A new study of Bond author Ian Fleming’s love of Jamaica has received some good reviews in Britain, including one from Fleming’s most recent biographer Andrew Lycett, and another one, appropriately enough, by David Mills in the Sunday Times, a newspaper which once employed Fleming as its Foreign Manager.
Written by Matthew Parker, Goldeneye: Where Bond was Born – Ian Fleming’s Jamaica has just been published in hardcover by Hutchinson in the UK.
Fleming biographer Andrew Lycett, whose 1995 book Ian Fleming still remains the most recent serious study of the full life of the Bond author, has penned a review of the new book for a popular monthly magazine. Writing in the new edition of the British literary and cultural magazine Literary Review (August, 2014), which has just hit the news-stands in the UK, Lycett offers his thoughts on Goldeneye: Where Bond Was Born and is impressed with Parker’s ‘close and intelligent’ reading of Fleming’s work.
Parker’s new book is a combination of part-biography of Fleming, a history of Jamaica, and a critical analysis of the James Bond novels, many of which were developed in Fleming’s rather austere island retreat Goldeneye. As many Bond fans know, Fleming had fallen in love with the beautiful Caribbean island when he first visited the location in the War, and had subsequently purchased a plot of land on the north coast for his new home there in 1946, which was named after one of his wartime operations. The very first James Bond adventure Casino Royale was written there in 1952, and the island featured in three Bond novels and some short stories.
Lycett opens his review of Parker’s new study by asking, where does one look for James Bond’s origins? Are they to be found in Fleming’s wartime experiences as a Naval Intelligence officer in London? Or further back in the 1930s? Parker’s thesis, as Lycett notes, is that the main origins of Bond actually lie in Jamaica, and Parker identifies in his book the extent to which Fleming drew on the island and its culture, plus its changing politics, to develop much of the atmosphere and incidental background detail to the Bond novel series.
Jamaica, for Fleming, offered a haven of personal peace and exotic life, and an escape from the grey reality of ration-book Britain; however, as Lycett notes, Parker describes how, at the same time, the evidence of declining British power in the post-war world was reflected in the plots to the Bond books and in the playful relationship between Bond and his CIA buddy Felix Leiter. And Jamaica itself was changing dramatically, with its politicians cannily playing off Britain against America in the context of the Cold War and Anglo-American competition in the Caribbean. In fact, by 1962, Jamaica had become an independent nation, no longer subject to British control.
According to Lycett, Parker has also rightly explored how Fleming’s own deteriorating physical condition was mirrored in Bond’s own health problems, and was possibly a metaphor for the wider problems faced by the British empire at the time.
Towards the end of his review, Lycett also comments: ‘One of the strengths of Parker’s skilfully turned book is to highlight Fleming’s achievements as both an author and a commentator’.
In the Sunday Times review of Parker’s new book (August 3), David Mills also picks up on these themes, noting how Parker has argued that Bond was Fleming’s response to the collapse of empire and the decline of Britain as a world power. Mills also highlights another interesting aspect of Parker’s new book: the way in which Parker reminds us about Fleming’s love of Caribbean pirates and how Fleming gave his fictional creation a buccaneer spirit, even giving Bond a ‘piratical’ scar on his cheek (see Casino Royale).
Goldeneye: Where Bond was Born – Ian Fleming’s Jamaica, by Matthew Parker, is published in hardcover in the UK by Hutchinson, price £20. An e-book version is also available, priced £9.98.
Did You Know?
In February, 1964, while staying at Goldeneye, Bond author Ian Fleming wrote a short piece entitled ‘Introducing Jamaica’, in which he described his life on the island over the previous eighteen years, including some of the people he had encountered and the wonderful sights he had seen. This was a preface to a new book on Jamaica, edited by his good friend Morris Cargill, which was eventually published in October, 1965, as Ian Fleming Introduces Jamaica (Andre Deutsch publishers). Regrettably, of course, Fleming did not live to see the book in print, as he passed away in August, 1964.