Article by Revelator
After the narrative slack of Diamonds Are Forever, Fleming decided to better himself with From Russia with Love. Because its story was entirely structured around a deathtrap for one man, it was important for that man to be human enough to hold the audience’s empathy. This demanded a more rounded Bond, and Fleming was forced to further personalize his hero, giving an exact physical description of character and filling in his past history.
In Moonraker Fleming gave us details of Bond’s everyday life in London. Now we’re given a fuller portrait, and see Bond bored at work, reminiscing about the innocence of his teenage years in Kitzbühel, worrying that he’s “pimping for England” (and wondering if he’s capable of it), experiencing fear when his airplane’s caught in a storm, and so forth. This Bond even has an outright distaste for cold-blooded killing, in marked contrast to how “Blunt Instrument Bond” earned his stripes in Casino Royale. In his relations with women, this Bond is far from ruthless. Though he has multiple possibilities to exploit Tatiana, he has too faith in her character to use her. He admits that he’s fallen for her and can’t treat her as cynically as Darko Kerim would.
From Russia with Love exhausted Fleming with its realism and tight plotting—by the end he’d literally left Bond for dead. Both of them recuperated with a ripping adventure story—in Doctor No Fleming hurled Bond into an overripe, jet-age homage to the Fu Manchu books he remembered from childhood. Having established a less brutal and more human, relaxed, and approachable Bond to ground the narrative, Fleming could pit him against giant squid, a “dragon,” and a villain cut from the cloth of pulp fiction. Within this literally fantastic book are strong touches of character. Bond’s reverent relationship with his boss is troubled when M, disappointed with OO7’s performance in FRWL, strips him of his old gun and assigns him to look for missing birds in Jamaica.
“For the first time in his life he hated the man…Bond felt sure he was being sent on this cushy assignment to humiliate him. The old bastard.”
Bond feels the opposite for Honeychile Ryder, and plays the role of the first decent man she has met. As with Tiffany, he is a good listener and take in the life story “this extraordinary Girl Tarzan” with fascination, vowing to look after her and fix her broken nose. One of the most frequent adjectives used to describe Bond in the earlier books is “cold”—in DN, Bond’s grief for a slain friend raises a deadly question:
“Surely [Quarrel] hadn’t gone to the same place as Doctor No. Whatever happened to dead people, there was surely one place for the warm and another for the cold. And which, when the time came, would he, Bond go to?”
The answer is given in Goldfinger, when a drugged Bond wakes up thinking he’s in heaven. His first thought is an embarrassed one: how to introduce his current “girlfriend” to Vesper? This mix of trauma, reverie, and outlandishness aptly characterizes the entire book. Fleming, comfortably looking back on his previous books, indulges in self-parody and ventures into more fantastic realms than ever before, thanks to the Fort Knox plot and larger-than-life characters such as Goldfinger, Oddjob, Pussy Galore, and the “Hoods’ Congress.” In the midst of this outrageousness and implausibility, it’s important for Bond to be a grounded character with a sense of the absurd—hence Bond’s increasingly sardonic humor (“Fort Knox…isn’t that rather a tall order for two men and a girl?”).
This is frequently conveyed through free indirect speech, which Fleming uses more than in any of the earlier books. It places us inside Bond’s mind, as it ranges from humorous mental quotations of St. Augustine to guilty nausea at causing Jill Masterton’s death. Bond’s most startling reflections involve his increasing unease with killing, induced through two double bourbons while waiting for a plane in Miami: “What an extraordinary difference there was between a body full of person and a body that was empty!” The Bond of Casino Royale would have dismissed such feelings as vin triste, but this version of OO7 is more self-conscious, especially about heroism:
“Bond sighed wearily. Once more into the breach, dear friends! This time it really was St. George and the dragon. And St. George had better get a move on and do something before the dragon hatched the little dragon’s egg.”
Fleming had inadvertently arrived at an irony: his books had become self-parodic, yet his hero’s character had mellowed and deepened. The stories collected in For Your Eyes Only, due to their experimental nature, further sensitize Bond. In the title story he grapples with his unease at being M’s hitman; during the marine-life massacre of The Hildebrand Rarity he says “I feel like the bomb-aimer at Nagasaki” and desperately tries to save the eponymous fish; in Quantum of Solace Bond finds his job to be little more than “adventure strip in a cheap newspaper” when contrasted with “Comédie Humaine” of everyday human drama.