Review: Goldfinger by Ian Fleming

GoldfingerWith his seventh James Bond novel, Ian Fleming took his craft to another level. Not only is Goldfinger a brilliant, enthralling spy novel – capped with thrills, dastardly villains, and audacious action – but here, more than ever before, 007 is presented as a complex individual; not just the callous, sardonic killer for Queen and Country, but a man, who, like the rest of us, suffers from an inner turmoil; whose propensity for death has darkened his psyche. James Bond is a man who derives pleasure from the food he eats, the women he beds, and the cars he drives; he basks in the finer things in life because his existence beyond those things is perpetually bleak.

Goldfinger begins with Bond reminiscing about the mission he has just completed. Once again he has faced danger, overcome it, and is left stewing over events alone, awaiting a flight home from Miami, with only an alcoholic beverage for company. That is, until he is recognized by a man with whom he gambled with in Casino Royale; Junius Du Pont, a rich American businessman, who is adamant he is being cheated in his daily games of Canasta with the enigmatic Auric Goldfinger. While Du Pont isn’t entirely cognizant of Bond’s profession, he identifies 007 as a man with a keen eye, and hires Her Majesty’s agent to monitor proceedings during his next game with Goldfinger. His flight delayed, Bond accepts the job, and the very next day meets one of his greatest adversaries, who, it turns out, is connected to the Soviet counter-intelligence agency SMERSH.

007’s investigation ultimately leads to the discovery of Goldfinger’s daring heist to steal the United States’ gold reserves from Fort Knox. Before that, however, Bond masterminds various gatherings with his foe, including a particularly sensational golfing scene, which sees Goldfinger attempt to cheat his way to victory. The tension and mistrust between the two men is palpable; Fleming in top form.

Goldfinger represents the crystallization of Fleming’s storytelling; perhaps its apex. It’s over-the-top, but equally grounded, finding that balance his contemporaries struggle with. And yes, contemporary readers will frown at the depiction of Pussy Galore, whose sexual tendencies, Bond believes, can be swayed by the touch of a good man – but in my mind, this just reaffirms Bond’s damned personality. Oh, sure, I love reading his adventures, but I wouldn’t want to meet the man. As M once put it in the first Pierce Brosnan Bond film Goldeneye: he is a “sexist, misogynist dinosaur.” He’s not a man – he’s a bullet. And I enjoy reading about him hitting his target.

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