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`For Your Eyes Only` book review

19-Apr-2009 • Literary

For Your Eyes Only, By Ben Macintyre - Reviewed by Christopher Hirst for The Independent

From Trumper's Eucris hair dressing to leaving Eton under a cloud, James Bond shares many qualities with Ian Fleming. It is, however, doubtful if the epicurean 007 would have enjoyed staying at Goldeneye, Fleming's Jamaican estate, where the food prepared by the housekeeper Violet was "famously revolting". (According to Noel Coward, "It tasted like armpits.").

In a style that zips along like Bond's 4.5-litre Bentley convertible, Ben Macintyre explores the fascinating overlap of creator and creation. Like Bond, Fleming had a glamorous war that took him to Gibraltar, Tangiers, Spain and Portugal, where a gambling experience at Estoril inspired Casino Royale. (The villain Le Chiffre "is believed to be based on Aleister Crowley".) We learn that SMERSH really existed and that Goldfinger's name was purloined from the modernist architect Erno Goldfinger, who was "exceptionally unamused".

The potency of the Bond books in the 1950s, and particularly the detailed description of luxury food, was akin to the salivary temptations of Elizabeth David. However, Macintyre points out the Bond would be "sheer hell" as a restaurant companion, "forever ordering for you, offering a little lecture on the wine". The spy would doubtless have commented on Macintyre's description of Kina Lillet (an ingredient of the Vesper cocktail in Casino Royale) as "particularly bitter". Now sold as Lillet Blanc, this quinine-flavoured vermouth is actually on the sweet side.

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