Chemistry Review

Ian Fleming, Pericyclic Reactions

Usually when considering reviewing a book I do my best not to read other reviews before mine has been written, accepted for print and is well on its way to the presses - but in this case the controversy has been impossible to ignore. In somewhat of a departure from his typical realist hard nosed shaken not stirred blond lovelies quaffing martinis novels, Mr Fleming has opted for a more abstract tone in this novella. And it appears some reviewers are none too fond of the change...

I remember a holiday in New Zealand. Like many a traveller in that remote land, solace from boredom had to be found in the few belongings I had brought. Ian Fleming came to my aid. In British manner with particular manners, he revealed the debonaire world of an international spy, a man licensed to kill. The fog of amnesia in 'you only live twice' resonated with my feelings of the fog separating me from civilisations past known. The short sharp snippets of a spy's life in 'a view to a kill' passed by as fast as each new cloud of rain in that stormy sky.

So, this new work, his most recent release in some time, how does it compare to those evocative stories?

In what can only be considered an attempt at literature as revolutionary as James Joyce's 'Ulysses' was in its time, Fleming has forgone the protagonist typical of his earlier work. This, in stark contrast to what most would consider 'modern' literature these days - which appears to consist almost solely of a protagonist from a neurotic first person perspective. Perhaps as a backlash to this onslaught of the personal and the profane, Fleming has opted for a stand-offish approach speaking of the other rather than of the I in what can only be termed a didactic tone. The relationship between author and reader is always present however, and this in some sense compensates for the distance of the other. The reader is aware of the author and his ever present voice, and aware also that the author is not just speaking of the other but is speaking of the other directly to him. This approach, though confronting at times, comforts in a way only a fatherly voice can.

So what of the other? What is this subject matter that this novella expounds upon? It must be said that Fleming appears to have delved into the underpinnings of our philosophical thought in his later years, since upon first reading the text is clearly discussing the relationship between the platonic forms of the ideal and their translation into reality - and the problems inherent therein. The reality presented is far removed from the reality we are familiar with, however. An abstract nature is ever present and haunts the reader throughout its reading. Once I had first finished the book in a blur of an evening (my extra dry martini still sitting untouched on the bookshelf beside me), my mind was reeling at the compendium of ideas that had come out of this deceivingly shy little thing. It was another two days before I began to regain a sense of my surroundings.

During those two days I had been trying to work through what I had read, to make some sense of this abstract reality Fleming has presented us with. It was with this rush of thought over that I approached the book again. Sure enough, those two days twisting sweatily in my sheets had not been in vain. For upon second reading I encountered a beauty of such a subtle nature it is rarely perceived. Like Kafka before him, Fleming approaches the convoluted nature of human existence. But whereas Kafka appeared to explore the interrelationships between people and between a person's mind and those interrelationships, Fleming has focused almost solely on the interrelationships themselves, devoid of any human element. I cannot begin here to recount the depth of Fleming's insights. Clearly Fleming has detailed his insights in as concise form as possible - the adoption of these metaphorical abstractions is necessary to detail them to their full extent and allows the author to offer fresh insight (finally!) into the most perplexing problem facing a man's life. A problem that has concerned author and literature since before Homer.

The one relationship that remains unabstracted and still exists in its most familiar form is that which I told of before - the relationship between author and reader. Why Fleming deemed this relationship different enough to warrant separate treatment is not completely clear, but perhaps the answer to this riddle lies replete within each reader. For he is not only speaking to me, but to you.

It is with some regret that I read over the other reviews of this deep work. Flippant comments such as 'Fleming? ... too many martinis, old man' only show how deep to the core the philistine fringe has reached. It is with a refined pleasure I close this book and I know that when I decide to return again to the arms of Kissy Suzuki my mind as well as my body will be at peace.