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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


George MacDonald Fraser

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To purchase Flashman

Title: Flashman
Author: George MacDonald Fraser
Genre: Novel
Written: 1969
Length: 252 pages
Availability: Flashman - US
Flashman - UK
Flashman - Canada
Flashman - France
  • From The Flashman Papers, 1839-1842
  • "Edited and Arranged by George MacDonald Fraser"
  • This is the 1st installment of the Flashman Papers

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Our Assessment:

A- : wonderful entertainment, and a marvelous hero

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
New Statesman . 23/5/1069 James Price
The NY Times Book Rev. . 26/10/1969 Brian Glanville
Time . 5/9/1969 .
TLS . 12/6/1969 .

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The complete review's Review:

       There are few literary pleasures that can compare to the perusal of a Flashman-novel. Each new installment is eagerly awaited and greedily read. Flashman fans are a devoted, enthusiastic lot, and we have yet to meet anyone who has read a Flashman and not enjoyed it (though there must be some such fools out there). Oddly, we have met lots of people who are still unfamiliar with the Flashman series -- poor deprived folk who think it might not be quite their thing. Oh, how we envy them that first flash of Flashman, the thrill of the novelty and discovery as Flashy-fever takes hold.
       It all began with this, the first installment (and the proper book to start with for the uninitiated). George MacDonald Fraser's literary creation, Harry Flashman, is, in fact, not Fraser's creation at all. The character appears briefly in Tom Hughes' 1857 novel, Tom Brown's Schooldays, as a school bully who gets expelled from Rugby for drunkenness. From this brief description Fraser has fashioned a character who managed to get himself involved in what appears to be practically all of the significant historical events between about 1840 and 1900.
       Fraser claims that Flashman wrote his memoirs in his old age, and that these were rediscovered in 1965 and that Fraser was asked to edit them. Releasing one "packet" of adventures at a time (not in chronological order) Fraser -- through Flashman -- takes his readers to many of the battlefields and exotic places of the 19th century. The books are in Flashman's voice, with Fraser only adding some explanatory historical notes.
       The series is remarkable for a number of reasons. This is not your usual historical fiction, where honor, truth, and bravery triumph. No, not at all. In fact, Flashman freely admits to being a poltroon (our dictionary suggests "base coward" as a definition, and that's exactly what Flashman is). Other than preserving his own hide there is little that Flashman cares about ... except seducing the ladies. And he is very good at both. Much of the fun in these books is that, despite his best efforts, Flashman always manages to wind up right where the action is -- and that he invariably emerges as the hero (if only because all the witnesses to his cowardice are dead).
       Morally defective though he might be in some respects, Harry Flashman is a charmer and tells a mighty fine tale. He doesn't pretend to be anything that he is not (at least not in these books -- meaning, he admits, that he is "breaking the habit of eighty years"). He differentiates himself from the author of Tom Brown's Schooldays, writing:

(H)e was more concerned to preach a sermon than to give facts.
       But I am concerned with facts, and since many of them are discreditable to me, you can rest assured they are true.
       Fraser, too, is concerned with facts, and the other part of the series that sets it far above other such efforts is that Flashman takes part in actual historical events, playing a role that rewrites history while leaving the actual outcome unchanged. It is an insider's view of historical events, suggesting the subjectivity of all historical accounts, and how things might actually have happened. A fastidious and thorough researcher, Fraser does an excellent job of presenting historical events and re-inventing them. The sweep of the novels is also incredibly broad, as Flashman travels everywhere from China, Afghanistan, Madagascar, to the American West and elsewhere. History was rarely this much fun (or this educational).

       The novels need not be read in order (and they are not presented in chronological order), but Flashman is the proper introductory volume. Here Flashman explains his version of the Rugby expulsion, and then his early career. He cheats his way out of getting killed in a duel (and comes out looking like the crack-shot honourable man that he most definitely is not) and he marries the beautiful Elspeth (who has the endearing "open, simple smile of the truly stupid"). He goes to serve in India and gets caught up the English mess in Afghanistan, notably the catastrophic retreat from Kabul.
       It's a great adventure, with fun, romance, local colour, a riveting historical backdrop, and a wild cast of characters (as well as some sobering historical truths). Fraser writes very well -- one could listen to or read his Flashman recount these adventures for hours without end. An excellent introduction, the only difficulty is that it is done to soon ..... But by 1999 there were ten further installments of the Flashman-papers available.
       Recommended -- and not just for the adventure-lover or amateur (or professional) historian. This is a fine book regardless of your tastes -- entertaining literature, as it is meant to be.

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Flashman: George MacDonald Fraser: Other Flashman books under review: Other books by George MacDonald Fraser under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • Rafael Sabatini's Captain Blood, which Fraser said he prefers "to Treasure Island or any other pirate fiction".
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction
  • See Index of Series and Sequels under review

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About the Author:

       English author George MacDonald Fraser was born in 1925. He is most famous for the books in the Flashman series, but has also written numerous other works of fiction and non-fiction.

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© 2000-2009 the complete review

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