Wednesday, August 26, 2009

James Bond Daily: The Spy Who Loved Me

This is the real oddity among the Bond novels: it's much shorter than the others, and is the only one of the books told in the first person. Even more oddly, it's not in Bond's voice, and he only shows up about two-thirds of the way through this slim novel.

The Spy Who Loved Me is the story of Vivienne Michel, a young Canadian woman (educated in England and only recently returned from there to North America, on a long slow tour south through the USA) who starts off far too bubbly, in that Fleming female voice that I hope seemed more authentic at the time, but luckily settles down a bit as the book goes on. The action of the novel takes place entirely at Dreamy Pines Motor Court, a minor motel in the Adirondacks where Viv is working for a couple of days -- to close up the place, at the tail end of the season in mid-October -- before heading back on the road on her scooter.

But first she has to flash us back through her past -- the oh-so-proper English girls picked on poor-Viv-the-colonial at her upper-crust London school, her first serious boyfriend was only interested until he got what he wanted (which is what all young men want in stories from the '50s and early '60s), and her next serious boyfriend/boss sent her to Switzerland to pay for her abortion with her severance pay when she whimpered to him that he'd gotten her pregnant -- to establish that she's just as damaged as any of the Bond Girls, and to get her to Dreamy Pines.

The main action of Spy Who Loved Me takes place over one evening and night, as two nasty thugs arrive, from the owner, to close up Dreamy Pines for good. They, of course, make threats to Viv and attempt to manhandle her, but she's spunky, which helps her only a little. And then, when all seems bleakest, James Bond shows up unexpectedly, since his car got a flat tire while driving through the area. Bond battles the thugs (and the fire they set to destroy the motel), and beds Viv before he leaves, very early the next morning and before she wakes up.

The idea of telling a Bond story from a secondary POV is a good one, but it would have been more interesting, and more substantial, if the girl (and she is a girl, for all that she's in her mid-twenties and has been self-supporting for many years) had been less of a ninny and had had more to do with the actual plot. It also would have been far better if Viv had been caught up in one of Bond's actual missions, and not just a bit of crime he stumbled into.

Come to think of it, Spy Who Loves Me seems to be the intersection of two stylistic tricks: telling a series story from the POV of a secondary character, and showing how the hero affects the lives of a person he meets only briefly.

It's the slightest and least of the Bond novels to this point, but one does have to give Fleming marks for trying something new; he clearly wasn't content to push out a variation on the same thing year after year. But Spy Who Loved Me will always be a very minor Fleming novel, and his attempts at an authentic female voice will not endear him to 21st century audiences. (Though I'm sure there were young women very much like this back in the early '60s -- probably many more than there are now, and I wouldn't bet on the type having been extinguished.)
Listening to: Harvey Danger - Little Round Mirrors
via FoxyTunes

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