“Casually, one hand reached out to the control panel and pressed down a switch. There came a slow metallic growl from the end of the table on which Bond lay. It curved quickly up to a harsh whine and then to a shrill high whistle that was barely audible. Bond turned his head wearily away. How soon could he manage to die?”
I’ve been trying to write up a review for Goldfinger – probably the most famous of the Bond adventures – for a couple of days now. Well, since this was a re-read, I guess you could say I have been trying to write down my thought for a couple of years!
The problem is that I didn’t find this one as interesting a story as some of the others.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some great characters in this – namely Auric Goldfinger and Tilly Masterton, and of course Pussy Galore, but the plot of this book was rather boring, especially when it became clear towards the end that the book heavily deviated from the film. (In the book, they never get to conquer Fort Knox.)
So, what about the characters?
In typical fashion, Fleming vilifies the baddies (Goldfinger and his assistant Oddjob) by endowing them with the appropriate physical descriptions.
Goldfinger is another caricature villain:
“Perhaps, Bond thought, it was to conceal his ugliness that Goldfinger made such a fetish of sunburn. Without the red-brown camouflage the pale body would be grotesque. The face, under the cliff of crew-cut carroty hair, was as startling, without being as ugly, as the body. It was moon-shaped without being moonlike. The forehead was fine and high and the thin sandy brows were level above the large light blue eyes fringed with pale lashes. The nose was fleshily aquiline between high cheek-bones and cheeks that were more muscular than fat. The mouth was thin and dead straight, but beautifully drawn. The chin and jaws were firm and glinted with health. To sum up, thought Bond, it the face of a thinker, perhaps a scientist, who was ruthless, sensual, stoical and tough. An odd combination. What else could he guess? Bond always mistrusted short men. They grew up from childhood with an inferiority complex. All their lives they would strive to be big – bigger than the others who had teased them as a child. Napoleon had been short, and Hitler. It was the short men that caused all the trouble in the world. And what about a misshapen short man with red hair and a bizarre face? That might add up to a really formidable misfit.”
And Oddjob is another victim of Fleming’s general racial stereotyping, which by now I am pretty much expecting from Fleming, even tho they are no less aggravating:
“Bond had had a good look at the chauffeur. He was a chunky flat-faced Japanese, or more probably Korean, with a wild, almost mad glare in dramatically slanting eyes that belonged in a Japanese film rather than in a Rolls Royce on a sunny afternoon in Kent. He had the snout-like upper lip that sometimes goes with a cleft palate, but he said nothing and Bond had no opportunity of knowing whether his guess was right. In his tight, almost bursting black suit and farcical bowler hat he looked rather like a Japanese wrestler on his day off. But he was not a figure to make one smile.”
Yeah, this is the general description of Oddjob. The, in this instance, more than casual racism is added a little later:
“Now then,’ Oddjob had dressed and was standing respectfully at attention, ‘you did well, Oddjob. I’m glad to see you are in training. Here –’ Goldfinger took the cat from under his arm and tossed it to the Korean who caught it eagerly – ‘I am tired of seeing this animal around. You may have it for dinner.’ The Korean’s eyes gleamed.”
However, Fleming’s does like to make his villains interesting, and in Goldfinger, Fleming introduces his audience to new fighting skills that have been around in Europe but have not yet enjoyed the popular appeal that would come a couple of decades later.
‘Have you ever heard of Karate? No? Well that man is one of the three in the world who have achieved the Black Belt in Karate.
I thought this was interesting. It shows that Fleming is still trying to keep the stories fresh and interesting. The previous books have been outlandish and daring, but each had a slightly different twist. Fleming enthusiasts may be able to convey more insight on this than I can, but it would be interesting to find out if Fleming himself had some interest in Japan or Korea when writing Goldfinger (and the later You Only Live Twice), since he seemed to have turned to Asia for inspiration in both books.
Of course, as mentioned in previous reviews, Fleming either seems to not have been a great believer in fact checking or he preferred to make use of sensationalist claims for the benefit of the story, but the claim of there only being three Black Belts in the world (in 1959) is of course false.
In a way, I guess this is what irks me most about Fleming’s writing. When the plot does not hold up, the rest of the books crumbles with awkward writing, made-up facts, and predictable characterisations. Except, ….
Well, every now and then, Fleming does something to surprise: either he comes up with an unexpected gem of a character like Pussy Galore:
‘Who is this Pussy Galore from Harlem?’ ‘She is the only woman who runs a gang in America. It is a gang of women. I shall need some women for this operation. She is entirely reliable. She was a trapeze artiste. She had a team. It was called “Pussy Galore and her Abrocats”.’ Goldfinger did not smile. ‘The team was unsuccessful, so she trained them as burglars, cat burglars. It grew into a gang of outstanding ruthlessness. It is a Lesbian organization which now calls itself “The Cement Mixers”. Even the big American gangs respect them. She is a remarkable woman.’
Yeah, don’t get me started on the name or the idiotic ideas about sexuality in the book, but Fleming actually created another female character (the first since Gala Brand in Moonraker) that is more competent than Bond.
Pussy Galore pretty much saves the day in this book. Of course, Fleming then spoils this by having her fall for Bond (again idiotic notions….) but I give Fleming credit for trying.
The second surprise was that Fleming actually gives Bond a chance to be human – in this one he tries to help Jill Masterton escape from Goldfinger, and later he helps her sister, Tilly, plot revenge.
So, while this was not the most exciting of Bond books – and it definitely suffers by comparison with its predecessor Dr. No – there are some interesting parts in it. It is just a shame that the plot is not one of them, and that the gimmicks are not enough to make it special.
(Btw, I loved Gerd Froebe as Goldfinger. He was much underrated as an actor in the international scene, but even thinking about some of the other characters he portrayed in German films makes me shiver.)