Sunday, January 02, 2011

Books finished, November 2010

Books finished, November 2010Catching up on the books of 2010. Goldfinger deserves a post of it's own sometime - and I certainly made loads of notes. But blimey, it's an odd book, with a interminably dull golf match that stretches over chapters being followed by an equally dull drive to Switzerland. So many of the iconic moments from the film - such as the girl killed by being painted gold - are reported rather than seen, and even for a Bond book there's a lot of casual racism.

Some of that is the time in which it was written - Fleming also need to explain to the reader what karate is, and the term "'hit' - mobese for murder" (p. 186). But that will only go so far. Bond's thoughts on a girl who's not interested in him, and on where gayness might come from, are quite a surprise:
"Bond came to the conclusion that Tilly Masterson was one of those girls whose hormones had got mixed up. He knew the type well and thought they and their male counterparts were a direct consequence of giving votes to women and 'sex equality'. As a direct result of fifty years of emancipation, feminine qualities were dying out or being transferred to the males. Pansies of both sexes were everywhere, not yet completely homosexual, but confused, not knowing what they were. The result was a herd of unhappy sexual misfits - barren and full of frustrations, the women wanting to dominate and the men to be nannied. He was sorry for them, but he had no time for them."

Ian Fleming, Goldfinger, p. 189.

Of course, later Bond will convert the lesbian Pussy Galore so that she throws off a life of crime and ladies to help Bond stop the villains and get into his bed. We learn that Pussy is only a lesbian because she was abused by her uncle, and that all this time she's been waiting for a real man.

That this man turns out to be Bond is not merely reactionary fantasy but also a massive cheat in the plot. Pussy has only met Bond once - and briefly - before she switches sides. That's during a meeting between Goldfinger and America's fiercest hoodlums, where Bond is being Goldfinger's secretary. He doesn't say anything, let alone do anything to attract her attention. The 'real man' she falls for is the quiet one doing shorthand in a room full of toughs. Really not good enough, 007.

GCSE Astronomy - A Guide for Pupils and Teachers (1999) relates to an older version of the syllabus than the one I'm doing, but outlines the main topics and homework projects which is all very useful.

The Cosmos - A Beginnner's Guide is also me swotting up for class. Accompanying the TV series, it's an enthusiastic trawl through some of the big ideas and newer theories, with a particular pleasure in big machinery and diagrams.

Her Fearful Symmetry
is sort of The Graveyard Book as told by Richard Curtis. The male hero is an embarrassed, slightly rubbish Hugh Grant type who falls under the spell of an American girl. He lives alone in a large flat in an expensive part of London without having to work, and is doing a PhD without apparently having to see a supervisor or, you know, actually do a lot of work or anything.

In fact, most of the characters idle along, going to museums and strange bits of London not in their lunch hours and stolen moments of the day but because they're filling time. There's none of the urgency, the effort, to earn enough for the costly capital city, and little of the noise and richness and mixture.

Highgate is just a stone's throw from Archway but is apparently an oasis of old-skool Englishness where no one is Black or gay. Everyone speaks English apart from two eccentric linguists - we get some wry stuff about the differences between American English and the local vernacular, but that's about it.

The volunteers running the cemetery are all sweet and understanding old dears - there's none of the petty jealousies, intrigues and empire-building that bother any place of work, especially one run by enthusiasts. As a result, it's an idyll of London which never quite rings true.

At one point, the book seems to notice this:
"Julia began to play a game that entailed travelling on the tube and randomly popping out at stations with interesting names: Tooting Broadway, Ruislip Gardens, Pudding Mill Lane. Usually the above-ground reality disappointed her. The names on the tube map evoked a Mother Goose cityscape, cosy and diminutive. The actual places tended to be grim: takeaway chicken shops, off-licences and Ladbrokes crowded out whimsy."

Audrey Niffenegger, Her Fearful Symmetry, p. 255.

But this may all be intentional, as the veil of unreality about the world matches the strange and sad and beautiful ghost story. It reminded me chiefly of the death of Simon Callow's character in Four Weddings - with the same awkwardness of feelings amongst a group of decent but unfulfilled people, the same peculiar peccadilloes and the knowledge that there can't be a happy ending, only one that's bittersweet.

It's an odd book, and haunting, but not quite as brilliant as The Time Traveller's Wife.

1 comment:

Rob Stradling said...

I've ranted about the outrageous sexual politics of "Goldfinger" before, but the plot is also completely mad; folks who talk about the movie being the beginning of "dumbing down" Bond should really study how much it actually improves on the nonsensical novel.

In the movie's greatest scene, Bond taunts Goldfinger about his stupid plan to break into Fort Knox with an atom bomb; and Goldfinger reveals that his real plan is much cleverer. Nope; in the book, blowing off the doors of the fort with a nuke is Goldfinger's whole evil scheme. He and his hoodlums plan to survive the blast by - wait for it - hiding behind a railway carriage a few yards away! Goldfinger is just a SMERSH agent stealing the gold for his Soviet masters, another plot point wisely dumped my Maibaum & Co. And yes, Bond spends nearly half the book behind a desk, although he does find time to do the "hide a message on a body and dump it out of an aeroplane" trick that later gets used in "Con Air".

Unizz (vb.) - To sleep through undergraduate lectures.