Christmas brought me the set of three Bond novels – Casino Royale, Goldfinger and Live and Let Die – published by Vintage Classics. The last I was particularly keen on reading. Not only does it have an excellent introduction by John Cork (as do they all), but the edition comprised a never-before published version of the text.
As the introductory note to the text states, the Vintage Classics edition is a combination of the standard UK edition and the US edition. Fleming’s original American publisher, Macmillan, made several changes to the UK edition, with Fleming’s approval, mainly relating to the American scenes, descriptions and language. For this Vintage Classics edition, the two original editions were compared and combined, and what could be described as a definitive edition has been produced.
The most obvious difference between this edition and the UK edition is that chapter 5, perhaps the most problematic part of the book (to say the least), is shorn of the lengthy conversation at Sugar Ray’s between a black couple that Bond and Leiter listen into. The chapter is also given its US title, Seventh Avenue. Along with other, smaller, changes, this gives the book a fresh, pacier, feel, and makes the reading experience very much less uncomfortable.
Some other thoughts came to mind as I was reading the book. Superficially, the film version of the book diverges significantly from the book, but a surprising amount of the book survives to lesser or greater extents in the film. Bloody Morgan’s treasure is replaced by drugs, but the book’s essential plot elements – voodoo, the Harlem setting, the train journey, Mr Big’s cave and his network of agents, Bond’s capture, the disappearing table in the bar, sharks, the mine that destroys Mr Big’s operation, Solitaire and Bond being tied up together at the denouement of the book, and so on – are also on the screen. Some of these elements were, of course, picked up again and filmed more faithfully for For Your Eyes Only and Licence to Kill, but there’s more of the book in the film than one may think.
I was reminded of some of the quite ordinary things Bond does in this novel. Eating cornflakes is one. Catching a bus is another. It’s almost impossible to imagine Bond waiting at the bus stop, boarding the bus, fiddling with change, buying a ticket, looking for a spare seat, and keeping an eye on the stops. Would any continuation Bond novelist dare have Bond catch a bus? Probably not, and if they did, they’d risk writing a parody in a similar vein to Sebastian Faulks’ piece in his Pistache volume that describes Bond in a supermarket. The episode is reminder that Fleming could make even the most ordinary acts sophisticated and exciting (the New York setting helps), and that he created a hero that his readers could relate to. Bond may not quite be one of us, but he’s far from the upper-class, ‘clubland’ hero of the earlier 20th century. I wouldn’t mind betting that Fleming took the same bus journey. There is a bus ride in the film version, but the use of the bus is far from being of an ordinary nature.
It is worth noting, too, that Live and Let Die contains the first use in a Bond book of the phrase, ‘all the time in the world’. Bond tells Solitaire, ‘When the time comes I want to be alone with you, with all the time in the world.’ Fleming was evidently much taken with the phrase. It’s not only used in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, appearing in the final chapter and serving as that chapter’s title, but is used twice in Diamonds are Forever: ‘But now there was all the time in the world’, and ‘Bond suddenly felt they had all the time in the world.’ So associated is the phrase with Bond that it would be my choice for the title of the next Bond film, although the fact that it has already been used in a film title – being the sub-title to Spy Kids 4 – might rule its use out.
A final point to make is that the Soviet connection in Live and Let Die seems very weak. As John Cork points out, at no point does Mr Big spout Soviet ideology, nor does he mention the Soviets in respect of his operations. Indeed, the Soviet angle is barely mentioned again after M’s briefing. One wonders why Mr Big would need the Soviets at all. His operation is self-financing, and he’s in control of a business and crime empire. Ian Fleming could be considered as much a crime fiction writer as a spy fiction writer, and Live and Let Die certainly joins Diamonds are Forever, Goldfinger, The Spy who Loved Me, and the short story 'Risico' in the crime category.
Are any more Vintage Classics editions of the Bond novels planned? I hope so!