Monday, January 11, 2016

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang - Ian Fleming

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is realistic in places.  It concerns a family, the Potts, who have a much-loved car that makes an unusual sound Chitty, Chitty - Bang! - Bang!; so they name the car Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  After this moment of realism the novel becomes quite bizarre.  I am reminded firstly of the Famous Five - they say 'Golly' a lot, and they are frightfully hungry after life-threatening adventures.  Then, as might be expected from Ian Fleming, there are clear hints of James Bond narrative-types - taking on a gang of international criminals and maybe escaping (I don't want to give the plot away) at the point of greatest peril.  Only, to complete this reference to James Bond, having defeated (or maybe defeated) a criminal mastermind - casually risking the lives of his wife and two children along the way - James Bond is jolly pleased with himself and sets off on a new adventure - 'the children aren't scared', he explains to his wife, 'so it must be alright.'  The novel is written for children, of course - though I can't imagine children reading it.  The story is just too something - I can't quite put my finger on it - to suit the child audience that I imagine.  What I love, however, is its period-pieceness.  It comes from an age when driving at 100mph (or flying, or speed-boating) with your simply adorable children sitting in an armchair seat behind - no seat belts - is an example of ordinary, if quirky family fun; and where the everyday maternal care of Mum (Mimsie) is demonstrated by her cautioning of her children to be careful when examining the crates of dynamite they have just discovered.  (Fleming then endorses this by reminding his child-readers that they should listen to the cautions of their mothers; but worthy of note is the fact that he doesn't seem to have his tongue anywhere near his cheek when offering this writerly advice - he means it.)  Anyway, for most of this novel I didn't know whether to laugh or exclaim in a 'what!'-like manner; so if you would like to experience a similar reader-response this might be the book for you.  If not, try the film - much more straightforward and 'truly scrumptious'.

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