The late Christopher Hitchens was one of Britain’s most revered, influential, antagonistic, polarizing, brilliant, erudite, eloquent, intelligent and entertaining writers. If you have not read any of his books and articles or watched him speak interviews and discussions, then it’s time you started. Much like his comrade the late, great Kingsley Amis, Hitchens was a Bond fan of the literary variety of course.
Ian Fleming had always struggled in some circles to be taken seriously as a writer and various writers have come to his defense throughout the years including Kingsley Amis, Raymond Chandler and Christopher Hitchens to name but a few.
Enjoy these quotes from Hitch, of which many were taken from Hitchen’s article ‘Bottoms Up’ for The Atlantic in April, 2006:
On Ian Fleming:
By some latent intuition, Fleming was able to peer beyond the Cold War limitations of mere spy fiction and to anticipate the emerging milieu of the Colombian cartels, Osama Bin Laden and indeed the Russian Mafia.
If Fleming had not been quite a heavy sadist and narcissist and all-around repressed pervert, we might never have got to know Rosa Klebb or Auric Goldfinger or Ernst Stavro Blofeld. And, having said that Bond was originally a figure designed to hold up the British end of the “special relationship,” I ought to add that the cleverness of the series lay partly in how it saw past the confines of the Cold War.
On the James Bond Novels:
It was Fleming who first conjured it and who reached beyond the KGB into our world of the Colombian cartel, the Russian mafia, and other “non-state actors” like al-Qaeda. “SPECTRE,” I noticed recently, is an anagram of “Respect,” the name of a small British party led by a power-drunk micro-megalomaniac called George Galloway, a man with a friendly connection to Saddam Hussein.”
“Fleming once confessed that he hoped to “take the story along so fast that nobody would notice the idiosyncrasies.” Fat chance. His “idiosyncrasies” jut out like Tatiana Romanova’s ass. What he ought to have said was that he hoped to pile on the pace and thereby hustle the reader past the point where belief has to be suspended.
The smaller details, of products and appurtenances and accessories, fulfill the function of the conjuror’s other hand. They distract attention from the glaring lacunae in the plots, the amazing stupidity of the supposedly mastermind villains, and the reckless disregard for his own safety that this supposedly ice-cold agent displays by falling for every lure.
On Bond’s Drinking:
What is James Bond really doing when he specifies the kind of Martini he wants and how he wants it? He is telling the bartender that he knows what he is talking about and is not to be messed around
On ‘From Russia With Love’:
James Bond does not make an appearance until Part Two of what is perhaps his most polished adventure, From Russia With Love. And when he has been briefed by ‘M’ and outfitted by ‘Q’, and told what is expected of him, he suffers a mid-life crisis. What, he asks as the plane takes him towards the Golden Horn, would his younger self think of the man now so ‘tarnished with years of treachery and ruthlessness and fear,’ sent off ‘to pimp for England’?” Eventually dismissing this as an idle of feeble mood, he reflects further:
On Bond and Britain:
When Fleming started to publish his stories, Britain was only just emerging from a long period of postwar austerity and uniformity, and it was beginning to be possible to emphasize luxury and style again without having a bad conscience. This development was somewhat identified with the return of the British Conservatives to power, and helped enable Fleming to be more frankly Churchillian and pro-imperial than would have been possible a few years previously.
On James Bond and America:
Today, however, I can be virtually certain that most Americans below a certain age know of Fleming solely, or chiefly, through the movies. It is under this guise only that the product has been bonded for universal export.
The second element, namely a distinctive blend of fine leather, good tailoring, and club-land confidence, was of huge importance in appealing to American Anglophilia—perhaps most especially the sort of Anglophilia that had led the United States to clone the Office of Strategic Services, and later the CIA, from the British MI5 and MI6.
The central paradox of the classic Bond stories is that, although superficially devoted to the Anglo-American war against communism, they are full of contempt and resentment for America and Americans. And not just political contempt, or the penis envy of a declining power for a burgeoning one, but cultural contempt as well. And not just with cultural contempt in general, but more specifically disgust about America’s plebeian interest in sex and consumerism, the two Bond staples. “Baseball, amusement arcades, hot dogs, hideously large bosoms, neon lighting” is how Tiger Tanaka mouths the anti-American trope in You Only Live Twice.
On Sebastian Faulks’ ‘Devil May Care’:
This pot-boiler takes several times as long as most Bond classics. There is almost no sex until the very last pages. There is almost no torture – an absolute staple of a Bond narrative – until the very last pages. Those who have a canonical attitude to Fleming will be able to collect their share of in-jokes and cross-references; wispy fragments of Vesper Lynd and Honey Ryder drift in and out of shot and memory in much the same way”. Shaky, not stirring… Fleming himself used to claim that he marched the plot along fast enough to silence all the doubts about its credibility – a guileless yet brilliant tactic. But Faulks’ takes fatally too long to smuggle his own effort past the customs.
Except for absurd coincidences that really do stretch one’s credulity, such as Bond running into the monkey-pawed villain just before being briefed about him, everything is laboriously spelled out. Only inattention, after all, not haste, could make a writer of this stature describe a telephone call as having been put through ‘without demur’.
Listen to a short clip of Christopher Hitchens discussing Kingsley Amis’ ‘Book of Bond’
Read ‘Bottoms Up’ from The Atlantic Magazine
Read more of his articles from The Atlantic
Read his articles from Vanity Fair