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'The spy who loved me was called James Bond, and the night on which he loved me was a night of screaming terror. This is the story of who I am and how I came through a nightmare of torture and the threat of death to a dawn of ecstasy...'
An abridged Bond audio cassette (yes, I'm always at the absolute cutting edge of technology) book from 2002, read by Rufus Sewell and Samantha Bond. The Spy Who Loved Me was the tenth Bond novel by Ian Fleming and published in 1962. Fleming didn't care much for the book himself and give strict instructions that only the title was to be used in any film version and, generally, The Spy Who Loved Me is not regarded to be one of the best entries in the series. It does have its fans though and its rather polarising nature is probably best explained by the fact that this is a very different type of Bond book that found Fleming in a somewhat experimental mood. In The Spy Who Loved Me, Fleming departs from his usual structure and the story is told first person by his heroine Vivienne Michel. Vivienne is a young French-Canadian who is on the run from an unhappy and complicated past and ends up doing a lonely job at the Dreamy Pines Motor Court, a motel in the remote Adirondacks. While a storm rages outside, Vivienne has to close the motel down and generally just look after the place but she ends up in very big trouble when a pair of nasty and sadistic criminals named Sol 'Horror' Horowitz and Sluggsy Morant turn up with orders by their boss Mr Sanguinetti to burn the place down for insurance purposes. Vivienne is beaten and held hostage and things look rather bleak. Until that is a mysterious British man with a flat tyre on his car suddenly turns up at the motel. His name is James Bond.
The difference between this and the other audio books in this series is that Rufus Sewell is not reading alone this time but playing parts and we get Samantha Bond (who of course played Moneypenny in the Brosnan films) as Vivienne reading the story instead. It's probably a necessary and sensible move because Bond only appears in the book for the third act. The first 50 or so pages of The Spy Who Loved Me consist entirely of Vivienne reflecting on her tangled life and ups and downs. The second act has the arrival of the villains before 007 enters the fry for the final act. The first act is not Fleming on the firmest footing of his life and a trifle melodramatic at times but it works relatively well being read to you by Samantha Bond and you at least admire the author for trying something new and taking himself out of his third person narrative/megalomaniac holds the world to nuclear ransom comfort zone. When he wrote the book Fleming was becoming slightly tired of churning out Bond novels and wanted to tinker with his formula. Fleming didn't like the idea that the Bond books were seen merely as entertaining pot boilers (which, let's be honest, is more or less exactly what they were) and was always seeking a bit more critical recognition for his literary endevours.
It takes quite a while for anything of note to happen in the story but there is a good deal of tension generated when the villains show up and then Bond arrives. The backstory of Vivienne does flesh her out as a character and make us feel like we know her quite well and therefore we are very eager for Bond to arrive when the sadistic villains get their grubby mitts on her. Even by Fleming standards, this entry is quite sadistic at times, with Vivienne taking a battering from Sol and Sluggsy, but it's negated and toned down somewhat by the abridged nature of this format. I think abridged Bond audio books probably work better than other famous works because there is always an unnecessary passage about the history of marmalade or a few jarring ruminations on gay people or foreigners or something that you can snip away quietly without detracting from the adaption or losing any sense of the source material. The atmosphere of the novel - remote mountainous location, the telephone is out, wild storm etc - is great for an audio adaption and nicely conveyed.
These are not your typical Bond villains but quite nasty all the same and somewhat grotesque in the usual Fleming fashion. Sluggsy has an absence of hair anywhere on his body and very bloodshot eyes and Sol 'Horror' has steel-capped teeth (clearly the inspiration for 'Jaws' in the completely different film version). 'There was the touch of a slightly damp hand. "Ferry pleased to meet you", said in an ingratiating voice and Bond looked into a pale round unhealthy face now split in a stage smile which died almost as Bond noticed it. Bond looked into his eye. They were like two restless black buttons and they twisted away from Bond's gaze.' The story does have a great moment when 007 (who is returning from a mission and genuinely has stopped here by accident with a flat tyre) is asked 'Hey, limey. What's your name?' by one of these sadistic characters. 'Bond... James Bond,' comes the reply. The thing that makes this moment great is that Sol and Sluggsy think this is just some British sap who has broken down and can be bumped off quite easily. They have no idea who they are dealing with. One nice touch in the story is that Bond talks about his last mission. This was a mission to capture a SPECTRE agent and involved no small degree of cunning.
This is a decent adaption on the whole and it was quite a nice touch to rope in Samantha Bond for this very female slanted Bond entry. Actually, the fact that we are viewing Bond here through somebody else's eyes rather than Fleming's third person narrative is quite effective, making him seem like more of a mythic character. This audio cassette book can be purchased for 50p the last time I checked. I can't remember seeing this for sale individually in an audio CD version but I believe it is part of a bumper audio CD collection which contains many of these Sewell read adaptions.