It’s quite interesting to read a James Bond story from the perspective of the Bond Girl, and Ian Fleming takes the opportunity to get in touch with his feminine side, penning a personal account of a chance encounter with the famous secret agent during one woman’s moment of life-threatening peril. Vivien Michel is a young Canadian woman on personal exile after a particularly heartbreaking string of affairs with European men during her early 20s in London (UK, not Ontario). Instead of giving up on life, she takes what savings she has, buys a Vespa, and decides to motor her way from her family’s home near Montreal into New York to Miami.
We meet Viv as she is preparing to close the motel where she’s been staying for the last few weeks, somewhere in the Adirondacks of upstate New York. A series of wistful anecdotes illustrates her whirlwind romances with “lesser” men before she is rudely interrupted–in true Fleming fashion–by two particularly unsavory gangsters, complete with grotesque mannerisms and features befitting any Bond villain. Two two men terrorize Viv while never completely stating their true purpose, leading to several desperate attempts to fight or flee–ultimately being captured or subdued each time.
We’re not introduced to James Bond until nearly 3/4 of the text is passed. He appears out of nowhere, a knight mounted in a hired Ford Thunderbird, after a conveniently punctured tire leaves him stranded on the road to Washington. Naturally, Bond steps in and does what Bond does in true Fleming style. Rescue, revenge, and relish all in the span of one night.
The Spy Who Loved Me is an interesting experiment in storytelling, a departure from the Bond narrative that we’re used to. We don’t really get the introspective Bond that plots and plans every detail of the attack–instead, we get to watch Bond from the perspective of the damsel in distress. We get to see how Fleming believes the “woman’s psyche” works as she falls in love with this dangerous man. Sure, its attitude is dated and–like all Bond novels–may not fit a modern “liberated” sensibility, but the storytelling is robust (even `the small stories are worth reading), and the action (once it happens) is taut and dramatic. Much like For Your Eyes Only before it, The Spy Who Loved Me is a vignette, a small window–a “side quest”, if you will excuse the metaphor–of a much larger Bond story that was never told. Like the Mexican drug caper tossed aside at the beginning of Goldfinger, it’s an unimportant setup precluding the daring adventure that we’re reading.
The Spy Who Loved Me shows Fleming as a master storyteller capable of crafting compelling, emotionally interesting characters in a small setting and giving us a glimpse into the “real life” outside of Bond’s globetrotting adventures, posh hotels, and gentlemen’s clubs.