ReadMORE BookClub Issue #3
Welcome to the latest edition of the Read‘more’ BookClub. At the beginning of each month I ask the community to vote on a book they’d like to feature. June’s by a wide margin was “Flashman” by George MacDonald Fraser. A fantastic book written in the 1960s that follows Harry Flashman, a fictional bully that featured in the Victorian novel “Tom Brown’s School Days” by Thomas Hughes. MacDonald Fraser saw potential in the charming rogue, an Old Boy of Rugby, and chose to continue his story where Thomas Hughes left off.
You know a book’s going to be a corker when the first chapter starts with a character being expelled from school for drunkenness, returning home and rogering his father’s mistress at the first available opportunity. As you continue onwards, MacDonald Fraser doesn’t disappoint and keeps up the pace.
If you like to keep your humour PC, Flashman isn’t the book for you. He is a product of the Victorian era and MacDonald Fraser doesn’t pull any punches in making Flashman as true to life as possible. In the introduction to the book he comments:
“The purported memoir of an unregenerate blackguard, bully, and coward resurrected from a Victorian school story, is a pretty eccentric subject… …[some] complain that he’s a racist — of course he is, why should he be any different?”
Not only is he subject to the “Glory and Empire” notions of a young man of the time… he was a young man of the time, meaning he also enjoyed the ‘pastimes’ available to a wealthy cad before TV or the middle classes were invented. Just as you’re recovering from the daring action of one scene, Flashman and some officer’s wife are “bouncing about in rare style.” The ‘action’ never stops.
The books are written in the style of a memoire called the “Flashman Papers” supposedly discovered at auction and so we get a window into the mind of a coward; a true deceptive cur intent on collecting unearned accolades and treasure, all while cheerfully fondling a few breasts along the way. Flashman, as you might have gathered, is not a very successful poltroon and his efforts to avoid danger only seem to beget him more trouble.
This first book in the series centres around the disastrous British retreat from Afghanistan in 1842 (a war begun purely to keep the Russians out… sounds familiar, no?) in which old Elfie Bey gets the entire British-Indian army massacred. For those unfamiliar there is a famous painting you might have seen of the last stand the survivors made at Gandamak. Flashman, naturally, finds himself in the worst situations possible during this disastrous campaign and few additional ones that are personal to him.
He is posted to India/Afghanistan in the first place after, in true Flashy style, duelling over the honour of a fellow officer’s wife and being ‘removed’ from the Hussar’s. Flashman, the ‘plunger’ who’d hoped to rise through the ranks on England’s shores, finds himself in the far corners of the British Empire, far from home but not yet, it seems, completely out of sheer dumb luck.
MacDonald Fraser’s research for the books shine’s through and is an expert at bringing these historical events and people to life. Because of, rather than in spite of, Harry Flashman’s flaws we get a highly unique and hilarious perspective on history. But, MacDonald Fraser goes further by telling a knee slapping good tale too. Flashman is exactly the kind of deceitful white-livered knave we should all hate, yet you can’t help but love him, he has a certain cool style about him don’t you know. The energetic ruffian brings the words off the page, it’s all too easy to visualise his fantastical exploits and it will only leave you wanting to hear more about ol’ Flashy. Luckily, there are 12 books in the series and much more of him to go around.
Rating this one is easy; 5 stars. God save the Queen, pip pip and cheerio, what!
Did you read the book?
What did you think? Do you agree with what I’ve written here? Comment below or get in touch, I want to hear from you.
To vote on the next book, follow my page on Facebook and tune in on the first Monday of the month (6th July) to vote. Alternatively, you can get in touch via my website to recommend your favourite reads or find more ways to get involved.
This article was written by Cameron Readman. If you’d like to know more or receive notifications for future articles, please head over to the Website and subscribe at the bottom of the page!