Flashman, by George MacDonald Fraser

First of the series based on the Supposedly autobiographical notes of Harry Flashman, a character from Tom Brown's Schooldays, following his expulsion from Rugby and subsequent career in the army.

I'd always fancied reading this and so downloaded it when it was only 99p on the Kindle store.

I think this was more-or-less what I'd expected: Flashman is over-the-top unpleasant and self-serving but - at least in these papers - very honest about his actions and motives, which are generally ignoble: most of the time he's trying to chase women and live a life of idle luxury. But he has a habit of ending up in situations where he ends up looking good, and so manages to cultivate a reputation for being something of a hero.

You'd think that with a character as unpleasant as this, you'd be rooting for his downfall, but for some reason it doesn't seem frustrating to have him, at the end of this book, being presented to Queen Victoria and awarded medals for his actions in Afghanistan (actions that we know were not heroic at all, and are only recognised as such because the true hero of the hour died defending his post and so was not around to give a true account of Flashman's actual cowardice).

But the reason it works is (it seems to me) because Flashman is just comic-book awful: you can't really take the story seriously. He also is - bizarrely - somewhat sympathetic, because he knows how awful he is, and acknowledges it himself.

The historical background to the book seems like it's very well researched, and there are plenty of mentions of real-life characters. The story of the disastrous defeat that the English army suffered in Afghanistan is quite an interesting one, and the fact that it was mismanaged by the generals is perhaps another reason why we feel somewhat sympathetic to Flashman.

I did enjoy it, but for some reason it felt a bit of a slog - it wasn't unputdown-able. So I might go for another one, but I'm not desperate.

Completed : 01-Jan-2015

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