Much has been written about Bond creator Ian Fleming and the story of how he brought legendary Gentleman agent James Bond into being has been numerously put down in writing. And yet, here is a book that captivates by using a completely different style of telling this fascinating story: Fleming’s own hand.
Throughout his life, Ian Fleming had written and received an enormous amount of letters and its the ones between 1952 and 1964 that form the content of the 378 page strong “The Man with the Golden Typewriter”. It is seldom that I come across a book that has the power to mesmerise me in a way that makes it hard to put it aside.
In a time where we ourselves have largely sacrificed the classic letter for more convenient and faster means of communication, reading through the vast amount of Fleming’s output almost feels like a journey into the mind of a genius who not only penned fourteen bestselling James Bond thrillers, but also “The Diamond Smugglers”, “Thrilling Cities” as well as the famous children’s story “Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang”.
Of particularly striking elegance is Fleming’s writing style. So much fine wording, articulate without being overly snobbish but also bluntly honest and occasionally florid in letters to his wife Ann. Inbetween the admiration for this lost art of communication, it is the gripping and chronologically presented creative process of the James Bond books which the reader experiences through the various letters and their accompanying explanations written by Fleming’s nephew Fergus.
Completely immersed in Ian Fleming’s world after the first 15 pages, the reader becomes a spectator of literary history. He equally absorbes how Fleming negotiates royalties, deals with critics and fanmail, fails in killing Bond off, admits to having made factual errors and even being told off by his publisher for beginning too many sentences with repetetive phrasing. Whether you prefer the literary or the cinematic Bond, there is a lot of detail in this book to splendidly satisfy both factions. In many ways, it also serves as a very narrow bridge between reality and fiction as Fleming very much lived the lifestyle of his creation and had himself had a background in espionage.
Each chapter in the book is devoted to one of the fourteen Bond novels that Fleming wrote and contains the relevant, partly unpublished correpondence. Inbetween, several interrupting chapters offer a nice variety in which the reader is, for example, let in on the wonderful exchange between Fleming and firearms expert Major Boothroyd who would later be immortalised as “Q”.
The way in which Fleming took time to answer an array of letters from people correcting his work, doubting the credibility of certain depictions or even downright hating his work is admirable. There are passages that make you think about the fact, that you yourself would probably not have responded as kind, witty and gentlemanly as Fleming did. In that regard, the book doesn’t just serve as a biographical course of events written by Fleming and the people around him, but also as a trigger for the subconscious mind of the reader.
Among the many truly captivating insights into the creation of my favourite hero James Bond, reading this incredible book made me realise one thing: Maybe we ought to write more letters from time to time, appreciate the power of our words when combined with pen and paper. Playing with words, sentences and phrases not only enables us to express ourselves in the most comprehensive way, it also broadens our horizon with every line of text.
I highly recommend “The Man with the Golden Typewriter” as it is one of the best books about the men, the myth and the legend that are Ian Fleming and James Bond.