Simon Bisson (sbisson) wrote,
Simon Bisson

The Tuesday Morning "Feeling A Little Chipper" Review: Flashman

Coincidences abound in the world of blogs: Charlie was posting in his blog about General Elphinstone, just as I was finishing reading the first of George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman novels, in which our anti-hero finds himself caught up in the military disaster that was the retreat from Kabul. It's a story that our current political leaders would probably do well to read...

MacDonald Fraser's Flashman novels can be read in two ways: firstly as the continuing tale of the life of the consummate rogue and rake first met in Thomas Hughes' 1857 novel of school life Tom Brown's School Days, and secondly, as deeply researched historical novels that deal with elements of Victorian history we avoid learning about... Either way, they're great fun, and make enjoyable reads.

The first, Flashman is the story of Harry Flashman's expulsion from Rugby, and his early military career in London, Scotland, India and Afghanistan. He lies, cheats, and whores his way through early Victorian society, meeting up with sundry historical figures (Genre SF readers could assuage their guilt by treating this as a secret history). And yet, despite his catalogue of sins, we feel that this confessional memoir is such that Flashman is a reliable narrator, even if he was an unreliable man. As Flashman runs from the Afghan blunders of General Elphinstone we see more of the measure of the man, and realise that, (perhaps) despite his cowardly, venal nature, here is a man who is more than he knows.

MacDonald Fraser has obviously spent time immersed in his source materials, reading contemporary accounts, piecing together the contradictions in official documents, and attempting to see both sides of a story distorted through the fractured lenses of history and the needs of patriotism. And yet, he manages to transcend this, inserting his research neatly into a story that mixes skullduggery, revenge and military blunders - as well as wenching, cheating and bluster.

All in all, Flashman is "light fiction plus", a quick, fun read, that leaves the reader realising that they've just received an education in disguise.

You'll be seeing more of these books here in future.
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