A look back at The Spy Who Loved Me novel

Cover to the Signet U.S. paperback edition of The Spy Who Loved Me (1962)

Five years ago, the blog published a post that described The Man With the Golden Gun, Ian Fleming’s final novel, as “the runt of the litter” for Fleming’s original tales.

But, for many Fleming fans, The Spy Who Loved Me is really the runt of the litter.

It’s a very unusual novel. Fleming, in his 50s at the time, wrote a first-person story from the perspective of a woman in her 20s.

Context: Fleming had been writing Bond novels for roughly a decade when The Spy Who Loved Me was published

The author took a major detour from his previous Bond tales. The novel is told in the first person. Fleming’s previous novels and short stories were told in the third person.

What’s different: The novel is told from the perspective of Viv Michael, a Canadian, who has endured affairs that didn’t work out. She decided to emigrate to North America. She has planned out a long trip she intends to make by motor scooter.

The first two-thirds of the novel concerns Viv’s love affairs in Europe. Afterward, she opts to emigrate to North America. She ends up in northern New York State. Viv gets hired for a couple of weeks to mind the operations at a motel in the region. But all is not what it is what it seems to be.

Climax: Viv is about to get killed by Horror and Sluggsy, two hoods, just before Bond arrives. The agent is driving from Toronto to Washington, D.C., after a mission involving SPECTRE.

More context: Fleming practically disowned this story. Supposedly, when Fleming did his deal with Danjaq/Eon, the filmmakers could only use the title.

Still more context: One chapter consists of Bond telling Viv what he was up to in Canada. If (and Danjaq/Eon has said this will never happen) there were a Bond streaming TV series, that would make for a great episode.

Conclusion: Fleming was really in experimental mode. At one point, “All women love semi-rape,” Viv says in Chapter 14 (“Bimbo”). That was likely cringe-worthy in 1962, when the novel was published.

At the same time, Fleming deserves a tip of the cap for going so far out from his earlier efforts.

This was his last effort before On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, his biggest epic. Whatever you feel about Fleming, he wasn’t afraid to change directions.