Magazine article The Spectator

'Goldeneye: Where Bond Was Born', by Matthew Parker - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'Goldeneye: Where Bond Was Born', by Matthew Parker - Review

Article excerpt

Goldeneye: Where Bond was Born Matthew Parker

Hutchinson, pp.388, £20, ISBN: 9780091954109

Ian Fleming's first visit to Jamaica was pure James Bond. In 1943, as assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence, he flew from Miami to Kingston to attend an Anglo-American naval conference and to investigate the rumour that Axel Wenner-Gren, a rich Swede and supposed Nazi, had built a secret submarine base at Hog Island, near Nassau. He was accompanied by his old friend Ivar Bryce, who was also in intelligence, and who put him up at a house his wife had recently bought. As they left the island, Fleming told Bryce, 'When we have won this blasted war, I am going to live in Jamaica... swim in the sea and write books.'

Three years later he duly bought 14 acres in the parish of St Mary on the north coast, with a beach and a coral reef, for £2,000 and spent the same again on building a primitive house, which he called Goldeneye. With no glass in the windows and no hot water to begin with, it was essentially a large room with some small back bedrooms and a kitchen with a stove and a sink. Bryce, who had found him the site, called the house 'a masterpiece of striking ugliness', but Patrick Leigh Fermor approved of its 'enormous quadrilaterals', which 'framed a prospect of sea and cloud and sky'.

Fleming had negotiated two months' annual holiday from his job as foreign news manager at the Sunday Times , and invariably spent it at Goldeneye, where his library included the 1947 edition of Field Guide to Birds of the West Indies by James Bond. In 1952 -- when he also married and became a father -- he wrote Casino Royale , in which James Bond's cover at the Royale-les-Eaux casino is a 'Jamaican plantocrat'. He wrote a Bond story there every winter until his death in 1964, aged 56.

Parker sketches the history of the island, beginning with its idyllic millennia under the Taínos, who called it Hamaika, 'land of wood and streams', and were wiped out within two generations of the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1494, leaving behind them only a few 'heartbreakingly relaxed' words -- barbecue, hammock, canoe. Fleming's favourite period was naturally that of the English privateers of the 17th century, as he simply adored pirates. He gave Bond various 'piratical' attributes -- the scar on his cheek, for example -- and several women admired his own 'slightly piratical' broken nose. The plot of Live and Let Die turns on the discovery of Sir Henry Morgan's treasure trove.'What I endeavour to aim at,' explained Fleming in his essay How to Write a Thriller , 'is a certain disciplined exoticism.' In Goldeneye Matthew Parker makes a convincing case that Fleming's exoticism is essentially Jamaican, and that the island is crucial to a proper understanding of the man and his work. Three of the novels -- Live and Let Die , Dr No and The Man with the Golden Gun -- are mainly set there, and over the years Fleming became 'soaked' in its atmosphere, a 'cocktail of luxury, melancholy, imperialism, fantasy, sensuality, danger and violence'.

Fleming shared his historical preferences with Noël Coward, who built two houses nearby, and with whom he had an unlikely but close friendship. They both loved the Royal Navy, and were nostalgic for the Empire; when Gandhi was assassinated in 1948, Coward wrote in his diary that it was 'a bloody good thing, but far too late', and after Suez the Edens recuperated at Goldeneye. …

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