James and the Giant Octopus: Live and Let Die



James Bond Book 2


Live and Let Die by Ian Fleming


published 1954



Live and Let Die Duke Aquarium

 


By the time they left the restaurant it was ten-thirty and the Avenue was almost deserted. At the Savoy Ballroom they had a Scotch-and-soda, and watched the dancers. ‘Most modern dances were invented here,’ said Leiter. ‘That’s how good it is. The Lindy Hop, Truckin’, the Susie Q, the Shag. All started on that floor. Every big American band you’ve ever heard of is proud that it once played here – Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Noble Sissle, Fletcher Henderson. It’s the Mecca of jazz and jive.’ They had a table near the rail round the huge floor. Bond was spellbound. He found many of the girls very beautiful. The music hammered its way into his pulse until he almost forgot what he was there for.

 
Live and Let Die Lindy hop gottlieb


‘Gets you, doesn’t it?’ said Leiter at last. ‘I could stay here all night. Better move along. We’ll miss out Small’s Paradise. Much the same as this, but not quite in the same class. Think I’ll take you to “Yeah Man”, back on Seventh. After that we must get moving to one of Mr Big’s own joints. Trouble is, they don’t open till midnight.


Live and Let Die duke ellington


commentary: This was the second James Bond book, and it is a surprisingly ridiculous but highly entertaining farrago. I said about Casino Royale that it was all somewhat Biggles, (James Bond, James Bigglesworth) and this is even more so. Am I the only person who cannot take seriously a fight with a giant octopus? This is insufficient jeopardy. What next – a battle with an oversized seahorse? AND, as I well remember, in Biggles in the South Seas there is a fight with a giant Live and let Die 2octopus – my childhood copy had an excellent illo in the manner of Laocoon-and-sea-monster – this one here is the best I can find now. There is also the fact that Bond is looking for pirate treasure. Aarh, Jim lad… Seriously?
 
 
The plot is in fact about many things, but this will give you a clue:
 
 
But Bond had gone out on the veranda and was gazing up at his stars. Never before in his life had there been so much to play for. The secret of the treasure, the defeat of a great criminal, the smashing of a Communist spy ring, and the destruction of a tentacle of SMERSH, the cruel machine that was his own private target. And now [Bond girl] Solitaire, the ultimate personal prize. The stars winked down their cryptic morse and he had no key to their cipher.
A tentacle! Foreshadowing of the deadly battle to come. The world-around-us metaphors had broken out earlier too:
In front of his eyes, the rain came down in swift, slanting strokes – italic script across the unopened black cover that hid the secret hours that lay ahead.
Bond gets a clue not from the sky at one point – he hears of a business called Ourobouros:
‘Good name for a worm and bait factory.’ Suddenly a thought struck him. He hit the glass tabletop with the flat of his hand. ‘Felix! Of course. Ourobouros – “The Robber” – don’t you see? Mr Big’s man down here. It must be the same.’
I love the idea that you call your criminal front business after yourself (after your criminal nickname) and only a great brain like Bond’s will notice.

But I don’t love that as much as I love the killer octopus (I can’t type for laughing). Look:
It was while he was measuring the dangers ahead that the octopus got him. Round both ankles. He had been sitting with his feet on the sand and suddenly they were manacled to the base of the round toadstool of coral on which he was resting.
…round both ankles…coral toadstool… It is straight out of a film, but it’s not a Bond movie, it’s a Disney/Pixar film, with dancing and singing sealife.

But, for all that, I enjoyed it hugely, and will certainly go on to the next one.

Anyway, never mind my mean-minded opinions. The descriptions of Harlem nightlife, despite the horrible attempts at reporting conversations, are actually very interesting in their way, and give me an opportunity to use these fabulous photos. They are from the truly wonderful William P Gottlieb jazz collection: Duke Ellington is in a club called the Aquarium, which I believe was on W52nd St rather than in Harlem. The dancers are doing the Lindy Hop, but in a Washington DC club. I would use photos from this collection every week on the blog if I could.

The book is so full of content there will be another post next week, but I’ll try to say no more about the giant octopus. Giant octopus – honestly, what was he thinking?

It must be Biggles Week on the blog – he popped up in Monday’s post about libraries. 

















Comments

  1. Ha! A killer octopus! Oh, Moira, that it is too much! Yes, I think that both 'ridiculous' and 'entertaining' can apply here. Well, the films are the same way, really. I do like the description of the Savoy and its history, I admit, but yes, this is just to be read for fun, in my opinion.

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    1. Do you know, I think these books are a rare combination of great adventure and ridiculous details - quite an achievement by Fleming...

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  2. It was the first Bond book that I read, years and years ago. I think one of the reasons that the books remain so entertaining is the manic exuberance that he bought to the writing of them. He probably set out with the intention of writing something fairly low-key and downbeat, but he just couldn't stop himself from taking just one step further. These aren't stories about spies, these are ADVENTURES. When he goes diving he isn't just going to see a few pretty fish, he is going to battle a sea-monster. A part of Fleming always remained about ten years old. He manages to get away with it because he brings a journalist's eye to the proceedings. All the stuff about Harlem nightlife is interesting in itself, but it's also there to lull you into a state where you will accept the wild adventure stuff. In response to both you and Margo, and in defence of Fleming, I have to say that Fleming was in Naval Intelligence during the war, and if you read some of Ben Macintyre's recent books about the 'secret war', some of the details are so bizarre that they make the killer octopus look quite mundane (although if you enjoyed the Octopus, then just wait until you get to DR.NO and the...but I'm jumping ahead of myself.

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    1. That is such a good description of the book(s) and their attractions - I love 'manic exuberance'. And now I'm really excited about Dr No...

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    2. "I have to say that Fleming was in Naval Intelligence during the war"

      That's the interesting thing. Fleming knew the world of espionage and her knew his spy tradecraft. On one level the Bond novels are quite realistic spy tales. But then he adds those absolutely outrageous plots inspired by his reading of Dennis Wheatley and Sax Rohmer. It's that combination that gives the Bond books a unique flavour. I agree with you completely that Fleming was aiming for high adventure.

      And then he adds the extra ingredient that makes the cocktail completely intoxicating - glamour. This is a world of style, wealth, ostentation and elegance, and it's an ultra-cool world. It wasn't the sex and violence that made the Bond books so successful (although those elements didn't hurt), it was the glamour. Britain in the immediate postwar era was poor, bankrupt, grey and miserable. What readers wanted was escapism and Fleming gave it to them with style.

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    3. Another great description of what's tempting about them. Although I am quite rude about them, I am enjoying them hugely and they are so very readable.

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  3. I have no memories of this book (or of any of them except for Casino Royale), but I will be this one reading sometime this year. I just bought a new copy in November of last year and I want to read in order so... Someday soon.

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    1. Look forward to your take on them Tracy. I'm like you, Casino Royale stuck in my mind but the others I was more vague about. But scenes suddenly come back to me - in this book, the scene with the stripper in the nightclub....

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  4. Moira, I so want to read Ian Fleming. The Bond movies have corrupted me and I think I'd find the novels a refreshing change.

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    1. I think you should Prashant, they really are worth a look, and very readable.

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  5. This made me laugh out loud, Moira. Thanks so much. Interesting to hear that you were a Biggles fan. My friend Linda and I adored those books when we were around 11 or 12.

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    1. Thank you, and another taste in common! I loved Biggles books and read shedloads of them.

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  6. Is it in Biggles in Australia that he fights a decapod too? I think there's a bit of plot recycling by the 1950s. I shall go and check.

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    1. Someone else mentioned the decapod - some textual research may be necessary. Biggles was very brave wasn't he?

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    2. Yay for Biggles, and the cool girls who liked him...

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  7. <--- (in reply to myself) oh, yes, decapod! I shall post you a picture on twitter.

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    1. Rushed off to look! fantastic! Not sure if this link will work for other Biggles fans: https://twitter.com/skiourophile/status/699192399868743680

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