I have never been a huge fan of James Bond movies, so unsurprisingly Ian Fleming’s books never pinged my reading radar. My dear friend describes himself as a Bond scholar, so when he asked me to read From Russia with Love with him, I figured, why not? I enjoy a good espionage tale and after recently reading The Spy and the Traitor, the true story of a Russian double-agent for MI6 during the Cold War, the timing for doing so was impeccable.
For a Bond being the titular character, I was surprised that he did not come into play until about halfway through the novel. The first half sets up the exposition that characterizes the Russians as evil, their executioner as ruthless and soulless, and explains their (thin) reasons for targeting Bond in an assassination plot. The Russians play on Bond’s weakness for beautiful women and lure him into a false sense of security by planting the Greta Garbo lookalike, Tatiana, as a shiny lure. Misogyny hangs out casually in the novel’s lines, which given what I did know about Bond was not surprising, but still unpalatable, nonetheless.
Bond’s depth caught me off guard, as I did not realize he dealt with depression, restlessness, and uncertainty under his cool facade. I even found myself relating to him in one passage. “In the centre of Bond was a hurricane-room, the kind of citadel found in old-fashioned houses in the tropics….To this cell the owner and his family retire if the storm threatens to destroy the house, and they stay until the danger is past. Bond went to his hurricane-room only when the situation was beyond his control and no other possible action could be taken” (65). Even the James Bond retreats into himself when life gets dicey—granted, the situations for an international spy and some lady in the Midwest probably differ greatly.
Overall, From Russia with Love captured my attention and entertained me for a short time. I enjoyed the juxtaposition of this novel with The Spy and the Traitor and actually think that the two books fit well together. I am far from a Bond convert, but I will keep Fleming’s Bond tales in mind if I’m ever in the mood for a short, lively novel.