Coming s007n ~ Goldeneye – Where Bond was born: Ian Fleming’s Jamaica/ Matthew Parker (Review)
Author: Matthew Parker
ISBN: ISBN-10: 009195410X/ ISBN-13: 978-0091954109
As anyone familiar with the history of James Bond knows, Goldeneye – long before its use as the title for Pierce Brosnan’s first 007 film – was the name of the Jamaican home of Ian Fleming, where he wrote every one of his Bond novels and short stories. Therefore, in terms of a location at least, that austere, rather rustic small house on the north shore of the Caribbean island is arguably the most important of the many associated with Fleming’s hero. Yet, in this book, historian Matthew Parker goes on, by extension, to convincingly argue that the entire island was just as critical in the creation and evolution of the fictional superspy.
In charting Fleming’s association with Jamaica all the way from his first visit in 1943, on wartime business for British Intelligence, through to his untimely death in 1964, Parker seemingly leaves no stone unturned. He weaves the oft melodramatic yarn of Fleming’s love-affair-laden private life and the fascinating story of Jamaica’s post-war journey from British Empire back-post to independent should-be-powerhouse of the West Indies into his primary tale of Fleming’s instant falling-in-love with the island and rapid establishment on it of his own nook of natural (and ‘whimsically’ colonial) paradise, which was always intended – and eventually – realised as a base for his mid-life-crisis-like desire to become an author.
As Parker unerringly persuades the reader, though, Fleming’s upping-sticks to the place every winter proved not just the making of Bond, but possibly the making of Fleming himself. Through what must have been a dizzying amount of research, he reveals the man was forever fascinated and absorbed by the flora and fauna, the melancholic-cum-barbaric history and mythology and the downright strangeness of the place, pouring all of it directly into three Jamaican-set novels (1954’s Live and Let Die, 1958’s Dr No and 1964’s The Man with Golden Gun) and four short stories. Moreover, the British Empire’s decline, which Fleming observed from a front-row seat on the island, ended up fuelling the politics and motivations of Bond and sundry other characters in practically every one of his stories.
Parker’s style is commanding yet friendly, his tone deceptively urgent, as he hurtles through 20 years of his subject’s life and – pretty nearly – those of his nearest and dearest too. One criticism from this reviewer, however: these sections, detailing the matter-of-fact Caribbean sojourns and snobbish soirées of unsympathetic aristos and hangers-on (neighbour and good friend Noël Coward is everywhere) begin to drag after a while, as does Fleming’s continual to-do’s with his wife Ann, coming off a little too much like Downtown Abbey on vacation. Still, the author seamlessly stitches all these anecdotes together with the social and political history and gradually built-up, complex picture of Fleming with some skill.
Ultimately then, this book is an utter must-read for any true fan of Fleming’s Bond, a triumph in its evocation of mood, colour and personality and its commitment to detailing exactly how Jamaica shaped the middle-aged Fleming and fundamentally helped create his iconic character. After reading it, you’ll never look at a Fleming Bond novel in quite the same way again.