Review: Flashman

Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ever wonder what happened to the school bully after you graduated?

Or do you hate Political Correctness and wish we could say what we think?

Or maybe you want to know what times were like before PC, what wrongs and atrocities could possibly have meant equality and respect required legislation, as though those basic rights weren’t automatic?

Then this journey into the mind of a bigot, a libertine, and a coward; uncensored and unbowdlerized; is guaranteed to make you cringe.

Sir Harry Paget Flashman first appears in history in Tom Brown’s School Days, where he is expelled from the prestigious Rugby boys’ school and never heard from again in Hughes’s novel.

Enter the mysterious Flashman Papers, bound in oilskin, found in an auction house, and subsequently edited for publication by George MacDonald Fraser where we learn, thanks to Flashman’s place in the world as a landed and monied ‘gentleman’ (read ‘rake’ or ‘debaucher’ or ‘all-round-‘good’-guy-you-hope-you-never-have-the-misfortune-to-meet’), he buys a commission (and respect) in the army.

From then on, and no matter what he does – whether it’s ‘having to rape a woman’ or ‘having to thrash the maid almost to death’ or ‘leaving the niggers outside in the snow to die’ [all his words -not mine] – he gets away with everything. Because in his time, these acts were not criminal! There was nothing to get away with!

He’s so incorrigible, he even commits ungentlemanly acts: he hides from battle, leaves good men to die, and covers up the bravery of others to accept their accolades for himself. As Flashy himself says, ‘give me the shadow anytime, and you can keep the substance’.

Of course, given the times, he’s considered a national hero.

This is an amazing insight into what we, the people, have let our leaders do unchallenged. Fictional though this story is, there’s still many a lesson here.

And as a final word: I doubt there is a better narrator for this than Colin Mace. What an amazing voice!

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