Friday, 11 March 2016

Moonraker by Ian Fleming part 2


published 1955



Moonraker 2



The extra-sensory alarm clock did not fail him. Punctually at seven, his mouth dry with too many cigarettes the night before, he forced himself out of bed and into a cold bath. He had shaved, gargled with a sharp mouthwash, and now, in a battered black and white dogtooth suit, dark blue Sea Island cotton shirt and black silk knitted tie, he was walking softly, but not surreptitiously, along the corridor to the head of the stairs, the square leather case in his left hand. He found the garage at the back of the house and the big engine of the Bentley answered with the first pressure on the starter.


 
commentary: The suit sounds snazzy in its way, but not remotely how you think James Bond would dress. The picture is how the stupendous The Suits of James Bond website sees it.

A second entry on this book – first one here.

Moonraker is entirely set in the UK, and the jeopardy is good – much better than Live and Let Die, which I complained about recently – and it drives along over a satisfyingly short timeframe. There is a prospect that the whole of London is going to be destroyed in an atomic explosion, and Bond and Gala have only a short time to try to stop this. When Gala realizes what is going on we get this:
But the scream was only in her mind and Gala, her body a twisted black potato crisp amongst a million others, had already fainted.
--- a twisted black potato crisp??? (= potato chip for US readers)

And there are other puzzles. There is a mention of the waitresses in Blades, the exclusive gambling club: they have
such a high standard of beauty that some of the younger members have been known to smuggle them undetected into débutante balls.
Really? In what world are all debutantes expected to be a lot better looking than all waitresses? In what world do debutantes set the standard of beauty? Since when was beauty enough to gain entrance to any ball?

And a meeting with M is described in full and consists of about 15 minutes conversation, but takes up several hours in the book. I kept re-reading to check this, but it is true. Bond misses lunch.

I enjoyed the gambling scene more than the second half. Gala Brand is a most unmemorable Bond girl, despite a rather good scene where she expresses her doubts about him:
Clearly a conceited young man like so many of them in the Secret Service… He could probably shoot all right and talk foreign languages and do a lot of tricks that might be useful abroad. But what good could he do down here without any beautiful spies to make love to… There was something a bit cruel in the mouth, and the eyes were cold. Were they grey or blue? It had been difficult to say last night. Well, at any rate she had put him in his place and shown him that she wasn’t impressed by dashing young men from the Secret Service, however romantic they might look.
But of course she surrenders in the end (to a certain extent).

And we find out that she wears ‘almost transparent nylon pants and brassiere’. Like Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale, her leather belt is hand-stitched, which doesn’t sound that important, but obviously is.

Bond also describes the financial realities of being a spy, and very interesting it is too:
He earned £ 1,500 a year, the salary of a Principal Officer in the Civil Service, and he had a thousand a year free of tax of his own. When he was on a job he could spend as much as he liked, so for the other months of the year he could live very well on his £ 2,000 a year net.
And if he comes into unexpected money, this is what he plans:
He thought for a moment and then wrote carefully on a memorandum pad headed ‘Top Secret’:
1. Rolls-Bentley Convertible, say £ 5000.
2. Three diamond clips at £ 250 each, £750.

Bless. It’s like my son’s Christmas list when he was 8.

There is a lot of business about moustaches, which was intriguing, though I didn’t really understand it in the end. But Fleming has an Agatha-Christie-like belief that quite small changes make someone unrecognizable. We are not convinced.

And, is it possible that in 1955 it wasn’t the most excruciating cliché to say Bond
‘uttered a string of obscenities’?
Again this is rather Biggles-like – I think there were quite a few ‘imprecations’ thrown out by the B-man and his team, I remember having to find out what the word meant. Action novels – such an education to read them.

ADDED LATER: Bill Selnes - lawyer, Clothes in Books' own Canadian fashion commentator, and a trustworthy arbiter - doesn't like the suit above at all. See comments below. He has suggested this would be better:




... and I'm certainly not going to argue with him.













23 comments:

  1. What a fabulous post, Moira. It made me laugh out loud. As you say, bless . . . The idea that any civil servant could spend whatever he wanted when working tells us far more than the cars and diamond clips that this is a world of sheerest fantasy. (Sadly it wasn't at all like that when I worked -briefly - for the Inland Revenue.)

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    1. But were you a spy Chrissie? Well, the truth is you couldn't tell us if you were, could you?

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  2. I do love your comparison of Bond to Biggles, Moira - I really do. And Christine's right; this is a really, really witty post, for which thanks. Somehow those Bond books don't have to be down-to-earth to be, well, fun.

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    1. I am really impressed by them Margot - enjoying them all much more than I expected them to.

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  3. I am going to have to catch up ... soon.

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    1. Yes you are - look forward to your take. Will you watch the films too, I wonder...?

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    2. Definitely, I would watch the films. In some cases there is hardly any similarity but still, I would enjoy it. We have all the Sean Connery films so those would be easy but only one of Roger Moore films.

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    3. Would so like you to review book and film together - it's always so fascinating when Sergio does it.

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  4. If you were buying your eight year old son a Rolls-Bentley convertible and some diamonds for his eigth birthday, then you were definitely spoiling him! Actually, I think that Fleming having Bond write 'Top Secret' on the top of the paper was deliberately funny. He was very much up for making fun of his hero at times (and did refer to him more than once as 'That cardboard booby').

    The stuff about swearing is interesting. Out and out obscenity seems to still have been pretty rare in books of that vintage, even the adult ones. LIVE AND LET DIE has one or two swear words, but they're pretty mild today. I presume that the string of obscenities were really obscene. It would be a little odd to think of him shouting something like "Wee-wee, Donkey Poo and Bum Holes!!!"

    Gala Brand isn't one of the most memorable of the girls, although Bond falls hard for her (as usual). She's pretty sensible and contributes a lot to 007 completing his mission, but she just isn't exotic enough. She just doesn't have a crazy enough back story for a Bond girl.

    Christine: It's probably true to say that Bond isn't just any civil servant. It would be a bit sad if he had to ring up M every time he needed a little bit extra dosh.
    Bond:"I'm chasing Professor Death, do you mind if I get a first class plane ticket?"
    M: "Long as it doesn't cost more than a tenner.
    Bond: Thanks...
    Also, as far as I know the Inland Revenue doesn't have a Double O section in order to deal with people who are late in paying their taxes (which is to say, I hope that they don't....)

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    1. They would have been some of the more mundane items on my son's list - he also included requests such as an airport security gate, a real snake, and a quad bike. All of them about as likely as a car or diamonds. Mean parents, what can I say?
      I think it might be you who's the spy, rather than Chrissie. You know far too much about the finances...

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    2. I'm now going to spend an inordinate length of time wondering how an airport security gate, a real snake, and a quad bike go together. I actually just read a wonderful piece on line about someone's very young son and his letter to Santa. It runs--

      "For my gifts of this festive season I do desire a lot of colonial coins from Great Britain. I would prefer for my other gifts to be selections of antiquities. I have no other preferences and leave you with a selection of your own present thoughts".

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    3. Oh how charming! My son used to throw in 'world peace' and 'something for poor people' on his list in a rather transparent attempt to charm Santa.

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  5. "...her leather belt is hand-stitched, which doesn’t sound that important, but obviously is." Means it's hand-made and expensive and not mass-produced by one of those nasty machines. The middle classes are still snobbish about that. These days it would be an "artisanal" belt, or "vintage" from the days when people did proper handicrafts. As long as it wasn't hand-crafted by Gerda from The Hollow...

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    1. Thanks for illumination Lucy - and I spat out my coffee laughing at the Gerda reference. Yes indeed....

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  6. Moira: I am shattered. Bond in a garish tattered suit. What was Fleming thinking of? And the mind plays trick. I thought it was "hounds-tooth" not "dogtooth". Then I found out they are interchangeable. If Bond is going to wear such a flashy suit then I think this would be the dogtooth suit:

    http://www.asos.com/Heart-Dagger/Heart-Dagger-Dogtooth-Suit-Jacket-in-Super-Skinny-Fit/Prod/pgeproduct.aspx?iid=5720719&istCompanyId=6f061ed0-7427-4b6c-bb90-987c0bd08468&istItemId=qxlplxrlp&istBid=tztx&affid=14070&channelref=google_shopping&mk=abc&r=2&mk=abc&currencyid=3&gclid=CK6bhtzyvMsCFZSEaQodIPsDBw&gclsrc=aw.ds

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    1. I like your chosen suit so much better I have added it above - I hope that partly makes up for the shock the original post may have given you!

      There is also something called puppy-tooth - which means very small squares in the check. I once helped a friend who was translating a French fashion website into English, and we had great fun finding what different people called different patterns.

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    2. Old post, but I think it's important. The literary Bond is very "flat" in terms of fashion. The man owns 2 suits throughout the whole series. Dresses in short sleeve shirt with tie and suit... Not exactly Daniel Craig level of swagger. But Fleming intended him to be a simple man that sticks to whatever he liked. The hounds-tooth suit is actually a literary counterpart to Fleming's own golfing jacket.

      So overall, the 007 in the books is definitely no where near as fashionable as the films seem to suggest. But he still demands quality, just in a very understated way.

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    3. Thanks, Rana Lel Dey. I like the way James Bond in the books is nothing like as showy as film JB. But sometimes his shabbiness has been a surprise and disappointment to me...

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  7. Terrific post Moira - I thought I knew these well but it has been obviously way too long - along with DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, I think it seems to register the least with me. But perhaps not such a surprise, as it is sandwiched between CASINO ROYALE and LIVE AND LET DIE on the one side and FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and GOLDFINGER on the other other, which are four of my favourites!

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    1. It's amazing what you remember and what you don't I think. And I agree - the less-than-exotic setting does make it less memorable. But I could recall the bridge game very clearly - just not much else.

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    1. I hope so - I'd love to read your taken on J Bond, and you could do the films too...

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