I really must confess to never having read a single one of Ian Flemming's James Bond novels. Subtitled A Personal Journey into the Disturbing World of James Bond, the book is a document about Winder's love/hate affair with Bond James Bond.
In the end, the book felt a little like an extended high school essay.
He is also trying to make a serious point about how the Bond phenomenon coincided with the "retreat from Empire" and found its audience among those people who thoroughly regret this and view Britain as being in decline. It was the Empire which made Bond such a global figure at ease anywhere in the world, and Winder maybe right to say that only a British spy could be "at home" in the world the way Bond was. It does suggest that one of the ways Bond is now very old fashioned is that when sports figures, film stars, pop musicians have global presence, a lone British spy no longer has the unique appeal that they would have had in the fifties and sixties. There is an interesting point to be made about the impact of "losing" the Empire which is often referred to as being the source of British dissatisfaction in the post-war period - of having "lost an Empire and not found a role." And the extent of this sense of loss is much debated. Like him I remember when the major reading of British schoolboys was war comics. These songs still sell on Bond soundtrack albums and the choice of "Bond song" is as interesting to many people as the choice of "Bond girl." Winder is probably right to say that a lot of the appeal of Bond, and especially the books, is the "knowledge". The book's bibliography has some titles on the "end of Empire" and they definitely sound worth following up on for anyone interested in that argument, which Winder is right to say is a much cited but unexplored area of British social history.
H. Rider Haggard was all about justifying the empire and its hierarchies; Bond, Winder suggests, was a way for England to reframe its role in a world where the sun did regularly set on the British Empire. . Thought of it with pleasure when I saw James Bond collect the Queen for the Opening Ceremonies of the London Olympics; when I read Grant Morrisons Supergods (also, in many ways, about a Child of the Empire adapting to the New World Order by using pop culture); and, of course, when I saw the awesome Something of Boris video.
On the other hand, I have read all of the Fleming Bond books (and even several thereafter) as well as seen all of the movies that he also cites. While I agree with much he has to say about the books and the films, I should point out that the man has strong opinions and potentially very unpopular ones. As much as I like Bond, it was with the hope of seeing how the English people were "saved" by Bond that I read this. (He throws in a few trivia details about the movies that I'm sure are easy to find, but that I never had the energy or passion to investigate.) If you are an unabashed Bond fan or Bond hater, then I don't know if this book will sit well with you.
Simon Winder has a love/hate relationship with Ian Fleming's Bond books as well as the films.
The Man Who Saved Britain A Personal Journey into the Distrubing World of james Bond Author: Simon Winder Publisher: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux Published In: New York Date: 2006 Pgs: 285 REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS Summary: A shattered great power ensconced in the post-World War II ruin. In Bonds world, Britain was a player, The Player. Fleming via Bond has his say on much of the world in that era; sex, the monarchy, food, class, America, etc. Genre: Autobiography and memoir Behind the Scenes Classics Film History Literary criticism Non-fiction Society War Why this book: Its Bond...James Bond. ______________________________________________________________________________ Favorite Character: James Bond, even though he isnt exactly favorably disposed of here, despite being one of the authors favorite characters. Least Favorite Character: Great Britain The Feel: The narrative feels almost angry about pulling the curtain back and looking in on the great and powerful Oz, though whether Oz is Bond, Fleming, or the Britain of the era or some combination of all three isnt necessarily spelled out. Favorite Scene: The authors mother sitting on the steps of her home in London during the Blitz eating a honey sandwich as planes fly overhead on their way to or from the Battle of Britain. Where the author is describing the experience of snorkelling after reading the scuba scenes in Bond books If someone goes into a tropical sea in a Bond novel the narrative demands the immediate presence of some dangerous fish. I have misgivings about the way the book points at and elaborates on its central premise, but it is extremely well written. When the author describes the Bond books or Bond as a character, I can feel the rose colored glasses that Ive always viewed both through falling from my eyes. Reading about the books when the author summarizes them and comments on them feels a lot like watching sausage be made. This may be what saves Bond from the trashbin of history where characters like Matt Helm have fallen. This book was written in large part because I want to convey, perhaps in an overdrawn form, some of the ways in which Britain has changed-and by following James Bond show some of a vanished world which he in various ways pulled together. A screenplay on a book about the history and culture of Britain told through the filter of James Bond...better to watch the Bond films and read the Fleming books. I didnt like it because it showed me a Britain that isnt the fantasy that has lived in my head for forever. Author Assessment: Mr Winder sounds in the introduction like he doesnt like Britain, like hes disgusted with the Britain that existed in the mid-World War interregnum. Though in truthfulness, the way Fleming is described here, I doubt that I would have liked him either. Knee Jerk Reaction: glad I read it Disposition of Book: Irving Public Library Irving, TX Would recommend to: history buffs, the hardcore James Bond nerd, post war Britain aficionados ______________________________________________________________________________ Errata: Ian Fleming once had an ongoing affair with the mother of Chris Blackwell.