Goldeneye: Where Bond Was Born: Ian Fleming’s Jamaica, by Mtthew Parker, read by Roy McMillan
Ian Fleming had a good gig going for him. During the years between 1947 and his death, he would spend two months out of the year living in an austere Jamaican home with a lovely reef and beach where he would spend time with friends, recuperate thanks to “Dr. Jamaica” while putting out, at least from 1952, a book a year . Yet Ian Fleming was not a very happy man and he did not end up being successful in love, for the most part. He died young, had a son who died even younger, and if his James Bond novels were a massive success, he did not appear to be the happiest of people, and he was thought of by others as being more than a little bit of a snob as well as a pretty heartless seducer of women, especially in his younger days. The author explores some pretty unpleasant aspects of his life and career and the result is that the reader (or listener) really gets the chance that they know something about the man behind the spy, and the ways in which the personal and the geopolitical end up playing such an important role in the Bond novels and stories, as well as the way in which Jamaica and its influence was so important in their creation.
In eight cds, this particular book overs the fifteen years or so which Ian Fleming spent as a part-time resident of Jamaica on the north coast not far from Ocho Rios. The book begins with a discussion of Fleming’s childhood, which was predictably unhappy, as well as his difficulties in committing to women, his fondness for affairs, and his work for newspapers as well as British naval intelligence during the Second World War. It is noteworthy that Fleming’s writing began slowly, with discussions of travel, and it was not until 1952 that he started writing novels, finding the work to be profitable and enjoyable, even if he did not find all aspects of his life–particularly a lengthy affair his wife had as well as the frustrations of her snooty artistic friends–to be as enjoyable. The book details the local goings on in Jamaica, the events of Fleming’s family life, and the particular goings among the trendy tourist set in the north part of Jamaica. The author notes the many references to Jamaica that can be found in the Bond novels, some of which I had missed while reading because I was not thinking about the subject, and comments on the way that Jamaica was a good muse for a troubled man.
This book manages to weave a lot of tales together. So we hear about how it was that the politics and tourist industry in Jamaica changed life dramatically for those who were fairly elite British expats like Ian Fleming and Noel Coward, and how it was that the changing geopolitical scene of Great Britain changed the Bond novels, and how it was that few critics understood the psychology of the Bond novels and what they were really about when it comes to defending the British as being important in a bi-polar world in which the Empire was becoming more and more of a liability and the Commonwealth a poor substitute. A stubborn man whose refusal to give up smoking and drinking, which he viewed in his middle age as about the only pleasures he had, led to a rather short end and caused some difficulties for those who cared about him and did not like seeing him suffer through poor health and gradually worsening breathing, to the point where it was increasingly hard for him to write, to work, and to live. This book is a sad one for all of the glamour of the Bond books and movies.
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