Ian Fleming experimented radically with The Spy Who Loved Me. The story is told in the first person by the heroine, Vivienne Michel, and James Bond only appears in the last third of the book.
Author: Ian Fleming
Publication date: 16th April 1962
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
Cover artist: Richard Chopping
The Spy Who Loved Me showcases a different side of Fleming’s writing but received an extremely poor reception on first release. As a result Fleming asked his publisher not to issue reprints or a paperback edition. It was only released in paperback after Fleming’s death.
In this article
He later explained that he wrote The Spy Who Loved Me because of his dismay of learning that his books, written for adults, were being read by the young. He intended to write a cautionary tale.
Of course, he may have been bored with writing a new thriller year after year and wanted to try his hand at something different. But at the end Vivienne receives a lecture about the dangers of all men like Bond, good and bad.
What we say
On first reading The Spy Who Loved Me is certainly surprising to find Fleming writing from the perspective of a female protagonist. Bond does not appear until the end of the book and it lacks most of the familiar descriptions of food, drink, cars, etc that marked out the previous Bond outings.
Friends & foes
While there are several characters mentioned prior to Bond’s arrival in the story, there are just a few who are essential to the meat of the story.
Vivienne Michel is a strong-willed and independent Canadian woman who finds herself entangled in an insurance scam. She is resourceful and determined, making her a compelling character to follow throughout the story, in which she, not James Bond, is the chief protagonist.
Sol “Horror” Horowitz is a tall and menacing figure, is described as having a murderous lust for violence.
“Sluggsy” Morant is his partner, a burly and brutish character with a sadistic nature.
Mr Sanguinetti is the main antagonist in The Spy Who Loved Me, although we never actually meet him. He is the owner of The Dreamy Pines Motor Court, where Vivienne Michel, finds a job. He hires Sluggsy and Horror to burn down the motel, with Vivienne in it. Only Bond’s arrival at the motel ensures Viv’s survival.
In the early part of the book, Vivienne Michel has moved to London from Quebec in Canada. Orphaned at a young age, she had been brought up by her aunt in Canada. After a stifling education at a Catholic school she begged her protestant aunt to leave. In the end she was sent to England at the age of 16 to complete her education at a finishing school in Sunningdale, south-west of London. There she wade friends with a Scottish girl and would stay with her parents in Scotland in summer and go skiing in Europe during winter.
Afterwards she found a flat just off the King’s Road, so in the vicinity of Bond’s own flat. During this time she meets Derek, who lives near Windsor. It is there, in a clearing near the canal, that she loses her virginity. After Derek attends Oxford University he dumps Viv and she becomes involved with her German boss, Kurt. Around this time she moves from Chelsea to Bloomsbury Square.
However, Kurt sacks Viv the day after she tells him she is pregnant, giving her pay in lieu of notice and some additional cash for a flight to Zürich where she is to have an abortion, which was prohibited in the UK until 1967. Afterwards she returns to the UK, staying at the “new circular Ariel Hotel near London Airport” (now known as Best Western London Heathrow Ariel Hotel) and then makes an appointment with a Vespa dealer in Hammersmith. Buying the top of the range 150cc Gran Sport model, she arranges for the dealer to ship the Vespa to Canada, from where she plans on driving down all the way to Florida and find a newspaper job.
Flying to Montreal at the beginning of September, she is soon back in Quebec with her aunt and two weeks later heads off from Quebec. Armed with maps purchased at the American Automobile Association in Pall Mall, she heads towards Montreal and then crosses the border into New York State on Route 9. Once over the border she explores the Adirondacks for the next fortnight, ending up at Lake George, where she stays at The Dreamy Pines Motor Court. There she is offered the job of receptionist for the last two weeks of the season, before closing down for the winter. It is here that all the book’s action takes place.
Almost incredibly for a James Bond novel, 007 consumes no alcohol at all in The Spy Who Loved Me. He does drink coffee with Benzedrine tablets though to remain alert, after arriving at the Dreamy Pines Motel and finding Vivienne in distress.
While Bond himself abstains from booze, Viv does enjoy a few drinks earlier in the novel. Prior to Bond’s arrival she finishes off a quart bottle of Virginia Gentleman bourbon, serving it on the rocks in a cut-glass tumbler. But even earlier, before embarking on her road trip, there are numerous references to champagne, sometimes pink, a meal of spaghetti Bolognese in Tottenham Court Road accompanies by “instant” Beaujolais, numerous gin and tonics (and gin and bitter lemons) as well as a imagining her future self as a “hard, if successful, little career girl, smoking too many cigarettes and drinking too many vodka and tonics and eating alone out of tins”.
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