Review by Jeffrey Susla
It appears that with each generation, a new biography of Ian Fleming is published. In 1966, two years after Fleming’s death, John Pearson, a colleague of Fleming’s at The Sunday Times, wrote The Life of Ian Fleming. Pearson, to whom all Fleming fans are deeply indebted, interviewed over 150 individuals associated with Fleming, along with examining the writer’s personal papers. It is an engaging, almost intimate biography of a complex man. Yet Pearson’s work continues to illuminate Fleming’s character—with all his considerable faults—in the recently published Ian Fleming: The Notes (Queen Anne Press, 2020). Pearson gave his research papers to the Lilly Library at the University of Indiana (home to Fleming’s typescripts), and QAP did a yeoman’s service in transcribing the largely handwritten, often scribbled notes into readable, legitimate prose. Ian Fleming: The Notes is as fascinating as Pearson’s biography of Fleming.
In 1995, Andrew Lycett’s Ian Fleming: The Man Behind James Bond was released. Lycett, a skilled biographer whose past subjects included Dylan Thomas, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Rudyard Kipling, thought Pearson too close to Fleming, and was therefore, not qualified to provide an objective perspective on Fleming’s often enigmatic, aloof, even repulsive personality. To Lycett, Pearson “helped establish the myth of Ian as 007 template” when nothing could be farther from the truth. Being a product of Charterhouse and Oxford, and like Fleming, having a foreign correspondent background, Lycett had the educational, social, and professional pedigree to delve and write further about Fleming’s character and history. Lycett also interviewed individuals whom Pearson neglected. My only caveat about his colorful, richly readable, scholarly biography is the absence of endnotes.
Oliver Buckton does not make that mistake in The World Is Not Enough, the latest entry into the Fleming biography sweepstakes. Buckton, a professor of English at Florida Atlantic University, is an author of a book on British espionage in fiction and film and edited The Many Facets of Diamonds Are Forever: James Bond on Page and Screen. Buckton refers to Pearson’s Notes more than Pearson’s biography, and cites Lycett less frequently. Buckton lists 110 different sources in his bibliography (compared to Lycett’s 97), not including Fleming’s own published works. This deserves mention for Buckton goes the extra mile here, often connecting Fleming’s personal history with events that mirror it in the Bond stories. And Buckton spends considerable time on the Bond film image, which bears repeating ad nauseum, is not the same character making his first appearance in 1953’s Casino Royale. Many of the sources Buckton consulted are film related, and therefore, outside the scope of a proper literary biography.
If armchair psychology is of passing interest, then Buckton’s work will well suit any such reader. Buckton takes an Adlerian view to Fleming’s character, which begins its development while Fleming was a disciple of Ernan Forbes Dennis and Phyllis Bottome‘s school in Kitzbühel, where he studied languages while preparing for the Foreign Office exam. Adler’s science of individual psychology is erringly apt in analyzing Fleming’s early adulthood, revealing traits that would remain with him through his self-inflicted, abbreviated life. Fleming, lost both a father and a brother to war, and lived under the shadows of both a war hero father (whose Times obituary was written by Winston Churchill) and an older brother, Peter, who was ahead of Ian at Eton and easily elected to Pop, (whereas Ian was blackballed at his first attempt). After Oxford, Peter became recognized as a serious travel writer, while younger brother Ian was doubtless still brooding in his inferiority complex. Fleming’s mother, Eve, cast even a darker shadow.
Buckton covers Fleming’s history capably, from privileged upbringing to Eton, Sandhurst, the City, Room 39, Kemsley, Goldeneye, and beyond, in addition to exploring the people and situations largely responsible for Fleming’s early failures and his later success as James Bond’s creator. The World is Not Enough is laudably scholarly. The pages on State of Excitement, Fleming’s unpublished 1962 book on Kuwait are particularly good.
I have two quarrels with the book. The first is that it is at times overwritten. There are numerous paragraphs offering detailed descriptions of events in the Bond novels. Bond fans are all too aware of Fleming’s plots and James Bond’s predicaments. The literary analysis goes beyond Fleming’s personal story, and while these digressions are informative, and Buckton’s insight valuable, they belong elsewhere. Secondly, Buckton goes astray is in the “speculative dialogue” that he creates in describing certain dramatic scenes in Fleming’s life. This fiction, for it can only be called that, detracts from Fleming’s own life, and is a mis-judged attempt to humanize him. To be fair, in the Author’s Note, Buckton alerts the reader to this technique but given today’s dystopian environment where “alternative facts” take on the appearance of truth, these few passages ring false. Consequently, The World is Not Enough is sometimes too much, but certainly a biography for our time and richly merits a place on the shelf next to Pearson and Lycett.
Buy The World is Not Enough on Amazon UK.
Jeffrey Susla is a retired educator.