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The effort, straining and aching—it’s as if he can feel the very fibers of his alcohol lubricated, smoke cured, Seconal slackened being starting to unravel. He pushes his body against his bindings, his primal exertion spurred on by the scream of a bandsaw, the serrated quicksilver of reef sharks, the heat of a laser making its way slowly towards his—Christ! He can’t very well let anything happen to that, can he?
Of course, James Bond will escape this deathtrap—whichever deathtrap. There is no byzantine machination of dispatch of which he cannot overcome by luck, pluck, brains or bullets, not even the exsanguination of his beloved Britain. Bond’s been beaten a few times (a poisoned shoe blade and a missed shot come to mind), but he’s been thoroughly dissected by less sinister foes, perhaps most famously by satirical writer Kingsley Amis. Now there is a name to rival Hugo Drax, Auric Goldfinger and Emilio Largo.
Essays, think pieces, academic treatises—Bond the literary character has been diced up a thousand times, the heavy notions contained within his canon ripped to shreds and scattered across the popular consciousness. Why he resonates so strongly, even today, is not truly a mystery. He’s an Imperial man—cosmopolitan, but detached in the exotic, non-English world—and the last symbol of the indomitable spirit of the British Empire. Bond brushes shoulders with the jet set but is far from rich; he gambles, wins and—this is important—loses just enough.
People want to be him.
So what more can be said, Matthew Parker, about James fucking Bond? The answer is very little when we talk about the character. Luckily, the soil from which Bond sprang is as virile as the spy himself. In exploring Jamaica, the island where Bond was born, Parker casts the entire canon in a refreshing—almost tropical—light.
Jamaica, Parker explains in Goldeneye: Where Bond Was Born, hit too many notes not to resonate with Bond author Ian Fleming: the Imperial atmosphere, the intimate legacy of his beloved naval heroes, the horrors of slavery and piracy and magic. Its close proximity to the United States underscored the contentiousness of Anglo-American relations, a conflict that influenced substantial swaths of the Bond canon. The comparatively libertine Caribbean atmosphere, a fine fit both for Fleming’s own healthy libido and that of his creation, and the colorful sea life would inspire many of his greatest set pieces (like the submarine jewels dotting Thunderball that added what Fleming called a “disciplined exoticism” to his stories).
Through exhaustive research and interviews, Parker assembles an intricate portrait of not just Fleming, his coterie and his Goldeneye villa, but of Jamaica and the post-War remnants of the British Empire. Parker provides the usual political context requisite to understand 007’s place in popular culture—Bond as panacea for both austerity at home (Those drinks! Those women! Those hotels! All paid for in blood and taxes!) and impotence abroad (Here comes Bond to save America, save England, save the whole damned Western World!)—but with the Jamaican loupe. He traces the novels and films across the island, leaving the heavy lifting to Fleming or his wife and friends and interjecting with asides. Parker’s Jamaica ceases to exist, leaving only Fleming’s and, ergo, Bond’s island.
Ian Fleming’s villa, Goldeneye, today.
Parker doesn’t shy away from the murkiness of Jamaica’s colonial heritage. Indeed, he comes off as a bit exasperated—and disappointed—by how the charms of the island defang its visitors, who cannot see the slavery for the sugar cane. Yet Parker appears to share Fleming’s—and your reviewer’s—appreciation for the sea and the sundry life upon, understanding that the inherent danger and beauty of the place may be the most powerful aesthetic influence over Bond as a whole.
Jamaica is James Bond; without its “disciplined exoticism,” Bond would simply not exist. He is escapism, a hard run through the jungle from the horrors spawned from the 20th-century’s immolation of the West.
Parker quotes Fleming as saying that “all history is sex and violence.” The same can be said of cultural history, too, in which Fleming, his creation and their spiritual home have played no small part.
B. David Zarley is a freelance journalist, essayist and book/music/art critic currently based in Chicago. A former book critic for The Myrtle Beach Sun News, his work can be seen in VICE, VICE Sports, Sports on Earth, The Classical and New American Paintings, among numerous other publications., among numerous other publications. You can find him on Twitter or at his website.