Bond’s cre­ator the star here

007 came to life at Ian Flem­ing’s Ja­maica re­treat

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Books - SIN­CLAIR MCKAY

While the plea­sure of read­ing Ian Flem­ing’s James Bond thrillers never di­min­ishes, the irony is that 007’s cre­ator is ac­tu­ally the more com­pelling fig­ure of the two. The Bond nov­els were once de­scribed by Flem­ing’s bi­og­ra­pher John Pear­son as ex­er­cises in “the au­to­bi­og­ra­phy of dreams.”

So the spy who goes into bat­tle with di­a­bol­i­cal mas­ter­minds and gets soppy over women such as Galatea Brand and Tif­fany Case is the wish-ful­fil­ment of an au­thor who was forced to stay be­hind a desk at Naval In­tel­li­gence through­out the war. Flem­ing’s knowl­edge of Bri­tain’s great­est se­crets (in­clud­ing the Bletch­ley code-break­ing tri­umphs) meant that cap­ture in the field could never be risked. But through­out Matthew Parker’s ac­count of Flem­ing’s post­war so­journs in Ja­maica, and how they shaped his fic­tion, we can imag­ine Bond him­self look­ing on and feel­ing a per­verse stab of envy.

Not that Parker glam­or­izes: The story of Goldeneye, the house that Flem­ing built, is shot through with melan­choly and creep­ing mor­tal­ity. In the later stages of the war, Flem­ing be­came in­fat­u­ated with Ja­maica. This was still a colo­nial world, though in­de­pen­dence was fast ap­proach­ing. Im­me­di­ately af­ter the war, in 1946, he found a plot of land and ar­ranged to have a stark prop­erty con­structed — plain bed­rooms, hard floors, rudi­men­tary plumb­ing that “hissed like vipers and ul­u­lated like stricken blood­hounds.”

The point of Goldeneye was com­mu­nion with the fe­cund life out­side, as well as a re­treat from freez­ing, grey Bri­tain — a refuge in which Flem­ing could write books. It was an un­com­pro­mis­ingly mas­cu­line place. Flem­ing’s wife, Ann, more used to the com­forts of Bel­gravia, ini­tially found it hard to ad­just.

She once sug­gested cur­tains; the idea was in­stantly dis­missed.

That Flem­ing’s 007 books sold so well — and so quickly, from the pub­li­ca­tion of Casino Royale in 1953 — never seemed to give him any com­fort. By the third novel, Moon­raker, Flem­ing al­ready felt out of in­spi­ra­tion. But there was the glow­ing sea, the teem­ing life be­neath the waves, and the warm black nights, all of which made their way into the Bond nov­els. Think of the scuba-div­ing episodes, or the jeop­ardy of Live and Let Die’s co­ral reefs, or Dr. No’s Crab Key lair.

And it was a life of so­phis­ti­ca­tion. One neigh­bour was Noel Cow­ard, and there are cameos from Evelyn Waugh, Lu­cien Freud and, in the af­ter­math of the 1956 Suez cri­sis, the prime min­is­ter An­thony Eden and his wife, Clarissa, who used Goldeneye as a sanc­tu­ary. But there were strains in the Flem­ing mar­riage: His drink­ing and smok­ing did lit­tle to blot chronic de­pres­sion; her health was frag­ile. They played upon each other’s nerves, she re­fer­ring to the Bond nov­els as “hor­ror comics” and “pornog­ra­phy.”

Parker tells a wider story, that of an is­land and its peo­ple at a turn­ing point in their his­tory. He has talked to Chris Black­well, the founder of Is­land Records, whose so­cialite mother, Blanche, was Flem­ing’s lover in his lat­ter years. And, through other in­ter­views with lo­cals who re­call Goldeneye in that pe­riod, we see that Flem­ing, even in the midst of his post­war ef­flo­res­cence, some­how came to mir­ror an ail­ing Bri­tain — just at the point when his beloved Ja­maica was find­ing fresh vigour.

Read the Bond nov­els in se­quence and you will see 007 sink into de­pres­sion and then men­tal break­down. You might think of the Bri­tish es­tab­lish­ment suf­fer­ing sim­i­lar trauma dur­ing those years.

Flem­ing saw his cre­ation praised by Pres­i­dent Kennedy in 1961, and then make the leap to film the fol­low­ing year; and that pro­pelled Bond into another realm.

Yet Flem­ing seemed to take lit­tle plea­sure from all this. He died in 1964, aged 56, just be­fore the film Goldfin­ger be­came a world­wide hit.

The As­so­ci­ated Press/Files

Ian Flem­ing’s life in post­war Ja­maica was re­flected in many of his 007 nov­els. His writ­ing re­treat, Goldeneye, was a de­cid­edly mas­cu­line en­clave, which cre­ated ten­sion with his wife.

Hutchin­son

Goldeneye: Where Bond Was Born, Ian Flem­ing’s Ja­maica Matthew Parker Ran­dom House

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