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by Jennifer Senior
Ian Fleming adored women, fast cars, golf, martinis and cards, and he cheerfully assigned these same hobbies to his most famous fictional creation, Agent 007. But “The Man With the Golden Typewriter: Ian Fleming’s James Bond Letters” is much less about Fleming’s glamorous cavorting than it is about his brazen hustle to become a famous commercial novelist. This will come as a disappointment, perhaps, to anyone who dives into this collection and expects an orgy of vice. But to anyone who has ever worked on a book — writing one, editing one, marketing one, publishing one — or, heck, even just read one, this volume is a giant stalk of catnip.
Open to almost any page and you’ll find something irresistible. My favorite exchanges are those between Fleming and two of his most trusted readers, William Plomer and Daniel George, to whom he sent early drafts of each Bond installment. While they almost always found something wonderful to say — “I got so fond of Dr. No I was quite sorry to see him vanish under a mound of excreta,” Mr. Plomer wrote in 1957 — they were positively unsparing in their critiques of Fleming’s stylistic tics and idiosyncrasies. There isn’t space to list them all, but here’s a modest sampling:
“I don’t think M. ought so often to speak ‘drily.’”
“Shoulder-shrugging, I regret to say, is too much in evidence.”
“On some pages the sentences all begin with ‘And.’ I can’t see the point of this. Presumably you are aiming at producing an effect of panting continuity. Take out all the ‘Ands’ and see if it makes any difference.”
Mr. Plomer also offered more practical criticisms, noting how improbable it was that a fly-button would be the first thing to dislodge from Bond’s pants as he lay spread-eagle on a saw table, a circular blade whirring toward his groin. (A memorable scene in “Goldfinger.”) “Didn’t other objects get in the way first,” Mr. Plomer asked, “or does Bond have undescended testicles?”