“Our politicians may be a feather-pated bunch, but I expect yours are, too. All politicians are.”
“You Only Live Twice” by Ian Fleming
I’m a sucker for James Bond. I love the movies and, recently, as I’ve started to pick some of them up, I love the books, too. This becomes especially true in the fact that I’m also a sucker for a lot of vintage, and the classic Fleming 007 novels are pure, deliciously terrible 1960s pulp. It’s always been interesting to sort of compare the novels with the films, as well, and You Only Live Twice has always been one of my favorites. The book did not disappoint, either, and it’s always fascinating for me to read something from this era and boggle at how some things may be incredibly different these days (views towards women and other cultures especially! These books are not recommended for the politically incorrect sensitive!) and how others (political intrigue and the undeniable charm of a spy) remain quite the same.
There wasn’t as much action as I’d have expected in the book, but I was okay with that, considering that I’m not too fond of lengthy action scenes, anyway. Bond attempt to be submerged in Japanese culture, though, was particularly interesting for me. I’ve always had a curiosity about Japan in the times of great change: mostly the Meiji Era, after its isolation for so centuries, but also in the aftermath of the Second World War, which is where this book (which reminded me quite a bit of James Clavell’s Gai-Jin) takes place. Both Fleming and Clavell are British writers; Japan at this time is being heavily influenced by the United States, on its journey toward the modern Japan we know of today, and it’s always fascinating for me to get that perspective. You Only Live Twice pays special attention to the concepts of death in Japanese culture, and how sharply it conflicts with the idea of death, especially suicide, in Western society. I’m not saying that a James Bond book should be an in-depth and conclusive study on these things, but, as popular fiction, it’s an excellent example of the popular mindset during the 1960s on these issues. And I love it.
And, as is my experience with the Bond books, our Bond girl in print is significantly less dynamic than she seems on screen, but I’ve never been that interested in Kissy Suzuki in general. Her presence in this book seems more of an add-on than anything else; the core of the novel lies in James’s own personal struggle with the death of his wife and in how one might reinvent oneself in a completely different world, while still holding true to themselves. Or, well, if we’re honest, it’s mostly about a good read and a good adventure, and You Only Live Twice has both of those in spades.
Besides, Fleming won me over with the fact that he titled the two parts of the books with one of my favorite quotes: “It is better to travel well than to arrive.” He even makes it reflect in what’s going on in both parts: Bond’s travels through Japan, picking up the culture and learning about its people are light and enjoyable, but, eventually, the travel must end and he must meet his Big Bad eventually, arriving at the destination of possible danger and death. It just pleases me so much to have it set up like that!
Books read: 48/100