What has kept the Bond franchise from falling apart entirely, in terms of the films, are two things. First, the casting of Daniel Craig, who comes across as dangerous and slightly brutal, in addition to charismatic. Second, it is a return to the source material, and not just the content, but the spirit as well. Fleming’s novels are simple, tough, and entertaining. What kept them fresh (what still keeps them fresh, for me at least) is the inclusion of new perspectives on the Bond character. Some previous books spent some time dealing with how Bond behaves at home, what it’s like when he spends extended periods at the office, and how he prepares for and deals with a life of danger, rather than just, like the films, showing fast-paced glimpses of the danger itself. Such things keep him human. The Spy Who Loved Me offers yet another perspective, that of the “Bond girl”. Viv Michel is a young Canadian woman who has returned to North America after spending a few years in Europe where she was used horribly by men she trusted. She is on a sort of pilgrimage, to find herself and to restore her confidence. She takes a short-term job to make a little money before heading further south, and accidentally stumbles into the middle of an insurance fraud scheme being perpetrated by some local gangsters. Bond doesn’t even appear until the last third of the novel, and only then because he’s had a flat tire nearby. The adventure is brief and strange, and has absolutely nothing to do with the nuclear submarine plot of the 1977 film of the same name.
The only real problem that I can see is that Fleming didn’t seem to know a damn thing about how to write women (he may not have known a damned thing about women). The book is written from Viv’s perspective, in her own voice, but she is basically just a collection early and mid-Twentieth Century stereotypes, and I think she would be sure to offend any modern female reader (and possibly any female reader at the time; certainly any who read the work of people like Iris Murdoch).
Next: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, by Ian Fleming (because there wasn’t enough Bond in the previous Bond adventure to satisfy me).