Stephen's Reviews > Flashman

Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser
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Jul 05, 2009

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bookshelves: historical-fiction, 1954-1969, rogues-and-scoundrels, humor-and-satire

Harry Paget Flashman is NOT your typical morally-challenged but likeable scoundrel who you can’t help but love because of his sharp wit and buckets o’ charm.
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No…he’s an ASSHOLE…a big one. A rapacious, lecherous, despicable scumbag with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. I’m talking such odious funtivities as:

**Having sex with his Father’s mistress, and then beating and sexually assaulting her when she refuses his subsequent advances.

**Forcibly selling his Indian concubine to a passing artillery major, because she had become “too and mopish at night to be much fun.”

**Randomly flogging his household servants everyday “for their good and my own amusement.”

Get me…not the kind of actions at which it’s easy to give a wink and nod. I’m not even docking him for his racism and sexism, for which he gets a "sign-of-the-times" hall pass based on the 19th Century timeline.

And yet….

To the enduring credit of George MacDonald Fraser, he manages to weave a funny, engaging historical adventure around this black hole of virtue, one that kept me laughing and turning pages throughout.

PLOT SUMMARY:

Flashman follows the exploits of the notorious bully from immediately after his expulsion from Rugby School, as detailed in Tom Brown's Schooldays, from which Fraser borrowed the character. The story is framed as a fictional memoir/autobiography told in a series of “papers” discovered to have been written by Flashman when he was very old.

In this first installment, we follow Flashy from his schooling disgrace to his Machiavellian career in the Army, during which he travels from Scotland (where he seduces the young daughter of the family he billets with), to India (where he bangs everything with a pulse), to Afghanistan, where he’s a participant in the major events of the First Anglo-Afghan War. At every turn, through a combination of luck, quick thinking and timely cowardice, Flashman comes out smelling like a rose and ends this first novel as a famous war hero.

THOUGHTS:

I liked it. I feel like a bit of a heel for saying so, but Fraser’s polished, wonderfully paced, historically accurate story-telling, combined with Flashman’s unique, humorous voice won me over. It’s a combination of historical fiction, scoundrel lit, and dry British humor. Flashy’s observations about his colleagues and the world around him are unvarnished, unflattering, and often hilarious.

Many of his best barbs are reserved for his commanding officer in Afghanistan, General Elphy Bey. Here are a few examples:
But I still state unhesitatingly, that for pure, vacillating stupidity, for superb incompetence to command, for ignorance combined with bad judgment --in short, for the true talent for catastrophe -- Elphy Bey stood alone. Others abide our question, but Elphy outshines them all as the greatest military idiot of our own or any other day.

Only he could have permitted the First Afghan War and let it develop to such ruinous defeat. It was not easy: he started with a good army, a secure position, some excellent officers, a disorganised enemy, and repeated opportunities to save the situation. But Elphy, with the touch of true genius, swept aside these obstacles with unerring precision, and out of order wrought complete chaos. We shall not, with luck, look upon his like again.
And later, when Elphy’s incompetence causes things to go from bad to worse to downright disastrous:
Possibly there has been a greater shambles in the history of warfare than our withdrawal from Kabul; probably there has not…I am at a loss for words to describe the superhuman stupidity, the truly monumental incompetence, and the bland blindness to reason of Elphy Bey and his advisers. If you had taken the greatest military geniuses of the ages, placed them in command of our army, and asked them to ruin it utterly as speedily as possible, they could not – I mean it seriously -- have done it as surely and swiftly as he did. And he believed he was doing his duty. The meanest sweeper in our train would have been a fitter commander.
Fraser's humor sits very well with me, and generally kept me smiling. In the end, while I never liked Flashy, nor do I think I ever will, he did make me laugh. He kept me engaged and enjoying myself, and he gets props for that.

I have a feeling I will be returning to the Flashman Papers to read about more of Flashy's exploits...conquests...scandals...crimes and misdemeanors.

3.0 stars. Recommended.
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Comments (showing 1-48 of 48) (48 new)

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Terry Nice. Is this your first read of old Flashy?


Stephen Yes...working on review now, should be up shortly.


message 3: by Manny (last edited Apr 16, 2012 12:32PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Manny Ah, they don't make 'em like Flashy any more. No wonder the British Empire is just a fond memory.


Karla Have you seen the movie "Royal Flash" with Malcolm McDowell? Very funny flick. :D It's not as good as the Richard Lester Musketeers movies, but close.


message 5: by Dan (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dan Schwent I liked Royal Flash even more than this one.


Evan Leach Looks like we tackled this one almost simultaneously...the Elphy quotes were great as were some of his descriptions of Elspeth:

"She alone smiled at me with the open, simple smile of the truly stupid."

"I talked occasionally with Miss Elspeth, and found her brainless beyond description."

Flashman is awful but I really loved this book.


Stephen I really liked your review of this, Evan. I didn't quite enjoy the book as much as you did, but I can see the series growing on me in subsequent volumes.

There is so much quotable material in here.


Stephen Dan wrote: "I liked Royal Flash even more than this one."

Very good to know. Is that the next volume?


message 9: by Dan (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dan Schwent Stephen wrote: "Dan wrote: "I liked Royal Flash even more than this one."

Very good to know. Is that the next volume?"


Yup. I lost track of old Flash after that. Pyrates by the same author is also hilarious.


message 10: by Richard (new)

Richard Derus The only novel I ever saw my Anglophobic father laugh out loud over. He hated the Brits violently, and felt this was the most accurate analysis of British character he could ever imagine.

His chortles and guffaws ring in my ears yet.


Stephen Dan wrote: Yup. I lost track of old Flash after that. Pyrates by the same author is also hilarious."

I have The Pyrates: A Swashbuckling Comic Novel by the Creator of Flashman, and was going to read if I liked Flashman, which I now have. It looks really good.


Stephen Richard wrote: "The only novel I ever saw my Anglophobic father laugh out loud over."

Have you ever sampled these, good sir? If so, thoughts?


message 13: by Richard (new)

Richard Derus Pearl Ruled. I was no fan of Tom Brown's School Days. I think Flashman should be flayed alive and dipped in hot salted vinegar. That sort of "virile" character, banging broad after broad, inspires only nausea in me, like James Bond does.

I like the Craig version of Bond because, for once, he's the sex object. Makes an agreeable change.


Stephen Criag is easily my favorite bond as well, though I do have a soft spot for Connery.


message 15: by Richard (new)

Richard Derus If they give him a decent script next time, no more longface about boring Vesper, he'll even outshine Connery over time. And that is reallllly sayin' somethin'!

The Broccolis better get on the stick, it's been four looooooong years since Quantum of Solace. They've got a lot of audience rebuilding to do.


message 16: by Dan (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dan Schwent Stephen wrote: "Dan wrote: Yup. I lost track of old Flash after that. Pyrates by the same author is also hilarious."

I have The Pyrates: A Swashbuckling Comic Novel by the Creator of Flashman, and was going to ..."


It reminds me of Princess Bride quite a bit.


Stephen Dan wrote: "It reminds me of Princess Bride quite a bit."

High priase indeed. Did you like Pyrates more than Flashman?


message 18: by [deleted user] (new)

"This story will be completely truthful; I am breaking the habit of eighty years. Why shouldn't I? When a man is as old as I am, and knows himself throughly for what he was and is, he doesn't care much. I'm not ashamed you see, never was...." So began my long love affair with this scoundrel, whom I first met in the 10th grade back in 1981. What a fun way to learn about the Empire during its Victorian heyday.


message 19: by Dan (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dan Schwent Stephen wrote: "Dan wrote: "It reminds me of Princess Bride quite a bit."

High priase indeed. Did you like Pyrates more than Flashman?"


I did!


Stephen Steve wrote: ""This story will be completely truthful; I am breaking the habit of eighty years. Why shouldn't I? When a man is as old as I am, and knows himself throughly for what he was and is, he doesn't care..."

Certainly an entertaining way to learn about that period.


Stephen Dan wrote: "Stephen wrote: "Dan wrote: "It reminds me of Princess Bride quite a bit."

High priase indeed. Did you like Pyrates more than Flashman?"

I did!"


Sold.


Terry I've enjoyed all of the Flashman books I've read with the exception of and the Angel of the Lord which I found to be a bore. As noted it's a great way to learn about the empire. I love the footnotes.


Becky Hoffman Amen Stephen....Amen.


message 24: by [deleted user] (new)

Great review Stephen.


message 25: by Mike (new)

Mike Great review Steve. On a completely different track I was just exploring getting this book Quartered Safe Out Here: A Harrowing Tale of World War II and saw it mentioned his "Flashman" series. So your review comes at the prefect time.


Stephen Thanks, Mike. That looks like an interesting book. I'll look forward to your review if you give it a go.


Stephen Wesley wrote: "Great review Stephen."

Thanks, Wesley.


message 28: by Willow (new) - added it

Willow Karla (Mossy Love Grotto) wrote: "Have you seen the movie "Royal Flash" with Malcolm McDowell? Very funny flick. :D It's not as good as the Richard Lester Musketeers movies, but close."

I've read they were thinking of making another Flashman movie. This time with Michael Fassbender.


Stephen I hadn't heard that. Fassbender sounds like a really good choice.


message 30: by Willow (last edited Apr 16, 2012 10:18PM) (new) - added it

Willow Stephen wrote: "I hadn't heard that. Fassbender sounds like a really good choice."

I know! I would love to see these books made into movies, or maybe a series on HBO or something. Fassbender would be great.


StoryTellerShannon What a scoundrel. My type of hero. ;)


Terry Excellent review. Flashy is despicable but consistently entertaining. The books appear to be good history, well-researched with extensive footnotes. This keeps one coming back quite as much as Flashman's amusing perspectives.


Stephen Willowfaerie wrote: "I know! I would love to see these books made into movies, or maybe a series on HBO or something."

The HBO treatment could be very good.


Stephen Shannon wrote: "What a scoundrel. My type of hero. ;)"

Than you will love this, Shannon, especially if you like your depravity with a side of history.


Stephen Terry wrote: "Excellent review. Flashy is despicable but consistently entertaining. The books appear to be good history, well-researched with extensive footnotes. This keeps one coming back quite as much as Flas..."

Thanks, Terry, and I think the whole "good history" aspect of these stories can't be overstated. It really is a unique feature for this kind of humorous material.


message 36: by Lindsay (new)

Lindsay When I get around to this, Rik Mayall will be playing Flashman in my head.


[Name Redacted] I had a friend who tried to read this without understanding the context (Tom Brown's School Days) or that it was intended as an ironic approach to the anti-hero/scoundrel archetype. He was not amused.

Also, having recently found myself on "Pottermore" I have been dismayed at the number of female Potter-fans who ADORE Draco Malfoy and wish he was their boyfriend. I suspect they are the few people on Earth who might be able to read the Flashman series non-ironically.


[Name Redacted] Also, just to be clear, you're not supposed to like Flashman. You're supposed to find him appalling. Reading his adventures is the sophisticated version of watching "reality tv".


Stephen I think Fraser does a good job of quickly advising the reader that Flashy is not someone with whom you are supposed to bond. There's nothing roguish about him, he is 100% weasel.


message 40: by Lindsay (new)

Lindsay I don't know how well Blackadder travelled across to the states but there was a hilarious character 'Lord Flashheart' who was based on Flashman.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_Fla...


Stephen I am a Blackadder fan, but I haven't seen those episodes. I will have to track them down. Thanks.


message 42: by Willow (new) - added it

Willow Lindsay wrote: "I don't know how well Blackadder travelled across to the states but there was a hilarious character 'Lord Flashheart' who was based on Flashman.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_Fla..."


Rik Mayall is hilarous. I adore him. LOL


Karla Mayall showed up in an episode of Midsomer Murders, playing an over-the-hill fat drunk womanizer. I couldn't unsee Flashheart the entire time. :D


Stephen Karla (Mossy Love Grotto) wrote: "Mayall showed up in an episode of Midsomer Murders, playing an over-the-hill fat drunk womanizer. I couldn't unsee Flashheart the entire time. :D"

That sounds like so much win. I will locate it and watch this weekend.


message 45: by Edward (last edited May 03, 2012 06:20PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Edward Erdelac Stephen, I picked this up based on your review. I'm really enjoying it. My favorite line so far 'He was frowning like a Turk at a christening.' Thanks for the heads up.


Stephen My pleasure, Edward. I'm glad your liking it.


message 47: by Austin (new)

Austin Bynum You captured my thoughts to the letter. Great review!


message 48: by Rajan (new)

Rajan interesting


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