I had known that Bond author Ian Fleming had built himself a retreat in the beaches of Jamaica. I had even seen pictures. But it took this random video appearing on my YouTube suggestions of a James Bond enthusiast giving a tour of the place — the spectacularly-named Goldeneye — to pique my interest. It’s a beautiful, Spartan abode — the sort of place you imagine yourself creating without having the real world butting in. Which was, more or less, the purpose.
But I had mixed feelings about the place watching that video. Yes, it’s aesthetically gorgeous — a veritable paradise. But it was also built by a self-proclaimed British imperialist, on a cliff overlooking a beach that the property claims as private property. As someone from Puerto Rico, where one of the pressing issues is the illegal purchasing of our public beaches by corporate entities, the intrinsic idea of Goldeneye feels inherently problematic.
Still, I was intrigued by it all. And when that same video mentioned Goldeneye, a book all about the history of the famed estate and its famous proprietor, my piqued interest led me to immediately purchase it.
The contradictory nature of Goldeneye is what author Matthew Parker focuses on, and the book is a surprisingly deep dive not only into Ian Fleming’s own turbulent, hedonistic life, but also the history of Jamaica itself. The book’s central conceit being that the country, as well as Fleming’s own complicated, conflicting attitudes towards it, were ultimately the real driving forces and inspirations for the Bond novels.
It’s an interesting approach, and Parker makes a compelling case for these “comic book thrillers” being reflections, in a funhouse mirror sort of way, of the cultural and social changes happening in Jamaica during the fifties and sixties — at least through the eyes of a dyed-in-the-wool colonialist.
Curiously, I was reminded of Alan Moore’s method when he wrote From Hell, his exhaustively-researched tome of a graphic novel about the Jack the Ripper killings. Moore thought that to convincingly “solve” the Ripper murders, one had to go about it holistically, first “solving” the entire society in which the crime took place. Which is to say that in order for Parker to explain Bond (and by extension Fleming), he must also explain Jamaica. A tall order indeed. Parker does a fair and admirable job, though. There may be many long, winding turns into well-researched, complex colonial history, but it never fully veers into academic text territory. Mostly due to the fact that in-between these history lessons there is, amusingly, a lot of gossip — so much that at times it feels scandalously voyeuristic. It makes for an interesting contrast, needless to say, as well as an exceptionally readable book.
But really, all this is just a rambling way of saying that yes Fleming may have been a magnificent bastard but also yes I would very much want to stay at his groovy bachelor pad for a week or two. Anyone have a few thousand dollars/pounds to spare for this hypocritical critic?