An exhaustive and exhausting biography of Ian Fleming (1908–1964), the creator of secret agent James Bond.
Lycett (The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes: The Life and Times of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 2008, etc.) offers an overwhelming wealth of detail covering every facet and period of Fleming’s life: the privileged yet turbulent boyhood, including school days at Eton (where Fleming excelled athletically if not academically), his distinguished service with the British Naval Intelligence Division in World War II, his tenures as a journalist and stockbroker (mixed results), and his phenomenal success penning the adventures of Bond. Throughout, Lycett copiously explicates Fleming’s habits, social connections, many romantic affairs, tempestuous relationships with his wife and mother, housing circumstances and academic pursuits. The sheer volume of biographical detail simultaneously impresses and oppresses the reader, as a portrait of a rather unpleasant, even cruel man emerges from the vast thickets of names, dates, clubs, houses, appointments and general ephemera. Lycett’s emphasis is squarely on Fleming, not his famous creation, and the subject ultimately fails to justify the author’s intense attention and industry. As presented here, Fleming was a cold and callous product of privilege, a diffident man of diffuse talents. Lycett studiously reports on Fleming’s writing habits, research gathering and the business aspects of the Bond books, but he doesn’t offer much in the way of literary analysis or a consideration of Bond’s place in popular culture. This is a densely detailed book about a man who, in the course of many other activities, wrote popular novels about a spy, not a reckoning with the creator of an enduring modern myth. Fleming scholars will find this a useful resource, but Bond aficionados won’t find much to compel them.
A solid scholarly biography with little to savor for general readers. Lycett’s subject remains an aloof, disagreeable enigma.