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Ermahgerd. Berks.

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From Russia with Love: (Penguin Ink)

From Russia with Love (Penguin Ink) - Ian Fleming, Chris Garver I am glad to be a man in 2011, because it sounds so exhausting to hear about what life was like in the 1950s. I mean, imagine you are Ian Fleming's James Bond, sexy 1950s super spy: Every time a woman mouthed off to you, you had to take her over your knee and spank her. That sounds awkward! (My lap isn't that big.) And if you were in a relationship and she started to get fat, you'd have to beat her until she lost weight. I don't want to get home from a long day of international espionage only to go to work again, physically abusing my significant other! I need some rest too! I've seen all of the Bond films, but this is the first of the books I've read. I picked From Russia with Love because it forms the basis for my favorite of the films (it was also famously one of JFK's favorite books, if you take "famously" to mean "constantly touted in documentaries about the Bond series and mentioned about six times on Wikipedia"). Reading it both increases my appreciation for the early cinematic adaptations (the first four or five films), which were fairly low-key in terms of Bond's methods and abilities and very much in keeping with, at least, this book's tone, and makes me roll my eyes even more at the gadget porn and lame quip farce the series became once Roger Moore took over. On film and in print, however, just about every iteration of the character already seems about as sociologically and politically outdated as a minstrel show. Certainly the books are just as casually misogynist as the movies: both on the page and on the screen, Bond is constantly falling into bed with pliant, idiotic women, at least when he's not patting their bottoms and telling them to run along and let the men talk. FRWL has one of the dumber Bond girls -- Tatiana Romanova, a Soviet "spy" who sounds like little more than an office drone, easily manipulated by her superiors into participating in a mission that will require her to literally whore herself out for her country in an attempt to seduce 007. It's part of a larger plot to discredit Her Majesty's Secret Service, but Tatiana is daft enough to assume Bond will come to no harm, even though she is manipulated into participating by Rosa Klebb, the KGB's own sadistic S&M bisexual sex torturing grandma (for a classic example of "deviant" sexuality as an indication of evil, look no further than the ugly old lady who puts on a sexy negligee and tries to fondle an unsuspecting and helpless young girl).So yeah, you pretty much have to take this entire book, and the mythos of the Bond character, with a whole shaker of salt. I like to pretend I'm watching Mad Men, and this is all sly commentary on gender roles in an unenlightened era, even though I know that's not the case: then and, probably, now, James Bond represented a paragon of masculinity to a lot of men (and maybe some women). The notion that the KGB is able to trick HMSS into getting involved in the plot sounds asinine -- Tatiana is supposed to have fallen in love with Bond from reading his file and looking at a picture; no one from M on down questions this story because women are just that brainless. Bond gets lots of advice on how to complete the seduction -- don't be too nice, women want to be put in their place. And of course, despite knowing she's just on the job, Tatiana instantly falls for James, practically bursting into genuine tears when he starts questioning the motives of her defection (and within a few days is, yes, asking him to beat her if she gets too fat because she is happy in their relationship. Bond: "Certainly, I will beat you."). Writing women: not Ian Fleming's strong suit.All the series' tropes are on display, including the villain who prefers to monologue about his evil plan before pulling the trigger (though at least there's a somewhat plausible reason for it). Tense action, including a brutal fight to the death in the close confines of a train berth. Mild gadgetry (a nifty trick suitcase) and gratuitous sex (Gypsy catfight! Clothes ripped off! Bosoms bared!). If you can laugh at the sexism instead of fuming about it, this is still a fun little potboiler with an interesting structure -- the first third is entirely from the Russian point of view, setting up the motivations for the villainous plot and developing interesting antagonists like Red Grant, a sociopathic brute who for some reason only kills during a full moon (hey, at least he doesn't, say, only shoot people with gold bullets or bite them to death with his metal teeth). Bond doesn't even appear until nearly 100 pages in, sulking in a hotel, depressed and bored after the fallout from his prior Case (oh, hidden series pun!). Interestingly, Bond is allowed to be much more human in the books; even in the Connery films, he's a bit of a cartoon, and only the new ones with Daniel Craig have given him an interior life beyond what is happening in his pants (which, of course, prompted a bunch of criticism that the character was being "feminized," which means maybe that the sexism isn't as outdated as I'd like to pretend).