Saturday, July 08, 2006
The Spy Who Loved Me is a very satisfying departure for the James Bond novels. Bond doesn't appear until the novel is well underway, almost two-thirds of the way through the book. He has a very big supporting role, but the heroine is a young Canadian woman named Vivienne Michel, and The Spy Who Loved Me is told in the first person, a sort of memoir of some bad trouble she got into while working at a motel hidden among the pine trees in upstate New York.
It's very suspenseful, quickly read, a real page-turner, and it shows Fleming was capable of mixing it up a bit and providing some variety for James Bond fans. The heroine explains her background, a couple of love affairs gone bad, and her decision to put the past behind her. She decides to drive a scooter from Canada to Florida, with no rigid agenda, getting odd jobs along the way. She ends up all alone at Dreamy Pines Motor Court, somewhere between Troy and Albany, when the gangsters show up and start terrorizing her. Her attempts to escape are thwarted, and she is very confused by their motives. (Which turn out to be perfectly believable.) And then Jams Bond shows up, completely by coincidence. Ever since the conclusion of Thunderball, he has been tracking SPECTRE and Blofeld, and he had been following up a lead in Toronto. After that little adventure, he headed south and got a flat near the motel, and he shows up just in time to help Vivienne.
The movie with the title The Spy Who Loved Me has nothing to do with the book, and it was the very first Bond film written completely from scratch. Legend has it that Fleming really didn't like this book very much, and he claimed that he didn't write it; it had been on his desk one morning, written by Vivienne Michel. I liked it! And I'm not sure Ian Fleming really had such a low opinion of it. I suspect that he was just going along with the book's premise and playing a little literary prank when he claimed he didn't write it.
The Spy Who Loved Me is almost totally free of Flrming's quaint social notions, but this made me raise my eyebrows a bit:
All women love semi-rape. They love to be taken. It was his sweet brutality against my bruised body that had made his act of love so piercingly wonderful. That and the coinciding of nerves completely relaxed after the removal of tension and danger, the warmth of gratitude, and a woman's natural feeling for her hero. I had no regrets and no shame. There might be many consequences for me - not the least that I might be dissatisfied with other men. But whatever my troubles were, he would never hear of them. I would stay away from him and leave him to go his own road where there would be other women, who would probably give him as much physical pleasure as he had had with me. I wouldn't care, or at least I told myself that I wouldn't care, because none of them would ever own him - own any larger piece of than I now did. And for all my life I would be grateful to him, for everything. And I would remember him forever as my image of a man.
For more on The Spy Who Loved Me, check out the wikipedia entry.