It’s 1927 and Ian Fleming, age 19, climbs off a train in the small Tyrolean town of Kitzbühel. He’s under a cloud: you can almost see it, small and discolored, parked a foot or so above his head, intermittently shedding rain. Fleming moves gracefully, but there is a sense of encumbrance about him, a kind of private sluggishness or surliness of mood. In his face—austere brow, thick-lidded eyes, bruiser’s nose, prissy mouth—severity blends with the instincts of the pleasure-seeker, the lotus-eater: a sadist’s face, really. Fleming has been dispatched to these mountains by his mother (“M,” as he sometimes calls her) because he’s made a mess of his education back in England. Shuffled out of Eton for some small scandal, he has more recently exited, under his little cloud, the officer’s academy at Sandhurst. Now he is entering the maternally mandated care of a British couple named Forbes Dennis, progressive educators and acolytes of the Viennese psychiatrist Alfred Adler. During the next four years, under the guidance of the Forbes Dennises, Fleming will move from Kitzbühel to Munich to Geneva, inhaling as he goes the headiest drafts of High Europe: Rilke, Kafka, Arthur Schnitzler, and the fathers of psychoanalysis. In due course, he will receive written permission from Carl Jung to translate one of the great man’s lectures, a disquisition on the alchemist and doctor Paracelsus. And 26 years later, he’ll sit down in his Jamaican villa and type The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning.
Was James Bond—neck-snapper, escape artist, serial shagger—the last repudiation of his creator’s cultural pedigree? Take that, fancy books; take that, whiskered shrinks. I, Ian Fleming, give you a hero almost without psychology: a bleak circuit of appetites, sensations, and prejudices, driven by a mechanical imperative called “duty.” In Jungian-alchemical terms, 007 is like lead, the metal associated with the dark god Saturn, lying coldly at the bottom of the crucible and refusing transformation. Boil him, slash him, poison him, flog him with a carpet beater and shoot his woman—Bond will not be altered.