The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

CLASSIC DISPLACED WRITING: Ian Fleming

As The Displaced Nation has been serializing Sebastian Doggart’s article (part 1 and part 2) about visiting Ian Feming’s Goldeneye estate in Jamaica, it seemed like a good time to take a brief look at Fleming’s writing with a Classic Displaced Writing Post.

Sebastian’s posts have been concerned with Fleming and his love of Jamaica, and while Jamaica and the Caribbean is used numerous times as a backdrop in the Bond novels, through the course of the novels Bond visits dozens of  different countries that Fleming has to conjure up for the reader.

What is clear on reading Fleming is just how important food and drink is to Fleming in order to allow him to describes new and exotic (at least for the vast majority of readers in austerity Britain of that time) locations. I don’t think it’s unfair of me to say that Fleming fetishes food and drink. At times, reading a Bond novel is like reading food porn. While the Bond films now do an expert and cynical job of name dropping as many brands as they can in 2 hours, the Bond novels don’t shy away with the name dropping of food or of alcoholic brand names. The Bond of the novels isn’t solely a Martini drinker. He’s aways one to try anything local that’s on offer. In Jamaica he’ll drink a glass of Red Stripe, in the US he’ll have a Millers Highlife beer. Throughout the novels Fleming uses food and drink to convey an alien culture, demonstrate social status, show Bond’s mood and his sophistication and ease with the world.

For ten minutes Bond stood and gazed out across the sparkling water barrier between Europe and Asia, then he turned back into the room, now bright with sunshine, and telephoned for his breakfast. His English was not understood, but his French at last got through. He turned on a cold bath and shaved patiently with cold water and hoped that the exotic breakfast he had ordered would not be a fiasco.

He was not disappointed. The yoghourt, in a blue china bowl, was a deep yellow and with the consistency of thick cream. The green figs, ready peeled, were bursting with ripeness, and the Turkish coffee was jet black and with the burned taste that showed it had been freshly ground. Bond ate the delicious meal on a table drawn up beside the open-window.

From Russia with Love (1957)

Video of some more examples –

STAY TUNED for Monday’s post, when guest blogger Sezin Koehler riffs off Alice in Wonderland to capture the curious, unreal aspects of her life in Prague.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to subscribe for email delivery of The Displaced Nation. That way, you won’t miss a single issue. SPECIAL OFFER: New subscribers receive a FREE copy of “A Royally Displaced Tea.”

Related posts:

About these ads

7 responses to “CLASSIC DISPLACED WRITING: Ian Fleming

  1. ML Awanohara June 25, 2011 at 12:56 am

    You know, every time I mention Sebastian Doggart’s series for TDN on Ian Fleming to someone in my circle, the person invariably says: “I had no idea Fleming lived in Jamaica.”

    Perhaps it’s different in England, where there’s pride in his having been a native son, but in America at least, precious little is known of Ian Fleming the writer.

    Part of the reason is the phenomenal popularity of the Bond film franchise — it’s the highest grossing film series ever, surpassing even Harry Potter and Star Wars. With the passage of time, it’s become harder and harder to remember that the films were originally based on a book series, that they aren’t sui generis.

    Another part of the reason is the disconnect between the cinematic Bond and the literary Bond. Whereas Fleming gave us a civil servant, the film industry has created an action hero. (See this 2008 Newsweek essay.)

    But after working with Simon on his series and now reading this post (including video), I’ve grown curiouser and curiouser about the original Bond — and about Ian Fleming himself.
    1) Did Fleming make James Bond into something of a foodie because he was a foodie himself?
    2) We know that Fleming spent a good bit of time in Jamaica, but to what extent did he travel the world? Do his depictions of Bond in other cultures reflect his own experiences or was he simply widely read?

    I guess I’m really wondering: to what extent did Fleming see Bond as his alter ego? And if we were to restore Fleming’s Bond to the big screen, would Fleming himself come into sharper focus?

    • awindram June 25, 2011 at 2:46 am

      “Perhaps it’s different in England, where there’s pride in his having been a native son, but in America at least, precious little is known of Ian Fleming the writer.”

      I don’t think there is, to be honest. I don’t think Fleming is read that often, and those that do read him were almost certainly first introduced to the character via EON’s film series.

      “Another part of the reason is the disconnect between the cinematic Bond and the literary Bond. Whereas Fleming gave us a civil servant, the film industry has created an action hero. (See this 2008 Newsweek essay.)”

      Really don’t agree with that Newsweek essay. The Fleming novels increasingly get over the top, like the films. That article references Le Carre as if Fleming’s Bond is a civil servant in the mould of Le Carre’s Smiley. I don’t agree with that at all. The Bond of the novels is harder-edged, at times less assured and more depressed, less charming and not the pretty boy he is in the movies, but he is still assuredly an action hero rather than a civil servant. I think the early Connery films are pretty close to the novels they are adapted from. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is also very true to the novel, and there is something of Fleming’s Bond in both Dalton and Craig (and to a lesser extent Moore in For Your Eyes Only). I think Craig is about as close as you’re likely to get to Fleming’s early Bond unless you decided to remake the novels as period pieces.

      “We know that Fleming spent a good bit of time in Jamaica, but to what extent did he travel the world? Do his depictions of Bond in other cultures reflect his own experiences or was he simply widely read?”

      He was from money and he married into more money. He had some education on the continent and he spent a short period of time in Moscow working for Reuters. He was extremely well-travelled for the time, but I’m not convinced he was a good enough writer to convey location well in the books.
      One of the reasons, I’d add that I think it’s harder and harder to remember that the films were based on books is that the films are better examples of their medium than the books are of theirs. More specifically, the Bond-mania films of the 60s are better examples of their medium.

      I guess I’m really wondering: to what extent did Fleming see Bond as his alter ego?

      I think there was a lot of wish fulfilment there on Fleming’s part.

      And if we were to restore Fleming’s Bond to the big screen, would Fleming himself come into sharper focus?

      Fleming the man or Fleming the writer? I think the latter would come into more focus. You could argue that there’s been a surge of interest in the novels since the release of Casino Royale, which if it not a truly faithful adaptation of the novel (though that would be unrealistic in a reboot that intends to place the character firmly into the C21st and not the 1950s) keeps faithfully to its main narrative beats and characters.

  2. ML Awanohara June 25, 2011 at 9:31 am

    Thanks — those clarifications and corrections are helping to bring Fleming into sharper focus(!). I have a follow-up Q on this sentence:

    He was extremely well-travelled for the time, but I’m not convinced he was a good enough writer to convey location well in the books.

    You’ve already said in response to one of Sebastian’s posts that Fleming was a lazy expat, who didn’t really get to know the Jamaican culture. Was he also a lazy travel writer? And are the food fetishes in his books evidence of that?

  3. awindram June 25, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    It’s more that he’s a limited writer than a lazy one.

    To give credit to Fleming, with the Bond novels he is writing compact thrillers. At times they read like Boys Own Stories; verisimilitude isn’t all that important, even if the novels have a more “hard-boiled” quality than the films. The novels have to sacrifice in-depth characterisation and detailed description as Fleming’s focus is with progressing the plot. Location is often just an exotic backdrop, he’s not trying to be Conrad, where the location almost becomes metaphorical within the novel. In this context the food fetishes are a good shorthand, they describe something of the exoticness of the location and Bond’s urbaneness. They are an effective trope, though they can become monotonous if you read a number of the novels in quick succession.

  4. awindram June 25, 2011 at 9:32 pm

    This is an interesting article on Fleming by Christopher Hitchens http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2006/04/bottoms-up/4719/

  5. ML Awanohara June 26, 2011 at 6:13 pm

    @awindram
    Thanks for that link to Hitchens’ Atlantic article on Ian Fleming, very enlightening. I have a couple of follow-up Qs re: his assertions:
    1)

    Today, however, I can be virtually certain that most Americans below a certain age know of Fleming solely, or chiefly, through the movies.

    is that also true of Brits, or is there more of a fascination with Fleming there? Eg, you and Sebastian seem to share one… And if Brits continue to be interested in Fleming, why is that? What draws them (you) to his life and works?
    2)

    Fleming was angling for Hollywood, however much he may have despised it.

    Do you agree that Fleming would be largely forgotten if the movie industry hadn’t taken over the books? (Hitchens goes so far as to suggest that it was thanks to the movies that Flemings’s works were transformed from pulp fiction into literature.) And if so, I’m not entirely clear why you are celebrating him as an example of displaced writing — or is he merely an example?

    • awindram June 27, 2011 at 8:41 pm

      1) I’ve not seen anything to suggest that the British read Fleming anymore than Americans.

      2) “Do you agree that Fleming would be largely forgotten if the movie industry hadn’t taken over the books?” Too big a hypothetical. The film series only came about because there was already a phenomenonally successful book series. JFK’s favourite novel was From Russia With Love.

      I’d disagree with Hitchens’s suppositon. The Bond novels are some of the first British thrillers to adopt the amoral tone of Chandler rather than the breathless idolism of John Buchan’s work. Where Richard Hanny is pursued, Bond hunts down and kills. They only start getting serious consideration as literature in the 80s, but the same is true also of Chandler and Hammett.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,946 other followers

%d bloggers like this: