Casino Royale - Audio Book Review
Royale was Ian Fleming's first (and some would argue best) James Bond
novel. It's adapted here in an abridged audiobook version that was read
and performed by the actor Rufus Sewell in 2002. Casino Royale was
published in 1953 and the first of many Bond books by Fleming - who
delighted readers (many still in the midst of post-war austerity) with
his mix of escapism, sex, sadism, travel and his obsession with good
food and drink.
I'm sure there
were many readers back then who wouldn't have minded being James Bond
just to sample a few of his dinners let alone the exotic women and
locations he encountered. The story in Casino Royale concerns a
communist agent in France named Le Chiffre. Le Chiffre is connected to
SMERSH (a ruthless organisation similar to the KGB) and has used SMERSH
money to take over a number of brothels in the West. Le Chiffre's
problem is that a new law has outlawed this lucrative sideline and he
must now replace the money he has hived off to fund his dodgy business
activities because SMERSH will kill him otherwise.
Chiffre decides that his best option is to deploy his famed gambling
skills and make up his losses at baccarat in the casino of
Royale-les-Eaux. The British would like very much to eliminate Le
Chiffre to negate secret Soviet influence in France but they know if
they do that it will be used for propaganda purposes against them. They
decide instead to use MI6 agent James Bond 007, famed as the best
gambler in the service, to play against Le Chiffre at the gaming
tables. All Bond has to do is clean him out at the casino and Le
Chiffre will be ruined and eliminated by SMERSH. But will this be
easier said than done, even for James Bond?
this is abridged and dispenses with some of Fleming's longeurs and one
or two bits and pieces, it's an enjoyable audiobook on the whole that
captures some of the atmosphere and mood of the book. Casino Royale is
a little more downbeat and subdued than many of the books that followed
and Bond himself is more of a jaded character but a very cultivated one
nonetheless. In the 2006 film version, Bond was turned into a Jason
Bourne type character jumping off cranes like Spider-Man and was
supposed to be at the start of his career or something.
though it's as in the book. 007 is not a rookie agent and earned his
Double-O status by killing a Japanese cipher expert in New York and a
Norwegian double agent in Stockholm in the previous decade. He is a
'blunt instrument' used by the British government to protect their
interests and a slightly enigmatic and quite sophisticated loner with
the darkly handsome good looks of a film star who has rather fastidious
tastes when it comes to grub and his drink.
Sewell does a good job here doing all the characters and is quite adept
at giving them a distinctive tone and allowing you to sometimes forget
that one person is doing all of this. There was a BBC Radio adaption of
Goldfinger and it was sort of ruined for me by Toby Stephens as the
voice of James Bond. Stephens had an annoying lazy transatlantic accent
where he frequently pronounced the letter 'd' instead of 't' like a
local radio DJ. He was far too contemporary to be the literary Bond and
his voice seemed too weedy and laid-back, having the unfortunate effect
of making him sound incredibly bored in the adaptation at times. Sewell
is better though. He's more crisp and has a more natural quality. He
does a creditable job in conveying the overall arc of the story and
bringing some personality and life to the different characters.
Bond books are rather dated today, and a trifle sexist in places. This
is conveyed in parts where Bond is teamed with another British agent
named Vesper Lynd. "Do they think this is a bloody picnic?" complains
Bond when told that he will be working with a woman. Lynd, the original
Bond girl, sets the template for many of the women that Fleming would
write about in his books - gamine, beautiful and slightly messed up.
The romantic aspect to the novel is used well to imbue James Bond with
an introspective quality in the story. He is often gazing out to sea or
questioning his loyalties and life. This makes the character in this
novel more human and enigmatic than his cinematic version.
Royale works quite well as an audiobook because they didn't have to try
and update it and invent entire new sections of storyline as the
filmmakers had to. We are taken back to another era here and have the
story lovingly described. The decor of hotels and casinos, the cars,
food, clothes and style comes through. The actual plot of Casino Royale
doesn't bear too much close inspection but suspension of disbelief is
an important part of anything to do with James Bond, which is
principally supposed to be about escape in a world heightened a few
notches from our own. James Bond was essentially Ian Fleming's fantasy
version of himself, drawn from his own espionage experiences in World
War 2. It's always fun to enter this world even you don't know your
Taittinger 45 from your Blanc de Blance Brut 43.
the whole, this is a decent audiobook and, for me, was less irritating
than the much trumpeted full cast BBC Radio version of Goldfinger.
Rufus Sewell does a fine job and some of the ambiance and descriptive
style of Fleming is conveyed as the story unfolds. The audiobook is a
reminder that a faithful film or television version of Casino Royale
would be very interesting as a Cold War period piece, not that it is
ever likely to happen. While it is not completely perfect and slightly
truncated in this adapted form, it is an entertaining listen and not
bad at all as far as audiobooks based on novels go.