Book Review: The France of Fleming: James Bond, a French Passion

Review by David Salter

LA FRANCE DE FLEMING
James Bond, une passion francais by Pierre-Olivier Lombarteix (Le Temps Editeur – 2017)

LA FRANCE DE FLEMING James Bond, une passion francais by Pierre-Olivier LombarteixIn his new book Pierre-Olivier Lombarteix explores the relationship between Ian Fleming, his creation James Bond and France – in Fleming’s original books and in the films that followed. He goes further and looks at the Bond books written by others, films and television series that may have been inspired by James Bond and also, in his opening pages discusses the relationship of some of Bond’s predecessors with France –  notably John Buchan, Agatha Christie (on the face of it a curious choice), William Le Queux and Sax Rohmer.

There can be no doubt that Lombarteix’s study is a thorough work displaying great familiarity, dedication, research and determination. Although I cannot claim the same degree of knowledge of all aspects of Bondiana, it is impressive to see that, almost certainly, every connection between Fleming, Bond (and others) and France, from whole books (Casino Royale) to small details (the use by one of the female characters of Vent Verre, a French scent wrongly attributed by Fleming, to Christian Dior, rather than Balmain) has been found and catalogued.

The author kicks off by discussing the various parts of the world in which Bond’s adventures occur and draws the conclusion that the predominant country is France. This is not unreasonable, although I believe that a similar case can be made for the United States of America. He looks at Bond’s literary parentage. In Buchan’s The hirty Nine Steps Richard Hannay is up against ‘The Black Stone’. In Agatha Christie’s Les Quatre (The Big Four) the adversary is an evil international syndicate. These are cited as predecessors for Smersh and SPECTRE. The book then continues to catalogue every conceivable mention and allusion to France and things French.

French locations, journeys through France, restaurants, dishes with French names in France and elsewhere, French characters from Rene Mathis to Solitaire (Simone Latrelle) and Mr. Big (Buonaparte Ignace Gallia) and also Fleming and his wife Anne’s relationship with France and their friendship with Somerset Maugham who lived in the South of France. Makes of cars in the books and particularly the films, are covered and much, much more. All this is presented in a confident and well-written style presenting Fleming and Bond across a broad Franco-front.

Yes, Fleming (and Anne) liked France and visited it. Yes people used French products and ate dishes at restaurants in France and elsewhere that had French names, chosen from Menus that were written in French and in the books phrases such as ‘fait vos jeux’ in a Casino, or ‘au revoir’ are frequent. To understand this it is important to put Bond in context; the bulk of the books were written in the 1950s and the rest in the early ‘60s. Immediately after the war, few ordinary British people had been abroad, unless posted overseas in the Forces. Holidays were mainly taken in the British Isles and travel to a foreign country, even one as close as France was seen as pretty exotic. So choosing France as a destination for Bond was something beyond most readers experience and therefore exciting and mysterious. Fleming travelled to France to gamble at the Casinos of Le Touquet and Deauville – and the international language of the Casino is French.

Le Touquet, France

Le Touquet, France

The fact that Bond eats dishes with French names, chosen from Menus written in French is unsurprising as certainly then, and in traditional restaurants still, French is the language of gastronomy. Similarly it is no surprise that women use French scent as most of the great Perfume Houses were and still are, French.

Nevertheless all this is written entertainingly and one is constantly impressed by the detail that is covered and by being reminded of long-forgotten facts. Where I think that M. Lombarteix goes beyond his (self-set) brief is in his coverage of the follow-on books, written after Fleming’s death (and therefore beyond his control) and the films (largely ditto). William Boyd’s and Jeffrey Deaver’s coverage, or not, of France and things French are not greatly relevant in a book called Fleming’s France and neither are exhaustive lists of French technicians who have worked on Bond films.

To be fair it is interesting to note that the author covers not only good, exciting and glamorous aspects of La Belle France but he balances this with Fleming’s (and other writers) view of France as a haven for Russian spies, gangsters, loose women and much else of a negative nature including Bond’s relationship with Marc-Ange Draco, head of the Union Corse (Corsican Mafia) and marriage to his daughter.

This book, written in French, is aimed primarily at a French readership and French Bond enthusiasts, keen to establish a close relationship with their hero, will be delighted by it. I certainly found it an entertainingly written and page-turning read. It is a good addition to the enthusiasts’ shelves.

Incidental Intelligence

Buy the book on Amazon France.

Bons baisers de France: James Bond’s Travels in France

The Spy Who Remained in the Cold or OSS117 vs. 007

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4 thoughts on “Book Review: The France of Fleming: James Bond, a French Passion

  1. David,
    Very interesting!
    A big question from me.
    Does M. Lombartiex cover the very considerable influence that Jean Bruce and his agent OSS117 must have had on Mr Fleming and his agent 007 ?
    I’m becoming increasingly fixated by this subject. It seems to be the very obvious direct relationship that Bond aficionados like to studiously ignore.
    Regards,
    David Craggs

      • I wonder if any academic studies have been done in France regarding this phenomenon?
        It is almost as with this has become the elephant in the room for Bond fans.

        We always love to talk sans arret about Fleming taking influence from authors as diverse as Buchan and Sax Rohmer but when it comes to the obvious and glaring similarities between OSS117 and 007, the man who created the first post second world war suave, sophisticated, immaculately dressed agent – Jean Bruce – is studiously ignored.

        Personally, I find it completely bizarre that a Frenchman writing a book about ‘La France de Fleming’ should ignore the biggest connection of all between Fleming and his homeland.

        Regards,

        David

  2. I’m very glad to see this review of francophone Bond scholarship, which is mostly unknown territory (especially for those of us who’ve forgotten everything from French class!). Monsieur Lombarteix’s exhaustive tone would have certainly remained unknown territory to me without David’s excellent article. Should he wish to review more French Fleming studies, there’s an interesting-looking book from 2008 called “On ne lit que deux fois Ian Fleming,” by Jacques Layani. It seems to be a combined biography and literary study of Mr. F.

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