Review of Matthew Parker’s “Goldeneye”

IAN-FLEMING

 

The image of Ian Fleming pecking away at his typewriter at his tropical retreat while sounds of the surf pounding and warm breezes flow through the open windows is an idyllic one, especially for anyone who has dreamed of writing the next bestseller.

Those familiar with Ian Fleming know that his life was usually far from idyllic. A complicated, stubborn man of iron routine, who could be charming, but mostly preferred to avoid social entanglements, Fleming struggled with marital discord and declining health for much of the time in which he spent in his beloved Jamaica writing the James Bond novels.

Matthew Parker’s Goldeneye: Where Bond Was Born: Ian Fleming’s Jamaica is a deep-dive into Fleming’s time in Jamaica. This is Mr Parker’s second book about the West Indies, having previously written The Sugar Barons: Family, Corruption, Empire, and War in the West Indies  the knowledge gained from that first book was almost a springboard to this one, as he discovered Goldeneye in the course of researching The Sugar Barons.

It’s worth noting that an adjustment in expectations for the book may be in order, though that is by no fault of Mr Parker. The book title after all tells us that it is about Ian Fleming’s Jamaica – not solely Ian Fleming. Thus there is much in the way of background and history of the island, all of which is fascinating and informative. If you were looking at 320 pages of Ian Fleming and James Bond, that’s not what this book is. In fact, it is not until page 124 that Fleming even begins writing Casino Royale.

All the background information is vital to the story of Ian Fleming and his creation, because there is so much of it in the writings of Fleming. This includes all the Bond novels, not just those in which the setting includes time in Jamaica – Live and Let Die, Dr No, The Man With the Golden Gun and the short stories For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy. All the books and stories reveal the influence of Jamaica, if not directly than by means of a look into the political climate of the time, especially when it comes to the decline of the British Empire and the breakup of the Colonial holdings of the Empire. Fleming’s views on Britain, the United States, colonialism, politics and race are all explored in the context of the influences on his life and it is shown how these views make it in the James Bond novels.

Mr Parker expertly connects passages within the novels with events in Jamaica at the time and within Fleming’s own life – sometimes amusingly. Errol Flynn was a prominent figure around Jamaica in the late 1940’s and it seems that Fleming and Flynn had no use for each other, even as they were vying for the crown of “Jamaica’s most noted expatriate lothario.” Flynn felt Fleming ‘pretentious and full of himself,” while Fleming apparently didn’t care for the Hollywood legend of Flynn either. Mr Parker notes that in From Russia With Love, when Tatiana Romanova tries to compliment Bond by telling him he looks like an American film star, Bond snaps back at her ‘For God’s sake! That’s the worst insult you can pay a man!’

The relationship of Ann and Ian Fleming is also crucial to the account, as once again, the ups and downs of this relationship are reflected in Ian’s writing. (See the views of marriage as written in Diamonds Are Forever.) Ann came to hate and avoid Jamaica, which left Ian free to carry on affairs with the likes of Millicent Huttleston Rogers, Lady Jeanne Campbell and Blanche Blackwell. Ann meanwhile carried on with Hugh Gaitskell in much the same manner in which she had carried on with Ian when she was married to someone else. Despite this, the pair never divorced, and would still write affectionately to and about the other. Ian’s friend and Jamaican neighbor Noël Coward even created characters in his plays which were obviously based on Ian and Ann, and Blanche Blackwell. Mr Parker draws these connections for us in Coward’s work, while detailing the unlikely friendship between the men.

Mr Parker spent extensive time interviewing those who actually knew Fleming. As the years go by, these accounts become even more precious, knowing that in the not-so-distant future, this generation will be gone. Blanche Blackwell, still going strong at 102, her son Chris Blackwell, who now owns Goldeneye, Jamaican swimming champion Barrington Roper, who Fleming used as a guide, and surviving members of the Fleming’s extended family were among those who assisted Mr Parker with his research for the book.

There are numerous photographs throughout the book, both in-line and as part of a color collection in the center of the book. I cannot stop looking at the photo on page 253 which shows Ian sitting on a windowsill in Goldeneye, and sitting next to him, on his right is Blanche and on his left is Ann. The contrast is startling. Blanche is wearing what looks like a button-down shirt over presumably a swimsuit, with her bare legs dangling down. Ann, on the hand is more formally dressed, with a high neckline blouse and long skirt and you see no leg from her. Ian is sitting up straight, arms crossed on his lap, with something of a sheepish look on his face.

Both Jamaica and Ian Fleming changed during the time he kept his residence there. The island gained in popularity as a tourist spot and won its independence from Britain, Fleming bought his land in 1946, was married there in 1952 as a ‘sleek’ 44-year-old and a dozen years later was a dying man having exhausted his body from years of living too hard. Mr Parker captures this period for both Jamaica and Ian Fleming, giving us a view that has not been seen in this detail previously.

The book was released in the UK last August, but is not set for a US release until March 11th of 2015.

On the image below you can preorder the book for its March US release:

If you can’t wait until March, you can order the book through Amazon UK, just be prepared to pay a bit more for the shipping – it’s not too much though. Click here:

This book is a most welcome addition to my James Bond/Ian Fleming library and I’m sure it will be to yours too.

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Manatee Bay

After arriving in Jamaica in Live and Let Die, James Bond and companion Quarrel drive to the Western end of the island for a week of training before Bond is to make his undersea trek to the Isle of Surprise.

There is some confusion here, as Ian Fleming again took some creative licence with the naming. He calls the area near Negril Manatee Bay. There is a Manatee Bay in Jamaica, but it is on the Southern end of the island. The bay near Negril is Long Bay.

John Griswold in his amazing Ian Fleming’s James Bond: Annotations and Chronologies for Ian Fleming’s Bond Stories offers a possible explanation.

In short, the idea is that the name “Long Bay” wasn’t exotic enough, so Fleming searched for Bays near Long Bay. Trouble is, there are two Long Bays in Jamaica, and near to the “other” Long Bay was a Manatee Bay. That area is said to be where Columbus made a stop, something Fleming refers to in his story:

Here, because of the huge coastal swamps, nothing has happened since Columbus used Manatee Bay as a casual anchorage. Jamaican fishermen have taken the place of the Arawak Indians, but otherwise there is the impression that time has stood still.

Fleming may have grabbed the name Manatee Bay not realizing it was not near the Long Bay on the Western end of the island. Griswold notes Fleming had first typed Negril Bay, and later crossed it out and put in Manatee Bay.

Manatee Bay is currently a hot topic in Jamaica as conservationists are battling to keep it from being developed as another resort area. It’s being called most important remaining natural coastal habitat left on the island that link will show you some of the coastal swamps Fleming refers to.

Long Bay, near Negril is the place that Bond and Quarrel go to.

Bond thought it the most beautiful beach he had ever seen, five miles of white sand sloping easily into the breakers and, behind, the palm trees marching in graceful disarray to the horizon. Under them, the grey canoes were pulled up beside pink mounds of discarded conch shells, and among them smoke rose from the palm thatch cabins of the fishermen in the shade between the swamp-lands and the sea.

In a clearing among the cabins, set on a rough lawn of Bahama grass, was the house on stilts built as a weekend cottage for the employees of the West Indian Citrus Company. It was built on stilts to keep the termites at bay and it was closely wired against mosquito and sand-fly. Bond drove off the rough track and parked under the house. While Quarrel chose two rooms and made them comfortable Bond put a towel round his waist and walked through the palm trees to the sea, twenty yards away.

The area is still spectacular.

long-bay-beach

I couldn’t find anything about the a West Indian Citrus Company, but I did find this photo of a beach house used by the West Indies Sugar Company that was on Long Bay near Negril:

negril-west-indies-sugar-company-beach-house

 

negril-frome-beach-house

 

The photographer, Robin Farquharson has an amazing site of pictures from Jamaica from 1954 to present.

Did you ever wonder about duppies or the rolling calf?

No man walked alone for fear of the duppies under the trees, or the rolling calf

Well, wonder no more – Jamaican Folk Tales

Isle of Surprise

From chapter 16 of Live and Let Die:

It had always been rumoured that there was treasure on the Isle of Surprise and everything that was known about Bloody Morgan supported the rumour.

The tiny island lay in the exact centre of Shark Bay, a small harbour that lies at the end of the Junction Road that runs across the thin waist of Jamaica from Kingston to the north coast.

Fleming gives a small description of the Island:

His ships always anchored in Shark Bay and he careened them in the lee of the Isle of Surprise, a precipitous lump of coral and limestone that surges straight up out of the centre of the bay and is surmounted by a jungly plateau of about an acre.

And a few more details a bit later:

A few weeks after the sale, the yacht Secatur put in to Shark Bay and dropped anchor in Morgan’s old anchorage in the lee of the island. It was manned entirely by negroes. They went to work and cut a stairway in the rock face of the island and erected on the summit a number of low-lying shacks in the fashion known in Jamaica as ‘wattle-and-daub’.

Fleming has taken the real Cabarita Island, out on the bay outside of  Port Maria and turned it into the Isle of Surprise. From The Jamaican Magazine:

The curious little island of Cabarita is sometimes referred to as Treasure Island. It once belonged to Henry Morgan, the notorious buccaneer, who it is said lost it while gambling. This small circular island is a three-quarter mile swim from Pagee Beach, and forms part of the breakwater for Port Maria. It comprises seven and a half densely wooded acres, with steps cut into the rocks, which lead up to a two-acre plateau. Local lore tells of buried treasure, and of a shallow grave where the skeleton of a runaway slave was found along with a flint stone pistol beside an old hut.

isle-of-paradise3

I like the details about the carved steps in the rock leading to the plateaued top. Fleming took some creative licence in describing when the steps were made, the size of the island, and the distance from the shore. He says a couple of times that it is a 300-yard swim to the island.

On a side note, Fleming had a thing for pirates and treasure, didn’t he?