Criticising James Bond for being sexist is a bit like complaining the sea is wet, I suppose. But he is. I have always known that was one of his defining characteristics, but I was still surprised to find how true it was. The character then, is much the same as the character I have to a much greater extent been exposed to through the films (although I suppose the later films have taken on a tinge of political correctness and toned down the overt sexism somewhat). The sexist, cynical hedonist hero.
I suppose, on the whole, this is the book that justifies Bond's world view. It is the book where his masculinity is (very directly) attacked, he momentarily drops his cynicism and misogyny and allows himself to fall in love. It is perhaps not surprising that this is something James Bond can only do when his testicles have been damaged. Crude, yes I know; but it is all there in the book.
I am sure the story is familiar, certainly since the film came out. The key difference, of course, is that Le Chiffre is an evil communist rather than an evil terrorist. And Vesper appears rather more vapid. For those who have been living under a rock, however: the evil Le Chiffre raises money for communism through prostitution and other evil pursuits. But he has overreached, and if his evil communist bosses find out they will kill him. He is therefore trying to win the money back on a high stakes baccarat game. As you do. It is Bond's job to stop him. At the gambling table.
The book was written in 1953, following years of post-war austerity. Sugar and meat rationing was still going on, and I cannot help thinking this has shaped the novel. It revels in luxury, with the colours and fabrics of clothes, foodstuffs and drinks always noted. It shows a real longing for lobster, champagne and good tailoring, and while I sympathise (students also get too little lobster and champagne) it is part of what marks this out as fully fledged escapism. It is not a spy novel. Glancing quickly at John Le Carré or Graham Greene will tell you that. It is a fantasy written out. A fantasy which includes horrific violence as well as luxury comforts, but which promises a restoration of order as well (a return to cynical misogyny after the aberrant chaos of falling in love, for one).
It is not my type of escapism. I suppose if it were, I might like it more. As it is, the only appeal this book holds is as a cultural and historical curiosity: the original Bond.