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Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Casino Royale(1953) by Ian Fleming

Daniel Craig is the most recent James Bond, pictured here in the recent film version of Casino Royale.
Book Review
Casino Royale (1953)
by Ian Fleming

  Based on my reading of every major novelist published between the 18th and mid 20th century, I would identify three major paths that novelists follow to canonization.  The first path, followed by the majority of authors on the list is a mixture of popular and critical success during their lifetime, with the canonization happening either after the end of the author's productive career or immediately after their death.  This canonization takes the form of awards, critical and anniversary editions of important texts and the growth of secondary literature, biographies, criticism about the author.  The second major path is critical success during the career with some or no popular success,  These tend to be authors from outside the mainstream of the American/French/German literary axis.  Critical success might come via translation for non-English language authors, or it might be the association of the author with a particularly significant sub-culture.  These are the "avant garde" novelists in the early 20th century.  They are also many of the female and regional authors writing in English in the 19th and 20th century.

  The final path is the popular novelist who sells tons of books during their life but without critical acknowledgment.  For these authors, canonization can begin mid career or after death, but usually it takes a while for these authors to be "elevated,"  even as their books continue to sell and circulate for decades.  These are genre authors, science fiction and detective fiction.  An emerging group in this pathway are the comic graphic novelists of recent decades.

  Ian Fleming is the ultimate example of this third pathway, and the idea that he is a canonical novelist is still controversial, while the idea of James Bond, his creation, as an iconic 20th century hero is ever more firmly enshrined.  The sheer power and success of Bond, rather than any belated acknowledgment of Fleming as a writer, no doubt accounts for his inclusion in the core group of 700 books at the heart of the 1001 Books list.  Casino Royale was the first bond novel, and it already contains all of the elements at the heart of the bond ethos: the shaken, not stirred martini, a double crossing femme fatale, exotic global locations.  Both in terms of style and structure, as a literary exercise, Casino Royale is a poor cousin to other genre examples from this time period.  When you compare Fleming to Graham Greene, it's like Greene is the Sun and Fleming an asteroid.  Still, there is no denying the vitality of the character of James Bond and his "red blooded" traits are closer to that of the American Private Investigator of the 30s and 40s than the tortured English intellectuals who populate Graham Greene's universe.   It is on account of this vitality, and the overwhelming success of the filmed versions of Flemings' novels, that Casino Royale remain widely in print and read a half century after publication.

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