I must admit that despite being a big, big fan of Fleming’s Bond series, I was a little disappointed by The Man with the Golden Gun. The opening was very promising: a brainwashed James Bond walks into Secret Service headquarters and attempts to assasinate M (whose name we finally learn, the biggest shock in the whole Bond series). Fleming is always at his best when Bond is on the ropes, a condition more frequent in the novels than the films. Once he meets up with Scaramanga in a Jamaican whorehouse and gets back into himself, the novel falls apart a bit. Mostly it’s due to how poorly Fleming handles American dialogue. Though Scaramanga is Catalan (Catalonian?) originally, he spent significant time in the United States and speaks in an American accent, and with Fleming’s notion of mid-60’s American slang. And Fleming really, really sucks at American vernacular. Scaramanga is a such a talker, and his personality looms so large over the story that the book is nearly ruined by him. He’s among the most filmic of the villains in the Bond novels, challenging the outrageous Doctor No for the title. The plot was also working a lot better when it was simply Bond vs. Scaramanga, but once Fleming brought this large SPECTRE-esque group of gangsters into things, much of the charm went out of it.
There are, of course, the usual issues that Fleming has with women and minorities. His writing about the Jamaican locals, with the exception of Rastafarians, is much more reasonable than the apalling racism of Live and Let Die. Mary Goodnight gets the odd slap on the ass, and Tiffy, the girl who works the front desk at the whorehouse, is a little shallow, but otherwise the women in the book are dealt better hands than they have been in some of his earlier books, certainly better than in most of the films. It is in The Man with the Golden Gun where Fleming supposedly makes his infamous pronouncement that homosexuals can’t whistle, though readers who are interested in what’s actually on the page instead of looking for new ways to crucify Fleming for being a man of his time will note that not only did Fleming not actually write that homosexuals can’t whistle, he mocked the idea. Anyway, one more left before I’ve worked through them all.
Next up is The Gift, by Vladimir Nabokov.