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Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

Casino Royale (1953)

by Ian Fleming

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: James Bond (1)

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4,1141941,221 (3.54)268
  1. 00
    The Kobra Manifesto by Adam Hall (benfulton)
    benfulton: Very similar spy stories. Quiller is a bit more physical than Bond, I think.
  2. 12
    The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John Le Carré (Cecilturtle)

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When British journalist Ian Fleming handed the manuscript for this novel to friends they implored him to write a second one, reasoning that if "Casino Royale" failed he would never want to produce another one.
They need not have worried, as the James Bond books became one of the most enduringly popular series of novels in modern history and now, over 50 years later, much of "Casino Royale" still grips it's readers with a taut, yet breezy style.
Having first read the novel in my youth I decided to revisit the Fleming series after the phenomenal success of the movie "Casino Royale." Over the years I had listened to a large portion of James Bond fans who consider this to be the best of Flemings Bond novels.
But, I quickly realized upon rereading this novel that the pages did not turn quite as willingly or excitedly as they do for some of the other novels such as "Moonraker," "From Russia With Love" or "On Her Majesty's Secret Service."
I think that Fleming had yet to settle into his rhythm and perfect his characteristic "Fleming sweep." Though a very enjoyable read I felt it too episodic with the climax of the novel seemingly mid-way through the book.
Taking his inspiration from a real World War II incident in Portugal in which Fleming had attempted to defeat a Nazi at cards this freshman effort by Fleming pits his fictional creation against SMERSH's banker Le Chiffre.
Much like Fleming had attempted a decade earlier(he lost the game against the German), British intelligence sends the best card player in the service to the fictional French casino in an effort to bankrupt the operations of the Russian intelligence service.
This novels climax to me is the card game for there is no greater novelist who can enliven the action at the card tables like Fleming. And fittlingly the baccarat game in "Casino Royale" is riveting, holding the reader's attention throughout. It is not surprising therefore that I had forgotten the second half of the book in which Bond is tortured and ultimately falls in love with Vesper Lynd, as the most interesting and entertaining section of the book had already passed.
That's not to say that you should not read this novel, you should. It's a fun read and a good introduction to the world of 007. just don't be surprised if you find your attention tends to wander during the second half.
Well recommended. ( )
  DarrenHarrison | Jul 21, 2016 |
When I finally got around to reading this book I was in for more than a few surprises. And it was not as if I went in blind. I was aware that the movies--even the Daniel Craig vehicles--were different from the books. And I had read Thunderball years ago, though it was during the observation period after a car accident; it was the only book of fiction in the room and all I can remember is that I didn’t care for it.

My first surprise was at how well written Casino Royale is, particularly since I had heard of Ian Fleming’s lack of critical respect. I can only assume it was more a question of subject matter and tone than his narrative prowess. Another surprise was that while we share thoughts with Bond, there remained a certain lack of intimacy. I felt we never got much insight into 007. Fleming painted more vivid pictures of the supporting players: Vesper Lynd certainly, and to a lesser extent Mathis and Felix Leiter. Perhaps this was intentional in order to give Bond’s final scene--and the last line of the book--more impact. If that was the goal, at least that part was successful.

As was the main casino sequence. Fleming loved sports and games and endeavored to include them in his work whenever possible. That showed here. Bond’s showdown with Le Chiffre at the baccarat table was everything it could be.

But there were other negatives, some serious. First of all, I kept waiting for something to happen. A lot of time--for me, too much--was spent inside Bond's head. Again, because I felt we didn’t learn much about the man, this compounded the feeling that there was too much “waiting around.” And then there is the matter of following a protagonist who never manages to save himself. He was saved from a bomb by luck. He was saved from another bitter loss by Leiter’s care package. And he was saved one other time [from Le Chiffre’s torture by SMERSH]. True, he did extricate himself from an attack earlier, yet I had the feeling had that confrontation not happened in full public view, Bond would have been left dead on the floor.

I don’t mind mistakes by the hero. They should all make some, whether the series is realistic or fantastic. But by the time a villain says to Bond, “You are not equipped, my dear boy, to play games with adults,” I find myself agreeing with him.

My last complaint is muted to some extent by the fact that the book is sixty some-odd years old. It took place in an era when the only reason characters’ needed to fall in love (in any medium) was that they were alone together in a story that required it. While the attraction between Bond and Vesper was ever-present from the beginning, love seemed unlikely, particularly as they were never on the same wavelength for any period of time. This is particularly true at that beach resort, where, again, there seemed to be a lot of wasted time; I found myself “willing” for something to happen.

Was it worth the read? Maybe as a curiosity. Will I follow up? I was somewhat intrigued by the character and those who have read the series have promised more evolution to Bond, at least in the first couple of books. And it might be interesting to see how the movies and the accompanying mainstream success affected Fleming’s work. But somehow I doubt I’ll be back. It didn’t do enough for me.

[Reprinted and updated from a message board post I’d written in early 2006.] ( )
1 vote JohnWCuluris | Jul 3, 2016 |
The James Bond introduced in Casino Royale was more introspective but just as cold as the Bond of the movies. This was a quick read, a good spy story, but no surprise at the end. Now I want to watch an old Connery Bond film and look for the book Bond mannerisms. ( )
  wandaly | Jun 30, 2016 |
I read the book out of curiosity - "And how does Bond actually look like?" I was surprised with what I saw. This is not a perfect person from the movies womanizer and murderer - he is a professional and above all a man who is not alien to anything human.
In addition to all the construction of the chapters was pleasant - like a chess game. Fleming presented us with the white side and the black one. I can not mind the description of casino game, there was a feeling that it is me playing cards. How many times was the main character on the edge of death and only a miracle saved him? Definitely, the impression from the book is positive! ( )
  selinaadams | Jun 8, 2016 |
(Note:- I'll be discussing some spoilers of the book in this review, but it is an old and very popular book that has inspired a new and very popular film, so you probably know what happens anyway.)

Casino Royale is a novel of two halves – one bad, one good. The first half epitomises everything I disliked about James Bond (more specifically, the literary Bond), who comes across as dour, charmless and snobby. There's a lot of pretentiousness, as Bond (read: Fleming) seems more concerned with cocktail recipes, fine cuisine and fashionable clothes than with the espionage mission. "The trouble always is, he explained to Vesper, "not how to get enough caviar, but how to get enough toast with it."" (pg. 62). A problem that will be familiar to secret agents and men of action the world over, no doubt. It seems at times like every fifth word in this half of the book is in italics, denoting something rather pretentious. Tournedos. Sauce Béarnaise. Coeur d'artichaut. Those are just in the first paragraph after that caviar quote above; the same page also has Bond debating champagne with a waiter (the Taittinger 45 or the Blanc de Blanc Brut 1943? Has any spy ever faced such a desperate choice?). I acknowledge that this high-life is part of Bond's appeal, but the attention given to it in the book is grossly excessive; I quickly grew tired of indulging Fleming's boorishness. Vast swathes of it could have been edited out easily; even when Fleming explains in great detail the rules of baccarat (important to the plot, I guess), I skipped over most of it and still adequately understood the subsequent high-stakes gambling scenes.

These gambling scenes are when Casino Royale starts to redeem itself; tension, violence, torture, action all follow in the second half of the book as we move away from Fleming salivating over what vintage to have with his evening meal to the reader salivating over high-stake thrills. Whilst many of the tropes we associate with Bond as a franchise are not yet present in this first book, it is still the 007 we have enjoyed in his many on-screen incarnations. In a way, the book is Bond moving away from the posh-boys-on-a-jolly idea of gentlemanly espionage still persuasive in the early 1950s towards an ever-changing and increasingly ruthless geopolitical landscape where nothing is black-and-white. As Le Chiffre's taunts express, Bond has been playing a "game of Red Indians" and has "stumbled by mischance into a game for grown-ups." (pg. 133). The old patriotic compass doesn't apply ("this country-right-or-wrong business is getting a little out-of-date", Bond muses on page 159) and the good guys, struggling in a brutal new world where the purported villains often win, are trying to adapt. Whilst the bad guys are trying to kill them.

Casino Royale is in essence Bond's attempt to adapt. He is, as the French agent Mathis notes, a machine – a tool, a Double-O – and machines can become obsolete. But he is also a man, and it is to this side of Bond that Mathis is appealing when he encourages him to "surround yourself with human beings… They are easier to fight for than principles." (pg. 164). But in necessarily drawing on his humanity to help him realign his machine-like functionality, Bond leaves himself open to emotion. Taking the form of Vesper Lynd.

Vesper is interesting because it is she who both allows Bond to successfully adapt to the new world and also fundamentally damages him. The taciturn Bond is clearly deeply affected by her betrayal and death; never has a woman been called a 'bitch' with such repressed anguish and heartbreak. But in acknowledging how she was exploited by SMERSH – the Russian villains of the piece – Bond allows himself to fall back on his old black-and-white morality, morphing it into a sort of mutant that can survive in this new morally-grey world. Bastardising Mathis' advice, human beings become his principles; he turns his anguished hatred at those who would exploit people like Vesper: "He would go after the threat behind the spies, the threat that made them spy." (pg. 212). He has identified his villains and, though he recognises the world is no longer black-and-white, he decides to see it as such anyway because it enables him to cope. He rises above and yet at the same time sinks below the morality of the ordinary spy. Vesper has broken him and yet at the same time allowed him to function. And they say the Bond books lack the conflict and the gravity of the likes of le Carré...

In this respect, even Bond's chauvinism serves a purpose. Whilst I can't fully get behind a character who thinks women should stay in the kitchen (pg. 116) and says with apparent sincerity that it's better to seduce enigmatic and reticent women because then every "conquest of her body… would each time have the sweet tang of rape" (pg. 186), his attitude to women is illustrative of his growing and begrudging acceptance of the realities of his new world and the death of the old one. When he ends the book with a seemingly callous "The bitch is dead now" (pg. 213), it is not just Vesper Lynd he is referring to. It is the heroic ideals of the old Empire of Queen Victoria, still clung to by many at the time the book was written. It is the goddess Britannia on her throne, just a few years before the Suez Crisis really drove that lesson home. It is this which gives the book its gravity and illustrates its literary importance; Casino Royale was one of the first books to really acknowledge the frightening reality that, in the decade after the largest conflict in history, the world had fundamentally changed." ( )
  MikeFutcher | Jun 3, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (21 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ian Flemingprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Deaver, JefferyIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fahey, RichieCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Related movies
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First words
The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning.
The Devil has no prophets to write his Ten Commandments and no teams of authors to write his biography. His case has gone completely by default. We know nothing about him but a lot of fairy stories from our parents and schoolmasters. He has no book from which we can learn the nature of evil in all its forms, with parables about evil people, proverbs about evil people, folk-lore about evil people. All we have is the living example of the people who are least good, or our own intuition.
"surround yourself with human beings, my dear James. They are easier to fight for than principles. But don't let me down and become human yourself. We would lose such a wonderful machine."
“Your own injuries are serious, but your life is not in danger... If all goes well, you will recover completely and none of the functions of your body will be impaired... But I fear that you will continue to be in pain for several days...”
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Book description
James Bond

closed his eyes and waited for the pain. He knew that the beginning of torture was the worst.

Le Chiffre
The formidable, dangerous French Communist with large sexual appetites. Paymaster of SMERSH and a master sadist.

Vesper Lynd
the conquest of her body would each time have the sweet tang of rape.

A superlative thriller. Replete with elegant, enigmatic women, superb food and service, explosions, torture and sudden death. - Boston Sunday Post

The best gambling scene one can recall and the most revolting torture scenes. - The Birmingham Post

Hums with tension - Time Magazine
For James Bond and the British Secret Service, the stakes couldn't be higher. 007's mission is to neutralize the Russian operative Le Chiffre by ruining him at the baccarat table, forcing his Soviet masters to "retire" him. When Le Chiffre hits a losing streak, Bond discovers his luck is in - that is, until he meets Vesper Lynd, a glamorous agent who might yet prove to be his downfall. This audiobook includes an exclusive bonus interview with Dan Stevens.
Haiku summary
Double Oh Seven
gambles with a union boss
who's a SMERSH agent.

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 014200202X, Paperback)

In the first of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels, 007 declares war on Le Chiffre, French communist and paymaster of the Soviet murder organization SMERSH.

The battle begins with a fifty-million-franc game of baccarat, gains momentum during Bond's fiery love affair with a sensuous lady spy, and reaches a chilling climax with fiendish torture at the hands of a master sadist. For incredible suspense, unexpected thrills, and extraordinary danger, nothing can beat James Bond in his inaugural adventure.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:50 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

In the first James Bond novel, originally published in 1953, 007 takes on Le Chiffre, a French communist and paymaster of the Soviet murder organization SMERSH, as the suave agent becomes involved in a high-stakes game of baccarat, enjoys a fiery love affair with a sexy female spy, and endures torture at the hands of a master sadist.… (more)

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