detail as it can provide a way to picture scenes and settings more strongly for the reader. This style of Fleming worked quite well in the previous novels, but in Diamonds Are Forever it is too much as he uses it on every possible occasion which simply slows the pace and fills just pages without much really happening. One could argue that plenty happens but for me it was not really significant and lacking some nice confrontations to spicy the scenes.

The James Bond that is depicted is much more vulnerable and personal and lacks the sharpness and power I got to appreciate before. I thought it somewhat resembled the way Timothy Dalton portrayed Bond in the two movies he made in the series. In a way it is nice to discover more personal details and about the character of James Bond; things that have been left out of the movies, but it does damage his image somewhat.

Even as the first two Bond novels were far from perfect they still had an engaging plot and tense confrontations. Diamonds Are Forever lacks both. It feels as a more regular mission even if it is presented as especially dangerous. Thus I consider it the weakest of the four novels I’ve read now. This is a bit of a disappointment as the third book, Moonraker, showed everything one expects from a James Bond story and I assumed Fleming would stick to this ‘winning’ style. Perhaps it explains why few elements from the novel in the movie adaptation.

Ian Fleming – Moonraker

Sunday, July 31st, 2011

The third James Bond novel written by Ian Fleming is Moonraker (1955). In my reviews of the first two novels, Casino Royale and Live And Let Die, I put the notion that Fleming was still finding his path as author, both in style, plot and the formula that would define a James Bond adventure. Thus I was interested to know when he would find the right course for his spy thrillers.

The answer came with Moonraker. Basically the novel contains everything we know of the James Bond movies. Exhilarating car chases, twisted villains with diabolical plans and thrills at every corner. There is not a dull moment to be found and the story keeps a steady but fast pace that keeps you hooked.

Notwithstanding all the James Bond trademarks in this book, the story itself is as un-Bond-like as can be. I guess this is a strange remark to make when I wrote that it is a typical James Bond story. It is somewhat hard to explain without spoiling the story. Lets just say that it contains certain surprises you will never have seen in any Bond-movie and probably will not as people will not consider it fitting for a James Bond movie. These differences did however excite me and made me enjoy the book more because it is showing a side I haven’t seen before. However, these differences do not disturb the formula. It at least makes the read much more worthwhile.

Little of the characters and plot was used for the movie of the same name, which was mainly used to follow in the Star Wars hype of that time. Some basic concepts remain, but overall the story is partially limited by the time it is set in.

The character of Bond himself has now lost most of his sharp edges and behaves more like the one we are familiar with (although I would compare him more with Sean Connery than other actors, but as Connery is my all-time favorite this opinion is a bit subjective).

The plot itself still retains more sharp edges in its actions and events but it is also less than before. This is not a bad thing as it brings the Bond novel closer to as we know it from the movies. Of course it is not as exotic and more realistic in its events and behavior, this is of course not that strange as several of the movies also have aimed for a more realistic approach to step down from movies that had become too fantastic. That keeps the audience fresh. The books itself of course did not require something like that, although I am interested in the following novels. At least I can say that the James Bond novels live up to their name. Expect a more realistic bond and the reader will easily feel at home.

Especially because of its surprise compared to the typical Bond-formula Moonraker certainly is a must-read for any James Bond fan. It is well written, with a smoother style than the first two novels, and keeps you wanting for more.

Ian Fleming – Live And Let Die

Saturday, July 30th, 2011

In my review of Casino Royale I mentioned that the novel only felt like half a story. Now with its sequel (it can be seen as such), Live And Let Die (1954), Ian Fleming provides us with a full length novel, although 200 pages may seem short, but things were different in those days, especially where it concerned the more entertaining than literary novels.

The beginning of the novel is the only part which resembles the plot of the movie adaptation. Some names and plot elements are similar, but after that beginning the story diverges, resembling plot elements of other movies (I won’t spoil which or what), which makes me wonder what will be in those adapted books. Either way this was certainly not a problem as it at least provided me with new story to discover.

What struck me immediately, compared with the movie, is that the namesake characters in the book are depicted much stronger. The villain and the bond girl are weaker and less impressive. Events are also nastier en bloodier. I know the Bond movies are made to be somewhat family friendly but it is still a contrast that sticks when reading the books.

While the characterization is stronger, including Bond himself, the plot itself varies in strength. The beginning and ending are a bit slowish while the middle part of the novel is very much engaging and action-packed. Fleming also wastes a bit too many words on what seems as info-dumping, even providing more information that necessary for the story.

It seemed to me Fleming was still busy trying to figure out to find the right balance for a full novel-length story. In some parts he got it right, in others he didn’t. Still it showed a lot of dynamic and promise.

In the other review I wrote about Fleming’s distinctive style. In this novel I felt it had smoothed somewhat or maybe I have gotten used to it, but I don’t think so. It is not unusual for a beginning author to change his writing style. The same counts for the plots. Live And Let Die certainly seems to me to be an early Ian Fleming who is shaping James Bond into the famous character he has become. Next up Moonraker.

Ian Fleming – Casino Royale

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

Intending to read the James Bond novels in chronological order I have started with Casino Royale (1953) by Ian Fleming. The James Bond novels are in general not long, but compared to those Casino Royale is just over half a novel. This is notable in the story which ends rather abruptly and although plenty happens the reader will get the idea there should have been more.

What compensates this lack is Ian Fleming’s writing style. Most authors I’ve read, especially those aiming to write thrillers or action stories, don’t have a specific style. They just write in a fluent and smooth way which is unremarkable but not bothersome either. This is not the case for Ian Fleming. In the first few sentences his unique style of writing immediately stands out. It is hard for me to describe. I could say it is a style that reflects the time he wrote it in. One way to describe it would be ‘confidant’. The authors knows what he is writing about.

Two other things clearly stand out. First is a fast pace. Fleming does not waste words where it does not matter for the story. In contrast he goes into detail where it matters and also to add a greater distinction to the description of features of characters and the way they are dressed. This creates a specific dynamic.

The James Bond depicted is a raw and uncompromising character who changes somewhat during the course of the story. When comparing it to the movie adaptation this element is well incorporated. This Bond does not resemble the Bond we know from the movies. The story of Casino Royale is adapted fairly true to the story, but as mentioned before it is only half a story so it fill barely half of the movie. Although certain scenes have been extended greatly, also a lot of more story is build around it, but the core remains the same. This core is strong and intense and it surely has been great that they’ve finally managed to bring it to the big screen in its original atmosphere.

Although Casino Royale is a very fine read it is still lacking in story. Nevertheless it shows great promise and I will surely continue with the next installment Live And Let Die to see how the original James Bond further develops and compare him to the iconic character that he has become.

The works of Ian Fleming (part 2)

Friday, July 8th, 2011

The advantage of going on vacation while you are awaiting a set of books you’ve ordered online (and they are somewhat late) is that when you get back they will all have arrived. Luckily none were thick books so they all fitted my letter-box so I didn’t need to get to the post-office or my neighbors to get them. What I received was the remainder of the works of Ian Fleming, that is, his James Bond novels; a total of eleven novels and one short story collection. The story collection is actually a recent one as they haven’t been that complete in earlier collections. The eleven novels were Casino Royale (1953), Live And Let Die (1954), Moonraker (1955), From Russia With Love (1957), Dr. No (1958), Goldfinger (1959), Thunderball (1961), The Spy Who Loved Me (1962), On Her Majesty‚Äôs Secret Service (1963), You Only Live Twice (1964) and The Man With The Golden Gun (1965). The short story collection was titled Quantum Of Solace (2008), obviously because the movie with the same titled was released just before. I still have some ongoing novels to finish but I expect to pick these up after that, although I can never predict what I will bump into before that time.