James Bond—symbol of mid-century masculinity—was created, somewhat ironically, in the throes of author Ian Fleming’s first year of marriage. The playboy often quipped that he started writing Casino Royale to take his mind off the “hideous spectre of matrimony,” though his wife Ann was said to be the one who really prodded him to action during those languorous days they first spent together on a secluded stretch of Jamaica’s north coast. Within a small concrete house, backed by banana groves and high above a white sand beach, the Bond legacy began.
So the story goes in Matthew Parker’s Goldeneye: Where Bond Was Born: Ian Fleming’s Jamaica (Pegasus Books), a new addition to the Bond canon. Part biography, part travelogue, Goldeneyeis a kind of mature tell-all that combines Fleming’s past—and all its booze-soaked details—with a historian’s careful dissection of the decline of the British Empire and the emergence of the 1950s jet-set. Jamaica was a crossroads for Fleming, and in turn, 007; the author spent two months every year on the island, from 1946 to his death in 1964, swimming and carousing with his neighbor Noël Coward. In his quieter moments, Fleming wrote the Bond novels and short stories at Goldeneye, his seaside home. Britain may play a starring role in Bond’s life, but Jamaica takes a close second.
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Fans of the spy series will love how Parker details the island’s cameos in both film and fiction. InThunderball,007’s night dives are largely inspired by Fleming’s Ahab-style hunts for barracudas off Goldeneye’s reef. Meanwhile, Live and Let Diewas shot at “the Ruins restaurant, the Green Grotto caves, in Montego Bay, Runaway Bay, Falmouth, and Rose Hall.”
Indeed, when you read Parker’s sudsy recreation of island living—all the “drinking, bed hopping, and luxurious excess”—Bond’s m.o. starts to make a lot of sense. By the early 1950s, Jamaica was welcoming a steady stream of high-end travelers; Errol Flynn led the silver-screen parade, followed by the British aristocracy and “the brightest and richest” in the United States and Europe. “You weren’t a proper Hollywood star until you had been photographed in Jamaica,” writes Parker. Bond ran in the same social circle. It was a new era, and as Parker so perfectly sums up, Bond was its hero.
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