James Bond anniversary concert on BBC4, I thought it was about time that I revisited Bond; and so settled down with The man with the golden gun - one of my least favourite Bond films.
I enjoyed the book a lot more than I did the film, Ian Fleming is always grippingly readable, and I read the book almost entirely in one sitting. One thing that I did find rather surprising is that it's nowhere near as "comic-book-like" as you might expect. The novel opens unexpectedly darkly when Bond returns to London having been presumed dead after his adventures in Japan in You only live twice. In the interim he's been turned by the KGB and returned to London to assassinate M (a storyline somewhat reminiscent of Len Deighton's Ipcress File - I suspect that Fleming may have been a fan). M, with a bit of help from Q branch, survives, but sends Bond off on his most dangerous mission yet - to assassinate one of S. America's top hitmen, the notorious Scaramanga, the eponymous man with the golden gun.
It's a fun read which moves at one hell of a cracking pace. The background in Jamaica, Fleming's beloved island home, is lovingly portrayed, as is the casual laid-back lifestyle of the region. The book is firmly set in the classic British spy-adventure genre reminiscent of Buchan or Anthony Hope, with a swashbuckling, likeable hero.
Even Bond's attitudes towards women were not quite what I was expecting. I remember the English teacher I had for A-level asking if the Prince Hal of Henry IV, Pt. I was any different intrinsically from James Bond, and I guess the answer would be "yes". For both Prince Hal and Don Giovanni, it would always be about notches on bedposts; for Bond there is a genuine pleasure in the company of women, and not just for the obvious reason. There's a delightful sequence with the unfortunately named Tiffy (all her sisters were named after flowers, so she was christened "Artificial"). In fact Tiffy is completely the genuine article, a sweet creation, who reveals Bond's gentler side. A relationship with Bond or the Don would almost certainly end the same way, but I suspect that the experience of the relationship would be viewed very differently at least on this particular woman's part.
However for all it's a gripping read, and has much to recommend it; it's really not that good, and the problem lies entirely with the portrayal of Scaramanga - the master villain. He is allegedly such a clever assassin that he can't be caught, and the best British agent available has to be sent to dispose of him. And yet he is so clever that he inadvertantly employs MI6's finest, plus two of the CIA's best agents....you see the problem? It ain't convincing. In fact it's so unconvincing it is seriously bad. Which is a shame, as it had the potential to be quite a read.