How is it that I have waited so long to get around to reading 'Flashman'? Like many, I am familiar with the name from his original appearance in 'Tom Brown's Schooldays' written by Thomas Hughes in 1857, but it is his reincarnation in George Macdonald Fraser's 'Flashman Papers' that we really get to know what happened to the bully that was expelled from Rugby School for being 'beastly drunk'.
I think it is important to acknowledge from the start that the book contains lurid descriptions of violence to women and defamatory language that some will find offensive; but then what do we expect from a man, who in his own words, is "a scoundrel, a liar, a cheat, a thief, a coward - and, oh yes, a toady." Fraser takes the backdrop that is Victorian expansion and weaves Flashman's character through it in such a deft way, one could almost believe he was actually there. This, the opening chapter, sees our anti-hero sent to the most inhospitable station in the Empire - Afghanistan. True to form, Flashman manages to avoid all sense of duty and honour but still manages to return home, showered in reflective glory. There really should be nothing to like about the character of Flashman, yet somehow he worms his way into our psyche, forcing us to laugh and cheer, often at the most inappropriate times. Take for example this description of General Elphinstone, commander of the British garrison at Kabul,
"Only he could have permitted the First Afghan War and let it develop to such a 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 a 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."
Now it is entirely possible that I am looking on this novel a little too favourably, given my predilection for the era, but I have to say that I really enjoyed this yarn. Even with all his faults I was ultimately left wanting more of Flashman and will no doubt be ordering up the second book in the series shortly. A favourable four stars.