Ian Fleming,
(Jonathan Cape, 1959;
Macmillan, 1966;
Penguin, 2002)

Ian Fleming's novel Goldfinger, first published in 1959, bears a recognisable resemblance, story-wise, to the hugely successful, gadget-laden film of the same name, yet it is clear that the screenwriters altered and enhanced many scenes for maximum visual impact. But do not be misled, despite a few references to firms like BOAC or the introduction of the "new" British 5-pound note, which inevitably date the action, Bond in book form is every inch the suave but deadly secret agent we may recognise from Sean Connery's interpretation in the film.

Auric Goldfinger is as large-as-life, incongruously attired, obsessively avaricious and casually dismissive of human life in his pursuit of power and gold. Oddjob, if anything, is even more menacing and deadly: a near-silent killing machine, impassive, impenetrable and inscrutable. There are several references to which some more racially sensitive or "politically correct" readers may take offence, but it is important to realise that these opinions were more acceptable in the '50s and especially in the context of the atrocities inflicted on POWs in World War II.

The high-stakes golf match at Royal St. Marks is described in pages of intricate detail, delighting both golfers and those who like to know the underlying psychology of Bond's character as he plans to rob the strutting, cheating Goldfinger of the game and a further $10,000. Unlike the film, the initial encounter over the crooked game of cards involves the two protagonists meeting directly, and their verbal sparring presents Goldfinger in a more intelligent, more sinister light.

The characters of the golden Jill Masterton and her vengeance-driven sister are recognisably intact; but Tilly is utterly immune to Bond's amorous advances, her sexual preferences being fully revealed when the equally impervious and striking Miss Pussy Galore is introduced. They only have eyes for each other -- poor James -- this would never have been an acceptable brush-off for the predatory film spy!

As 007 is acting predominantly on innate skill, rather than relying on a plethora of accessories, we are treated to in-depth analysis of his character, his thoughts and reactions to those who surround him. This makes for a much fuller persona than the often shallow debonair portrayed by various screen Bonds. This is not to say that he does not at times display some recognisable characteristics: demanding his preferred alcoholic beverage and cigarettes, successfully seducing the amenable Jill, driving a luxury car at top speeds, dining at top restaurants in various countries.... But we are privy to aspects of Bond which have been only hinted at in a few films: the steely ruthlessness when required to kill, the compassionate despair at his inability to save innocent lives, the dehumanizing ennui after causing yet another in a long line of deaths, the deductive agility and intelligence that keeps him alive in the face of certain death.

Fleming's Goldfinger has all the charisma and nail-biting pace of the film adaptation, and you are kept in suspense -- so entertained and alarmed as events unfold, that you do not miss the nifty gizmos that almost overpower the film character. Unlimited by a film set, the action occurs in the panoramic expanse of your imagination, and I found it interesting that I did not automatically envisage Connery as James Bond, nor Gert Frobe as Goldfinger. Despite being an avid fan of the escapist fantasies that the 007 films have always been, Bond, as I read, was a shadowy amalgam of all his screen portrayers, and Goldfinger a composite of 007's multiple antagonists; the enigmatic Pussy Galore was emphatically not a come-hither, well-spoken honey-blonde!

Ian Fleming's recipe for spies, sex and speed has not aged over the decades, and the re-publication of Goldfinger is a rollercoaster of a read! Do not be afraid to sample the original character.

- Rambles
written by Jenny Ivor
published 15 February 2003

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