My James Bond Challenge continues with Thunderball, the ninth Bond book written by Ian Fleming, published in 1961. I was very interested to read this one as Thunderball is one of my least favourite Bond movies and I have only seen it a couple of times. I don’t even know what I don’t like about it. I think I just found it a bit boring when I last watched it years ago. So I’m looking forward to giving it another go.

As ever, my book review style is just a brain dump of my thoughts and comments whilst going through the book.

  • I do often love Fleming’s chapters in general, but some of these ones are just amazing. ‘Tea and animosity’, ‘Fasten your lap-strap’, ‘Sour Martinis’, ‘Cardboard Hero’, ‘How to Eat a Girl’, ‘Naked warfare’, ‘Take it easy, Mr Bond’.
  • In this the ninth book we have our first mention of SPECTRE! Strange to think it came this late, because SPECTRE is mentioned in the first movie, Dr. No.
  • p9 – Another Bond hangover! I do love reading about these as it makes him more human.
  • p10 – He’s not happy when his replacement secretary was an ‘ugly bitch’!
  • p11 – I’m very impressed with M’s natural eating advice. It’s good to hear that this nutritional advice was prevalent even back in the early 60s.
  • p13 – There is now a 009? In Moonraker we heard that Bond was ‘the senior of the three men in the Service who had earned the double o number’. I think prior to this we had only heard about 008 and 0011. I think we heard that they were the only other live 00s. I had assumed, given that there was an 11 that they just kept adding new numbers when they recruited new agents, but this does now perhaps look like they do replace numbers and that this new person was given the previously used 009 number. These sort of things always intrigue me.
  • p15 – I love the banter between Bond and Moneypenny.
  • p20 – “It was a room shaped room”. I love Fleming’s dry sense of humour sometimes.
  • p22 – “His right hand held the memory of one beautiful breast.”!
  • p28 – Kissing the osteopath is possibly Bond’s most misogynistic move yet. “I just had to do it. You shouldn’t have a mouth like that if you’re going to be an osteopath.”
  • p40 – “he turned to greet Bond with an Ah! Bisto! expression on his face”. That’s great to know the famous Bisto advert strapline was around in the 50s or early 60s.
  • p44 – Fleming saying that names ending in ‘escue’, ‘ovitch’ and ‘ski’ and ‘stein’ being not the most respectable. Seems pretty stereotyping and racist!
  • p47 – Quite an introduction to Ernst Stavro Blofeld! Very interesting to hear about his animal magnetism. And he was born in 1908, so I guess he’s early 50s.
  • It’s very interesting to hear about Blofeld’s moral side when he returned half a million dollars after the kidnapped girl had been ‘violated’.
  • p78 – I love reading about M’s investigative skills. What I’d actually really love to read is a prequel novel giving more info about a young M. Maybe in his youth M was called ‘m’.
  • p109 – Fascinating monologue about women drivers by Fleming! So let’s add sexist to Fleming or Bond’s character flaws. Most likely both of them!
  • p120 – Felix is back! I wish I had made a note of which books Felix appears in and made more comments about how he comes across. In most of them he seems very supportive and strong but in at least one I remember him almost being a bit flaky or annoying or something. Great to have a recurring character like that that Bond genuinely considers a friend. I’m looking forward to comparing all the many Felix actors in the movie. I’d say this appearance is one of Felix’s better involvements.
  • p141 – “The barman moved away with Negro dignity.” I mean is that a back-handed compliment? Just how things were phrased back in those days is a real eye-opener.
  • p147 – It’s great when Bond slips in the word ‘spectre’ into the conversation to test Largo’s reaction. I think he says the word at least four times, to make it really obvious. I love how he enjoys getting under people’s skin and putting them on edge, perhaps to hope they make a mistake or give something away.
  • p148 – “The crowd licked its lips.” It’s little one-liners like this that I love from Fleming.
  • p159 – “Bond’s stomach crawled with the ants of fear and his skin tightened at his groin.” Another great line.
  • p171 – Bond references Moonraker. It all highlights there definitely was a chronology to Fleming’s novels and they aren’t just standalone independent stories.
  • p174 – Bond’s Walther PPK gets a mention again.
  • p189 – Domino is strong and independent. I like her. It’s good that not all the ‘Bond-girls’ are not the same. Some of them are extremely interesting and strong chracters.
  • p231 – So many Bond novels end with him being in hospital! Very different from the movies where often the film ends with Bond having sex with a woman in a boat!

Much like the movie Thunderball, this book is decent but didn’t personally blow me away. Some very good bits but also some more boring bits. I found the whole health spa at the beginning at bit random and boring. And he kind of just seemed to stumble upon things, like meeting the guy in the spa, and act on hunches and guesswork throughout the book. I learnt on Michael May’s After Lunch podcast review that this book had lots of controversy around who wrote it. Fleming was working with a couple of writers on a movie idea which didn’t go great but then Fleming wrote Thunderball and the argument is that a lot of stuff in the book might have come from the other writers. They claimed ownership and there was a big court case. I assume that is what led to Never Say Never Again being made, as it is essentially a remake of Thunderball. But I found this novel to be slightly different in a few subtle ways and slightly boring in a few obvious ways. But still with some great bits in it. I think it could well be my least favourite novel so far though. 6/10

Current ranking and scoring out of 10
Moonraker – 9
Dr. No – 9
From Russia, with Love – 9
Casino Royale – 8.5
Goldfinger – 7.5
For Your Eyes Only – 7.5
Live and Let Die – 7
Diamonds are Forever – 6.5
Thunderball – 6