Thursday, 26 May 2016

Goldfinger by Ian Fleming

  

James Bond book 7


published 1959

 
 
Goldfinger 1


The door at the back of the room opened. A woman in a black masculine-cut suit with a high coffee-coloured lace jabot stood in the doorway. She walked slowly, unselfconsciously down the room and stood behind the empty chair. Goldfinger had got to his feet. She examined him carefully and then ran her eyes round the table. She said a collective, bored ‘Hi’ and sat down. Mr Strap said ‘Hi Pussy,’ and the others, except Mr Springer who merely bowed, made careful sounds of welcome.

Goldfinger said, ‘Good afternoon, Miss Galore. We have just been through the formality of introductions. The agenda is before you, together with the fifteen-thousand-dollar gold bar I asked you to accept to meet the expense and inconvenience of attending this meeting.’

Miss Galore reached for her parcel and opened it. She weighed the gleaming yellow brick in her hand. She gave Goldfinger a direct, suspicious look. ‘All the way through?’

‘All the way through.’

Miss Galore held his eyes. She said ‘Pardon my asking’ with the curt tone of a hard woman shopper at the sales.

Bond liked the look of her. He felt the sexual challenge all beautiful Lesbians have for men. He was amused by the uncompromising attitude that said to Goldfinger and to the room, ‘All men are bastards and cheats. Don’t try any masculine hocus on me. I don’t go for it. I’m in a separate league.’ Bond thought she would be in her early thirties. She had pale, Rupert Brooke good looks with high cheekbones and a beautiful jawline. She had the only violet eyes Bond had ever seen.


commentary: Goldfinger is classic Bond. What I remembered about it before re-reading was 1) gilding a young woman’s body with gold paint  2) the plan to rob Fort Knox  & 3) Pussy Galore, Bond Girl and Lesbian to be switched. So, 1) happens off-stage and is merely described; although bizarre and violent, it scarcely features; 2) & 3) The plan and the woman are both being introduced for the first time in the meeting described above – 75% of the way through the book.

The first sections are taken up with quite other things:

1) Reintroduction of a character from Casino Royale, Junius Du Pont. I had to check back but yes he did exist.

2) Introduction of Goldfinger, in a very memorable description:
He was wearing nothing but a yellow satin bikini slip, dark glasses and a pair of wide tin wings under his chin. The wings, which appeared to fit round his neck, stretched out across his shoulders and beyond them and then curved up slightly to rounded tips.
--It sounds a lot like Ray Winstone in Sexy Beast:

Goldfinger 2

3) A long section on the card game canasta, just like the baccarat in Casino Royale and the bridge game in Moonraker. Someone is cheating.

4) A long section on a golf game. Someone is cheating. This is the point at which I parted company with Fleming – when the book came out the accepted view was that he made the golf game riveting. I disagree. I skimmed it, because yes someone cheated, Bond will cheat back in order to win. Could have got through this in a page or two, but I expect golf fans love it. Had to look up a hundred-pound Nassau – it’s a kind of bet, and not the one Bond places with Goldfinger.

5) There’s a hilarious Bank of England operative sharing his gold expertise with Bond while looking after social welfare and HR:
I’ve just had the women’s hockey team thrown into my lap. As if I hadn’t got enough to do with the annual gymkhana coming on.
6) A secretary called Miss Philby….

7) Bond’s golf clothes:
Bond changed his socks and put on the battered old pair of nailed Saxones. He took off the coat of his yellowing black and white hound’s-tooth suit and pulled on a faded black wind-cheater. Cigarettes? Lighter? He was ready to go.
This contrasts with Goldfinger’s over-perfect golf outfit, but frankly sounds seedy and rather disreputable.

8) In the villains’ summit meeting the Unione Siciliano (presumably the Mafia) is represented by a Mr Solo – Fleming was soon afterwards to invent Napoleon Solo, the Man From UNCLE, for the 60s TV series.

9) Pussy Galore will later appear in the uniform of an airstewardess. Looking like this perhaps?

Goldfinger 3

In my reading of the Bond books so far I have found some attitudes and phrases very much of their time: they look bad to modern eyes, but you can pass them over quickly. Unfortunately in this book we read about Bond’s view of gay people, and it is not a happy experience. The ‘sexual challenge’ above isn’t the half of it.
[She was] one of those girls whose hormones had got mixed up. He knew the type well and thought they and their male counterparts were a direct consequence of giving votes to women and ‘sex equality’. As a result of fifty years of emancipation, feminine qualities were dying out or being transferred to the males. Pansies of both sexes were everywhere, not yet completely homosexual, but confused, not knowing what they were. The result was a herd of unhappy sexual misfits – barren and full of frustrations, the women wanting to dominate and the men to be nannied. He was sorry for them, but he had no time for them.
Pussy, above, is – of course – just ready to be converted by James Bond. It’s a pity – leaving a bad taste from what is otherwise a fun book.

The journalist Jon Ronson recreated Bond’s journey in an Aston Martin following Goldfinger through Europe – and wrote a most amusing article about it in the Guardian.

The woman in a suit is from an Yves Saint Laurent fashion show – of course.
The stewardess outfits are from the San Diego Air & Space Museum archives.





























20 comments:

  1. I like this one a lot overall, but the gay thing is so irksome - this is also the book in which we learn that gay people can't whistle, apparently ...

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    1. I hadn't noticed that bit, what a useful tip. And yes, for me this was a highly enjoyable book tipped just too far by the attitudes.

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  2. I'll echo Sergio (and you) here, Moira. On the one hand, it's a fun adventure and there is wit. On the other, the whole gay thing really takes away from the story. To me, it really gets in the w ay of enjoyment. Still, it does have some fun parts.

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    1. Yes, you have to give Fleming credit for living in his own time, and just try to stave off the uncomfortable feelings.

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  3. I'll read it one day! You've put a smile on my face with Ray Winstone in his budgie smugglers. Love Winstone, love Sexy Beast!

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    1. I know! Winstone, the film - I want to watch it again now...

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  4. Can we frame this blog post as that rare instance where Col actually appears keen on the book?

    On the other hand, I remember the gay stuff in this book, and it's not terribly pleasant at all, even given the attitudes of the time. Unfortunate, and really quite unpleasant, even trying to see it in a 1959 context. It's almost as if Fleming doth protest too much - just too much emphasis.

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    1. I know - in the Moira/Col Venn diagram the overlapped area is really small, but always worth looking for.

      And it was a shame about this book - there were several distressing passages among the general enjoyment.

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  5. Like you I come to this text via the film, not the novel. The handling of the gay thing is a little tasteless, but par for the course at the time (and for Fleming's unreconstructed socio-cultural type). I was inspired by this piece and your blog in general to post this item on my blog just now (hope you don't my mind putting a link here): http://bit.ly/1TCADxn

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    1. Delighted to have you here, and to feature your link.
      I though the attitude was a bit extreme, and although many of his readers wouldn't have turned a hair, he must surely have known better from his own rather bohemian circle - GGary mentions his friendship with Noel Coward below.

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  6. Interesting comment, Daniel. Similar to the current theory that the most virulently anti-gay loudmouths are gay themselves?

    I just wanted to add that those stewardess costumes look as though they could be from PSA (Pacific Southwest Airlines), which in the sixites was one of the first airlines to introduce mini-skirts for their stewardesses (I feel compelled to use that word in place of flight attendant when looking at that picture). Too bad it's not a color photo because the uniforms were hot pink and bright orange. I was a little sad when they were eventually phased out for the generic navy blue-red-white combo you see most days now.

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    1. Thanks Paula - and well-spotted. I just checked back on the source of the photo, and although info is scanty - it just says fashion show - it is tagged Pacific Southwest Airlines. Those outfits must have cheered up many a journey... love the sound of those colours.

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  7. I'm not entirely certain what Fleming's feelings about homosexuality were, but one has to say one of his very closest friends was Noel Coward, whose homosexuality was known to pretty much everyone who knew him. The idea that Fleming didn't know this seems pretty unlikely.

    The quote is pretty unpleasant reading nowadays, but to put it in context, Bond had just discovered that the girl he has been pursuing through most of the book, the one he is certain will ultimately fall for his charms, is interested in Pussy Galore rather than him. He is trying to soothe his macho pride by indulging in what feels like an adolescent temper tantrum. "How bloody well dare she?!!!"

    Equally, Pussy's rather strange switch to heterosexuality at the end of the book may be a response to Bond's magnetic sexual prowess (although it didn't work on Tilly...) or else it could be Pussy gritting her teeth and realising that the more of an emotional stake Bond hss in protecting her, the more likely she is to stay out of prison. The whole sexual aspect of the book feels like a joke at Bond's expense by Fleming, who was quite up to making fun of his creation.

    The book is classic Bond, and may be the one book that you might give to someone who had to have the character explained to him in one book. If one needed to show the difference between the film and book Bond, one only needs to look at the opening chapter. Film Bond can kill with a merry quip--Book Bond is feeling depressed and seedy after killing someone who in what is very obviously self-defence.

    I find it interesting that Du Pont reappears from CASINO ROYALE, as you couldn't point a more striking picture of the way that the series has changed over time. The first novel is about bankrupting a communist paymaster, this one is about preventing a billionare madman and his giant, mute Korean butler (with lethal hat) from robbing Fort Knox. Fleming now knew that his books were a success, and knew that the bigger-than-life aspect worked, so this is the full flowering of that aspect.

    I think that Sergio may be mixing this up with THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN. M is reading the file of the titular character which tells him that Scaramanga can't whistle. The writer of the file points out that there is an old wives tale that homosexuals can't whistle. Fleming tells us that M, like every other heterosexual man who read the file, suddenly stopped reading, whistled, looked relieved, and carried on reading. Again, it's framed as a bit of a joke at the expense of M.

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    1. Thanks Gary, very thorough analysis as ever, and a sturdy and convincing defence. There is certainly more nuance in the books than in the films it seems - I am about to embark on watching some of them at least.

      And thanks also for clearing that up about the whistling...

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  8. The problem with Bond's attitudes is one reason it is more fun to watch the movies. It is just amazing what a big industry James Bond and the movies and the continuation books has become and lasted so long. Having read some of the books now (I thought they were rereads but I don't remember a thing about them), I am more inclined to try some of the continuation books which must have eliminated some of that problem. But I will finish the original series first. I am having fun comparing the books and the movies.

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    1. I hope you will write more about this Tracy. I haven't seen the films, though may watch one or two as I go through the books - I will be watching out for Bond's attitudes to women and so on...

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  9. Moira, the more I read about Fleming's novels and passages, the more I think they have been hyped up. I have probably read just one or two of his books and my impression is that he was rather verbose. I will have to read his books to see if that is the case.

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    1. Fleming has a very distinctive style, Prashant, one that I think was very unusual at the time: it made him stand out from other thriller writers. It is hard to describe - I would love you to read one of the books and give an opinion.

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    2. Will do, Moira. Looking forward to reading a Fleming soon.

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    3. So I'll look forward to the review!

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