You Only Live Twice review
First of all You Only Live Twice is my least favourite “conventional” Bond novel. The second half of the book is alright but the first half is utterly, deathly dull.
While I respect and genuinely admire Ian Fleming’s natural ability to conjure up settings and as Raymond Chandler put it “An acute sense of place”, I simply can’t help thinking that he goes over the top. The first half of the book features Bond doing absolutely nothing as he learns how to act like a Japanese man in order to infiltrate his old nemesis Blofeld’s “Island of Death”. I really can’t exaggerate how dull this is. The writing slowly creeps along at a snail’s pace. Gone is the high tension card game instead you have a game of rock, paper, scissors (no I’m not making that up). Gone are the car chases, the espionage, the gunfights, replaced instead with Bond making Haikus. I mean really?
Around this time Fleming was experimenting with a variety of literary styles and we had the awful Spy Who Loved Me and other attempts at making Bond a “deeper” character. One Italian critic set up a series of manoeuvres that occur in every traditional Bond book. In general when Fleming sticks to this formula he is superb however the moment he deviates the books are generally heading for disaster. While I do admit at times, namely On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Fleming can very successfully move away from this tried and tested method of writing it generally does not bring great success.
But what’s good about this book? It is commonly believed that every James Bond book has at least one good feature and to be fair the second half of the book does more or less see a return to Fleming’s form. To be truly honest Blofeld setting up a “garden of death” does seem one of his less ambitious plots when compared to stealing an atomic weapon & blackmailing the free world with it, launching biological warfare on Britain and setting up a major spy network in Eastern Europe. As usual Fleming excels at the imaginative and gritty interrogation scenes and the one contained in this book must be considered a highlight.
Despite the second half of the books general appeal you are still recovering from the first half’s extreme boredom. If on the one hand if you are looking for a well written and heavily researched travel guide that imparts information only someone with real experience of the country can produce, you’re in for a treat. If, as I believe the majority of people will be, on the other hand you are looking for espionage, thrilling adrenalin fuelled chases and a well written and exciting narrative avoid this book.
This is Frontline Armchair signing off.