Friday, November 6, 2015

Unpredictable, sensual, and exotic: three
things that James Bond and Jamaica have in common. Once
I realized that Ian Fleming had written all his novels and stories at
Goldeneye, the house he built on Jamaica's north coast, I started seeing the
island everywhere in James Bond.
Jamaica is the vivid setting for three of Fleming's novels and a number of
short stories, and it's referenced in almost all of Fleming's other
books.
More than that, the spirit of the island—its exotic beauty, its
unpredictable danger, its melancholy, its love of exaggeration and
grotesques—infuses the stories.
In fact, many of the 'ingredients' that Fleming threw together in the
warm bedroom of Goldeneye to create Bond (the high-end jet-set tourism world
in which his hero moves, the relentless attention to race, the aching concern
with the end of the Empire and national decline, the awkward new relationship
with the United States) are all roads leading back to Jamaica.
Fleming loved the island and never failed to spend at least two months of
the year there from 1946 until his death in 1964.
He was an awkward character
and could be distant, aloof, and moody.
But Fleming found something in Jamaica
that smoothed off the rough edges and let his creativity flow.
A friend noted
that only in Jamaica could Fleming "relax, be as much of himself as there
was." A visitor later wrote that "in Jamaica Ian seemed perfectly at home"
and was "at his mellow best," though Goldeneye still had guard dogs and
Fleming kept a gun in the house.
As with much of Fleming's habits and personality, this love of Jamaica is
passed on to James Bond, who is at his most relaxed when on the island.
Like
his creator, Bonds loves the "velvet heat" and the "soft-green flanks" of the
mountains in Britain's "most romantic colony." There is also a
sensuality about the place.
On his last visit in The Man with the Golden Gun,
Bond has a morning swim and then lets "the scented air, a compound of sea and
trees, breathe over his body, naked save for the underpants." The Goldeneye
house is simple, with clean lines and two enormous windows looking out to
sea.
In Fleming's time, it was very simply equipped, even Spartan.
A sunken
garden leads from the house to the cliff-top, where stone steps descend to a
small, enclosed white-sanded beach.
A short distance offshore lies a reef,
where Fleming spent hours floating or hunting for lobsters or seeing off the
odd barracuda.
His adventures underwater at Goldeneye would inspire some of
the very best Bond scenes.
He also loved the birds of Jamaica, naming two of his heroines, Solitaire
and Domino, after them.
This, too, is passed to Bond: if anyone kills a bird
in one of the stories they end up deservedly dead.
So it is more in keeping
than you might think that James Bond got his name from an expert on West
Indian birds.
Fleming was horrified at the rapid collapse of the Empire after the Second
World War, and created Bond as a consoling fantasy that the British could
still punch above their weight and project power across the world.
One of the
attractions of Jamaica was that in 1946 it could almost have been 1846—it
was an imperial throwback. When asked about his writing style, Fleming
professed that he aimed for 'disciplined exoticism.' In the same way,
Fleming saw Jamaica as a mixture of British old-fashioned imperial
conservatism and the dangerous, sensual, and exotic.
Writing about the island
in 1947, he described it as "a middle way between the lethe of the tropics and
a life of fork-lunches with the District Commissioner's wife." Bond himself
is at once very modern, with his self-indulgence, casual violence and
brand-fetishism, but also old-fashioned in his politics and his dutiful
patriotism.
This was the formula—which could have sprung from no other soil but
Jamaica's—that was the secret to Fleming's immense success.
James Bond writer Ian Fleming lived on Jamaica for decades, and was
deeply inspired by the island.
From its sensuality to its exoticism and
unpredictability, you can't miss the similarities—or, in some cases, the
vivid island setting.
Read on to find out just how the three (author,
character, and island) are one in the same.

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