Having recently revisited one of my favourite books, Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser, I felt the overwhelming need to write a short review and to heartily encourage any who will listen to cease all other activity immediately and rush to the nearest bookshop and purchase a copy.
Flashman chronicles the misadventures of Brigadier-General Sir Harry Paget Flashman VC KCB KCIE, war hero, national treasure, gentleman, coward, bully and rascal. It is the first of a series of Flashman books which are written in the style of the memoirs of Harry Flashman who, writing in his twilight days, looks back over his life and openly admits and describes his cowardly, self-centred and down-right awful behaviour which has seen him rise from school bully to one of Queen Victoria’s most celebrated soldiers and highest ranking Officers as well as one of the British Empire’s most well known heroes.
Set in the Victorian era, Harry’s adventure begins as he is expelled from his school and is forced to join the Army. As a monied gentleman he, of course, buys his commission and embarks on the first of his adventures. The problem is that Flashman is a coward. He is massively concerned with saving his own skin and will literally do anything to keep as far away from danger as possible. He is adept at pulling the wool over the eyes of others and only very few people ever really see the true Flashman. To most he is a strapping, brave and honourable man destined to great things. And this is the pull of the book. He achieves so much, mostly by accident or happenstance, and yet none of his accolades are deserved. He is cruel and bullish, vile and cowardly and the reader loves him for it. We follow him into the Army, to his marriage and on his first overseas tour serving in Afghanistan at the height of the British Empire’s power. He is the quintessential Victorian gentleman, pious and proper in society, a scoundrel in private. His character flaws are the book’s great strength and the pace of the novel keeps the reader turning pages long into the early hours of the morning.
The first book is a triumph and sets the stage for the many sequels most of which are also outstanding works of comic fiction. Although written in the 1960’s and dealing with the 1800’s, the language and writing style is easily accessible and the book is truly timeless. Fraser’s Flashman is a witty, clever alternative view of Victorian Britain and the “heroes” who helped to make the greatest and most expansive Empire the world has ever seen. Skirting around and delving into some of the most influential historic events of the time, Flashman is weaved wonderfully into the history books.