James Bond seems unable to function after the death of his wife. Determined to restore 007 to the effective agent he used to be, M sends him on a mission to Japan, to the mysterious "Castle of Death", and into the lair of an old and terrifying enemy. For Bond and Blofeld, this will be their final encounter. Only one of them can survive.
This audiobook includes a bonus interview with Martin Jarvis.
Blackstone Audio, Inc. James Bond and 007 are registered trademarks of Danjaq LLC, used under license by Ian Fleming Publications Ltd
©1964 Ian Fleming Publications Ltd. (P)2014 Blackstone Audio
I grew up on Golden Age Radio, I love to learn about a great many things, and I enjoy a wide variety of genres. Me, bored? Never!
From a modern perspective, it could be easy to dismiss this novel as offensive and racist. Fleming is not always known for little things like tact and awareness. However, it should be noted that eastern culture wouldn't become truly open or appreciated in the West for a few more years. Add to that, the culture wasn't nearly as "westernized" as it is by comparison of today, so the attitudes of the culture that Fleming is portraying is an honest assessment, if stereotypical, at least insofar as Fleming's personal perception of it. To his credit, he does play it as respectfully as he knows how, though he does drop some rather offensive slurs here and there per the common western lingo of the time. Even so, if you can work past that, the highlight of differences between East and West provide a unique insight, keeping in mind Fleming's own wartime career in intelligence and the contacts he gained as a result. As to be expected, where there's a different culture, Fleming delights in sharing the nuances of it, especially food, drink, and fighting techniques.
You Only Live Twice was published about the time of Fleming's death, giving the suggested meaning of the title that extra edge. "You only live twice: Once when you're born, And once when you look death in the face." The intended meaning, of course, is in reference to the events of the previous novel, and to this one as well. Taking place nine months after On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Bond has since become reckless and unreliable, a danger to himself and others, living only for the moment when he can acquire his next drink. To fix his broken agent, M gives him a new assignment designed to appeal to Bond's overdeveloped ego and sense of patriotism, an improbable task that requires him to temporarily shed his 00 number, reassigned to the diplomatic corps as agent 7777. Bond, to his credit and true to form, rises to the challenge. This assignment is precisely what he needs to back on his feet in the wake of the last novel's events.
Bond's contact in Japan is Tiger Tanaka, who serves as a guide to Bond and to the reader in all things Japanese. In wartime, Tanaka was a spy in London, trained as a kamikaze pilot. His intended fate was interrupted by the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and he returned to Japan with a deep respect for the British people he came to know, and with a need to expunge his dishonor as "one of the vanquished." To this end, Bond is given a personal inside education into the ways and means of Japanese culture in order to complete his mission objectives, with limits. In addition to Tanaka's friendship and tutelage, Bond gains from him information involving a Swiss botantist, Dr. Shatterhand, who has built a Garden of Death. Fleming takes particular delight in this invention, listing off the names and origins of the poisonous plants as well as their lethal effects. Shatterhand becomes a player when it becomes known that he has somehow acquired all of information about Tanaka that should be a state secret. As a result, in exchange for Tanaka finally releasing the information Bond needs for his mission, he asks that Bond kill Shatterhand. To accommodate this, he is disguised as a local so as to get close without notice and given a crash course in the use and techniques of ninja equipment. Amongst the intel that Tanaka provides, photos of Shatterhand reveal to Bond the true identity that's of no shock to the reader thanks to spoiler in the book's summary blurb.
The story's main thrust plays out exactly Fleming readers know it must, but the ending gives us some surprising twists, which I won't spoil here. Suffice it to say, it's interesting to consider the possibilities. All in all, it's a satisfying read for what it is, keeping in mind that the overall story has virtually nothing in common with its big screen counterpart aside from character names and settings.
As narrator, Martin Jarvis is an interesting choice. I admit I was not familiar with his name, and upon looking up his extensive list of screen and voice acting credits, I realized I've been aware of his work for a number of years. Funny how that works sometimes. In keeping with the running tally of how the narrators pronounce "007," I'm pleased to say he properly gives us a "double-oh-seven" instead of giving us that offending version that I still can't fathom. Character-wise, Jarvis has to do some international acrobatics in regards to his accent, juggling from British to Japanese to Australian to German with an odd character out here and there for a change up. His standard voice sounds to me to be similar to that of Doctor Who's Jon Pertwee, only without the slight lisp. The accents and character voices he uses might seem stereotyped to some, but no less so than the way Fleming writes them (as always), and Jarvis puts his A-game into this, approaching it with professional enthusiasm. The result is that the story is actually more engaging than it might otherwise be in print.
The book has so many interesting aspects and themes to it, I would certainly listen to it again.
The final showdown with Blofeld is classic Bond and classic Fleming.
Martin Jarvis really puts in a superb performance. His rendition of Tiger Tanaka is as good as it gets.
Bond visiting the stone pedestal bodies prior to the showdown at the castle, and the reading of Bond's obituary.
It's not the best best Fleming Bond novel, but it is part of the classic Blofeld/SPECTRE trilogy and is still highly enjoyable. The narrator really does a good job with this.
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