After the disappointing experiences with Goldfinger and Dr. No, Fleming seems to come back around to what made James Bond special in the first place. This collection of short stories, curated under the title For Your Eyes Only reads like Fleming revisited his fundamentals after two disappointing outings–focusing instead on the quintessential Bond tropes and those storytelling techniques that made the early works so great. The stories are tight, the action is gripping, the stakes are high, and Bond is really Bond–not some sub-par interloper traipsing through the French countryside or enjoying a quiet game of golf, making mistakes for the purpose of advancing the plot.
The one outlier in this collection is “Quantum of Solace”, a sort of story-within-a-story where the governor of Jamaica delivers a tale of woe and revenge between a goldbricking young woman and her milquetoast husband. It’s a comedy of life wrapped up in the mundane drudgery of white-collar Edwardian colonial politics, but it reads with sincerity and a polish that keeps you wondering just what will happen next to the unhappy couple. I feel like it serves as a subtle turning point in the Bond literary franchise. Bond learns a little something about “real” people, and we’re treated to a gossipy tale about the hidden despair in outwardly happy life in colonial Jamaica.
There’s a definite attitude change in the way Fleming treats Bond through these stories. Instead of just pushing Bond through another lackluster travelogue, Fleming plays with him in the way he does best. The stories are vignettes, rather like a “best of” collection, displaying the most interesting and exciting attributes of a Bond novel. Fleming has the luxury of dropping us into the middle of an adventure, without wasted exposition, and reinvigorates the interest both he and the reader have in this legendary character.
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