Sunday, 31 October 2010

License To Wash The Dishes [Review: Moonraker]

Ian Fleming's novel Moonraker is a well-written thriller and a great read, and another reminder of just why 007's adventures first caught the public imagination, but in many ways it's not what I expected.

The first seven or eight chapters show a side of James Bond that never appears in the films - in the months resting between Bond's dangerous missions overseas, which only happen two or three times per year, it turns out Bond shows up at the London office and does his paperwork! He goes on training days! He goes home to his little flat! He goes out for an evening of card games with the boss and his pal, society philanthropist Hugo Drax! Admittedly this last encounter is plot-relevant: it's the source of some clues to Drax's real nature, and a clever literary device - the bridge game serves as an allegory for the plot as a whole.

Bond also flirts with all the secretaries in the building, not just Moneypenny who turns out to be a bit boring, and of course he has his own secretary - Loelia Ponsonby - who definitely needs to appear on film in future as she is quite a character herself. She works for Bond and the two other 00 agents (008 and 0011, naturally) and her apparent cold and aloof nature conceals her desperate love for all three - she won't let herself get involved with any of them as she is terrified they will die on the next mission.

Despite all this flirting Bond doesn't actually get past second base with any of the secretaries although it is tangentially mentioned that he has a few friends with benefits in London. His relationship with Gala Brand, an undercover police agent, develops through the novel and is full of Mulder-and-Scully tension, leading to a surprising (but expertly foreshadowed) conclusion.

Fleming takes pity on 007 and he doesn't actually do his washing up - instead from chapter eight the action gradually hots up and becomes more like the movies as Bond and Gala get a little too close to the truth about the mysterious deaths at Hugo Drax's rocket installation, and (most sinister of all) the reason why all his employees have such elaborate moustaches.

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