Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Book vs. Film: "The Spy Who Loved Me"

(part of my series comparing the James Bond novels to their film counterparts)

Now we come to one of the most interesting Bond novels, because it's not written from James Bond's POV. In fact he's barely even in the book.

Fleming includes a forward, which I'll quote here verbatim:

I found what follows lying on my desk one morning. As you will see, it appears to be the first person story of a young woman, evidently beautiful and not unskilled in the arts of love. According to her story, she appears to have been involved, both perilously and romantically, with the same James Bond whose secret service exploits I myself have written from time to time. With the manuscript was a note signed 'Vivienne Michel' assuring me that what she had written was 'purest truth and from the depths of her heart'. I was interested in this view of James Bond, through the wrong end of the telescope so to speak, and after obtaining clearance for certain minor infringements of the Official Secrets Act I have much pleasure in sponsoring its publication.

So what we have here is a first-person novel supposedly written by one Vivienne Michel, who is also the main character and supposedly had an adventure/romance that involved real-life James Bond.  Yet we know this is really Ian Fleming writing.  Perhaps he just wanted to do something different.  Perhaps he wanted to explore a Bond story from another character's POV.  I can respect that.

At the very least it's quite a jarring way to start a book, especially the 8th in a series.  Critics did not react well from what I understand, and Fleming supposedly only allowed a film to bear the name when promised the book's plot would not be used.  Which means this post is sort of dead before it starts, I suppose.

Still, there's some interesting things to discuss.

First off, I listened to the audiobook.  All the others are narrated by the insanely talented Simon Vance.  This one appropriately gets a female narrator by the name of Nadia May, and she's wonderful. There's a more recent version with a new narrator (one of the actresses from the movies), but I purchased the earlier version and that's okay, I found it to be excellent.

As I mentioned, the novel spends a great deal of time with the protagonist 'Viv'.  She details her professional life and her love life, leading to a messy breakup with her German boss and a trip to Switzerland to get an abortion.  She leaves for Canada after that, intent on doing a Vespa-powered road trip across the American continent.  This is all well and good, and honestly a fine story in its own right.  It's also very much a departure for Fleming, however it has very little to do with the rest of the book.

Viv rather quickly she finds herself in a nasty situation, holed up in an upstate New York lodge at the end of vacation season with a couple of gangsters who are there to burn the place down as part of an insurance fraud scheme.  She's a captive of these men, until there's a knock at the door and James Bond arrives. Again, this is roughly 2/3's of the way through the book.  You can probably guess what happens from here on out, so I'll refrain from further spoilers.

To Fleming's credit, the novel really does read like someone else wrote it. If that is what he'd hoped to accomplish, he succeeded.  But on the whole the book actually suffers from Bond's appearance.  I would have been much happier if Viv had worked herself out of this ugly situation.  She certainly seemed capable, and has the attitude for it, at least in glimpses.  The arrival of Bond felt too much like the knight-in-shining-armor moment, and of course adds an element of sexism that the story didn't need.  If Bond had never appeared, Viv had solved her own problem, and Fleming had published this under a pen name, it would have been a quite good (if short) crime novel.  With the weird addition of James Bond, the book suffers.  And as a Bond novel, it's definitely unsatisfying.

As for the film? It has nothing to do with the book. It's a 1977 pile of cheese and you should avoid it.  Bleh. The kicker is that, as I mentioned, Fleming specifically said they could only use the title. So in a way I think he deserves some of the blame for the film.

This book was an experiment for Fleming. I find it very interesting that it was released in 1962, the same year that the first film, Dr. No, came out. I can't help but wonder if there was some regret on Fleming's part that he'd tried to do something fresh and different with the books at the same time the Dr. No was setting the world on fire.

Looking back on this series of posts I realize I've been pretty hard on the films.  I'm okay with that.  The books are better in almost every case, so far.  Four more left!

As for the ratings on this one:
Book: C
Film: not rated because it has nothing to do with the book (on its own... F)

Next Up: Yet another oddball - On Her Majesty's Secret Service


Was said...

There is one bit that survived into the film. Chapter 8/ Dynamite From Nightmare-land:

'Mr Thomson', obviously the leader, was tall and thin, almost skeletal, and his skin had this grey, drowned look as if he always lived indoors. The black eyes were slow-moving, incurious and the lips thin and purplish like an unstitched wound, When he spoke there was a glint of grey silvery metal from his front teeth…

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you - Jaws.

Brandy Lehmann said...
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