I first wrote this on 19 December 2009:
Fleming seems a bit lost with what he wants to do with Bond as we reach the third of his novels, perhaps it will become clear later in the series. Moonraker is a novel that tries to be a number of things but fails to satisfactorily be any of them. A quick overview of the plot will help me illustrate the unsatisfactory nature of the novel more clearly.
Moonraker begins by demonstrating Bond's humdrum usual working day, both to act as a counterpoint to his wilder adventures and to allow a little light to be shed upon the character. Think Harry Palmer if you deal only in celluloid spies. He is asked to accompany M to a card game with a caricature of a man who is suspected of cheating. Bond's card-playing credentials have already been established with the titanic baccarat game depicted midway through the first Bond novel Casino Royale. Perhaps mindful of the way in which everything which occurred after the card game in that novel was overshadowed and anti-climactic, Fleming here follows this largely character-based opening preamble with a complete non-sequitur of a plot twist featuring the same characters in wildly differing circumstances and, here's the rub, for the first time in the novels we see Bond in a wholly incredible plot involving recidivist Nazis, a prepostrous weapon, a mad criminal mastermind who manages to be both world-famous and entirely unsuspected and London being seconds away from total obliteration. It is as if Fleming had two personalities and they got a half of the finished novel each.
Of course, I admire the ambition of elevating the action thriller with serious character development for the protagonist but the things need to be simultaneous. Had they been, I would have been trumpeting Moonraker believe me. For there are some very good things to commend the novel. The Bond/M relationship is far more intriguing here than merely boss and servant with mutual respect. There is warmth and yet disdain, humour and defensiveness. I liked that aspect of the opening half a great deal. And the thriller section- though wildly overblown as Fleming attempted to outdo his past efforts- is genuinely gripping. Fleming lays off the depictions of Bond's high lifestyle (he doesn't even eat until chapter five and later in the novel, against all of the author's beliefs I suspect, "without noticing what he was eating Bond wolfed down some food and left
") and concentrates upon giving us action and plenty of it.
Sadly, this means a greater than previous reliance upon stereotypes to move the plot along quickly. Even relatively significant characters like Krebs or Gala are reduced to little more than cardboard cutouts, whereas Dr Walter is merely "one of those highly-strung chaps with the usual German chip on the shoulder
". On the other hand, Bond and Gala have little more than a dalliance which helps establish a greater credibility to the protagonist. He makes mistakes, costly mistakes, as we have seen in previous novels and now he has found a girl who proves immune to his charms and rides off into the sunset with her old boyfriend.
So I suppose that it is an important staging post. Fleming is still trying to balance exposition and characterisation and pace his novels at this stage. Hopefully, when he gets this right (as he came close to doing in Live and Let Die to be fair) he will ally it to a credible, well-paced plot and this- when allied to his undoubted talent for gripping action narratives- should produce a monster of a novel. Looking forward to it and pressing right on with the series.
Edited by Slight Inferiority Complex, 30 May 2010 - 11:56 PM.