‘Flashman and the Great Game’ by George MacDonald Fraser

What can I say, really, but that this if Flashman.  If you’ve read a Flashman novel before then you probably know the gist of the impression one gets from him.  If you haven’t, it’s rather hard to explain.  Flashy is himself as always; stubborn, racist, cowardly, libellous and lascivious.  If you’ve never encountered him before, he is based on the foil character and bully from Tom Brown’s School Days.  If you haven’t read Tom Brown, think along the lines of Draco Malfoy or a strange synthesis between Arnold Rimmer and Ace; promiscuous and a serial evader of duty and responsibility.  He learns language skills in the beds of the women he seduces while in military service, and survives to become a hero by consistently running away and trying to avoid exposure as a deserter or coward.

Flashman’s arrogance and ego once again land him in peril, this time getting caught up in the Indian Mutiny.  He sees a lot more horror firsthand, including the worst behaviour of both sides, and bounces around in calamitously poor luck so that we end up with perspectives on myriad events and circumstances.  The food and supplies for both sides, the political motivations, silliness and apathy… in short the human condition when you’ve got a country full of angry people who don’t feel safe in their beds.

What was most interesting was the insights into the sense of ethics and decency that Flashman develops.  It’s not what anyone of his time would call ethics, but he does show empathy for others, horror at the inhumanity of their treatment, and a naivety and obliviousness regarding beautiful women.  As the story is told from Flashman’s first-person perspective, I’d almost think him guilty of trying to show himself in a softer light.  Yet he has always been unashamedly himself, has always openly admitted to all his vices, which is half the appeal of the series.

Flashman in the Great Game is something I’m going to come back to.  I haven’t read much about this period in Indian history, and I want to get the facts so that I can enjoy the liberties taken with them better.  I loved Flashman as I always do, of course, and recommend this series to anyone and everyone (except for my mum)

Felice’s Log has a much better review than mine.  There’s a very positive review here at We Are Amused.  There was a pretty readable article at the Wall Street Journal after Fraser’s death.

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