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Ian Flemming (1908 - 1964)

I make no apologies for including Ian Fleming in this series of writers of literary classics, but perhaps some explanation is due. Though few would find literary merit in the James Bond books that he created, there is no doubt that they were the origin of a genre that has proved madly popular in the second half of the twentieth century, and now beyond.

Spy stories, as we have seen previously, have been around for a long time. Even if The Secret Agent does not quite fit within the mould, in that the practitioner of espionage is not an ideal hero, John Buchan certainly created a model protagonist in Richard Hannay. But the plots in the books in which he appeared were different from each other, other characters often were the centre of interest, and reflection and analysis were more important than action.

James Bond changed all that, through books based on a formula that included lots of sex and violence, a simple plot and an uncomplicated villain. Though occasionally Fleming tried to introduce some subtleties, as when Bond grieves for his murdered wife, or is brainwashed into trying to kill his boss, the books swiftly revert to type, with roller coaster type action and little time to think.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

January 2011
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