Saturday, 8 December 2012

Ian Fleming: the Bibliography - a review

Now I know how James Bond felt in the film of For Your Eyes Only when he was kicked off the rock below St Cyril's after almost reaching the summit. All these years I have been diligently collecting Fleming and Bond related books and other printed material, thinking that my collection was pretty comprehensive. But after reading Jon Gilbert's excellent book, Ian Fleming: the Bibliography (2012, Queen Anne Press), I realise I still have a mountain to climb before the collection is anywhere near complete.

As Gilbert reveals, for any Bond aficionado wishing to explore the stories and influences behind the author and character, there is much more to read than the novels and books about the James Bond phenomenon. The Bibliography is an essential place to start, not only for an exhaustive catalogue of Fleming's writing in all its forms, but also as a source of information for the background and inspirations for Bond's adventures.

The majority of the Bibliography is taken up with a detailed examination of all editions of every one of Fleming's Bond novels and other major works. Each section begins with an account of the background to the novel in question, the research carried out by Fleming, and the key influences. We also learn about textual differences between the original manuscript, the subsequent typescript, the uncorrected proof, and the first and later editions. Then there are the curious typos and factual errors, the alternative titles, the variant bindings (I was disappointed to learn that some of my precious first editions were not quite as first as I thought), the paperback editions and reprints, reviews and advertising.

The remaining parts of the book deal largely with Fleming's other writing, principally his journalism and contributions to books by other authors. Such material is well worth exploring, since it reveals much about his wide-ranging interests which found their way to lesser or greater extents into the Bond novels. Fleming wrote a number of introductions and forewords to books about the Bondian subjects of international crime, gambling, and spying, and there was more Bondian material in his journalism. His articles for magazines and newspapers encompassed matters as diverse as underwater treasure hunting, crime (again), golf, guns, casinos, travel, cars, Russia and the Cold War and scrambled eggs.

Of particular interest to me was a reference to an article by Fleming under the title, 'Bang-Bang, Kiss-Kiss'. The piece, published in 1950, described the New York literary scene, and included profiles on, among others, Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane. It serves as a reminder of how important American crime writers were to Fleming, especially Chandler, who Fleming later befriended and about whom would write further tributes. It is clear when comparing Philip Marlowe with Bond that Fleming adopted aspects of Chandler's style and pace in his writing. The article also gives us perhaps the earliest use by Fleming of the phrase, Bang-Bang, Kiss-Kiss, which, in a variant form, would later become synonymous with the cinematic James Bond.

A section in the Bibliography on Ian Fleming's source books as important as the section on his journalism. We know, of course, about the book, Birds of the West Indies, which provided Fleming's hero with a name, and the books referenced in the Bond novels, such as How to Play Your Best Golf All the Time, and Nature Cure Explained, which Fleming had himself read and admired. But there are other books that Fleming had read or were almost certainly known to him, which contained ideas that appear to have filtered down into the Bond novels. These include Phyllis Bottome's Wind in his Fists, which is set in Austria and features villainous aristocrat and possible proto-Blofeld, Count Graf Schlick, and Sax Rohmer's The Island of Fu Manchu, a Second World War spy adventure featuring the archetypal criminal mastermind and undoubted inspiration of Dr No.

The Bibliography represents the culmination of Jon Gilbert's Fleming scholarship and expertise as a book dealer specialising in Fleming and Bond. The care and meticulousness that has gone into the volume is outstanding. The volume, some 700 pages long, is an incredible achievement and (as much as I dislike high prices for books, preventing wider access and dissemination) justifies its price tag. With a nod to Ian Fleming's intention when he began to write Casino Royale, it is the Fleming reference work to end all Fleming reference works.

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