Thursday, September 12, 2013

Review: Flashman (The Flashman Papers #1) by George MacDonald Fraser

First published in 1969 by Herbert Jenkins, later versions available by various publishers.

First off let me say that I shouldn't love it, but I do.  The writing is truly excellent.  It is also, I'm told, historically accurate in terms of events/timelines etc...

The title character of Harry Flashman is a genius creation, the kind of character you just love to hate.  You should hate him, he is quite the worst anti-hero you could possibly imagine, an unutterably awful character with absolutely no redeeming virtue whatsoever.  He is most definitely not a likeable character at all, and does the most terrible things throughout this book (and the others that follow it).  However you can't help but enjoy the ride he takes you on.

George MacDonald Fraser has taken Flashman from Tom Brown's Schooldays and fleshed him out into the lead character in his own series.  Thomas Hughes' book sees Flashman expelled from school for drunkenness and it's at that point that Fraser picks up Flashy's story, which has been reproduced as just discovered memoirs written by an elderly and brutally honest Flashman.  Flashy goes home, seduces his stepmother then threatens her when she refuses his subsequent advances.  His father ships him off to life in the Army, and rather than ending up in the cushy regiment he envisioned he finds himself on active duty in India and then in the middle of the first Anglo-Afghan war (with seductions and a shotgun wedding, rape, flogging, beating and all forms of cowardice on the way).  Each time he finds himself in the middle of the action he manages by a combination of blind luck and sheer yellow-bellied cowardice to not only survive impossible situations but actually is perceived as quite the hero.  Flashman is an intelligent character who has an instinctive knowledge of military strategy and it's obvious to readers that had he an ounce of bravery about him he'd either be a great leader, or possibly dead in the battlefield.

There are some brilliant reviews on Goodreads, and I encourage a read through of some of them!

There are 12 Flashman Papers novels in all, and while I have loved this I am not sure I am ready to read on just yet, I wonder if Flashman would get tiresome after a while.  Certainly I need a break between stories.

If you are thinking of reading this I urge you to get a physical copy of the book and not the Kindle version as I did.  The book is heavily footnoted, and not being too familiar with this period in military history I found it a pain to keep going to and fro on the kindle.  I may re-purchase this in time in paperback, and if I read more then it will definitely be in physical book form.

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