Iowa City Public Library's Reviews > Flashman

Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser
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I’ve been trying for years to interest people in the Flashman books. This probably won’t work either.

Here’s the pitch. They’re adventure novels, reasonably accurate historically (don’t skip the footnotes), and funny as anything I’ve read. Harry Flashman–cad, liar, bully, coward, and, especially, lecher–finds himself, to his dismay, in just about every military disaster of the Nineteenth Century. He flees Afghanistan, fights on both sides of the Civil War, survives Little Big Horn, charges with the Light Brigade, and endures China’s Opium Wars.

He meets such notables as Lincoln, Bismark, Custer, and John Brown, but usually finds his fate depending on pleasing a powerful, treacherous woman. He emerges from each adventure smelling like a rose, his superiors agog at his supposed courage.

Why read about such a loathsome specimen, someone who literally throws a girlfriend to the wolves to save himself? Flashy has no illusions about himself or anyone else, is utterly frank, and disarmingly funny. On sucking up to superiors: "I toadied as seemed best – not openly, of course, but effectively just the same; there is a way of toadying which is better than fawning, and it consists of acting bluff and hearty and knowing to an inch how far to go." On a general’s accidental wounding: "The Afghans murder our people, try to make off with our wives, order us out of the country, and what does our commander do? Shoots himself i the arse – doubtless in an attempt to blow his brains out. He can’t have missed by much." On escape: "It was my yellow belly that saved me, nothing else … That’s what you young chaps have got to remember – when you run, run, full speed, with never a thought for anything else; don’t look or listen or dither even for an instant; let terror have his way, for he’s the best friend you’ve got."

--John

From ICPL Staff Picks Blog

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