Monday, July 28, 2008

Cold warriors versus the Smartistics

At the New York Review of Books, Geoffrey Wheatcroft joins the 50th anniversary Ian Fleming-James Bond pile-on with more flourish than most, as with these evocations of life in the Fleming household:

He got on with Ann on and off, as it were, in a curious relationship. Torture is conspicuous in the books, and an early Dr. No paperback cover (the kind of thing we don't see much in bookstores now) shows a girl with very little on dangling from manacled wrists while a vast black man stands over her to inflict horrible pain. But then Fleming knew whereof he wrote, warning Ann in one letter to ready herself for more of her own punishment and "be prepared to drink your cocktails standing for a few days."

Then again, he might have been settling the score. Returning to the small house on the Dover coast he'd been lent by Noël Coward, Fleming heard laughter from the sitting room, which fell silent when he entered, and he realized that Ann and her friends had been guffawing over passages from galleys of Casino Royale. He never cared for Ann's salon of writers and artists and one can almost see why. One of her friendships at least bequeathed an unforgettable legacy: amid the memorabilia—Ian's old typewriter, or a cable from Clay Felker asking for a piece on Russian spying for Esquire—a visitor to the show is stopped in his tracks by Lucian Freud's haunting small portrait of Ann.

And one more of the circle was Cyril Connolly (even if, come to think of it, Ann was exactly the woman he had in mind with his lethal coining "smartistic"). In 1963, Connolly published a parody of Fleming in the London Magazine. "M" has conceived an illicit passion for 007, who is told to get himself done up in drag, go to a nightclub, and entice a kinky visiting KGB general, who turns out to be "M" himself in disguise ("I'm sorry, James," he says forlornly at the unmasking. "It was the only way I could get you," at which Bond's "long rangy body flared out above his black silk panties," before he cuts his boss short: "I thought fellows like you shot themselves.... Have you got a gun—sir—?").

Geoffrey Wheatcroft, "Bondage," New York Review of Books, Volume 55, Number 13 · August 14, 2008

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