I just finished reading Charlie Wilson’s War by George Crile. (Great read, by the way.) In the book, a reference is made to a series of historical novels written by George MacDonald Fraser about a man (Flashman) who takes part in many of the great historical events of the nineteenth century. Here is the Wikpedia summary of the series:
Has anyone read these novels and would you recommend them?
If by “any good” you mean great, then yes. At least for me. I’d just start reading the first book, Flashman, and pretty soon you’ll probably find that you either get into or you don’t. But for the folks who like them, they’re very entertaining stories, often showing lesser-known but important incidents in the sprawling history of the 19th century British Empire, and with a unique protagonist.
ETA: The only bad thing about the series of books is that Mr. Fraser recently died, and so we’ll never know the whole story of Flashman’s involvment in the American Civil War.
I have almost all of them and would recommend them unreservedly!
Here are some reasons:
they are exciting adventure novels, with plenty of action (and err sex*)
they have a ‘remarkable’ hero, who is a liar, xcoward, bully and a cheat . You will come to love him though :eek: (sort of) as he staggers from crisis to crisis of his own greedy making
the hero is taken from an old schoolboy book ‘Tom Brown’s Schooldays’. You don’t need to read this, but it’s an imaginative selection of character (like the play ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead’ borrowing from Shakespeare)
the action is set against true-life events, including the American Civil War, John Brown’s raid, Custer’s Last Stand, the Charge of the Light Brigade, the Lucknow Massacre and wars in India, Afghanistan and China. McDonald-Fraser is scrupulously accurate with the history, and I found immense pleasure in reading his footnotes. If only History had been taught like this!
*well-written - you could let an aunt read them safely!
I will just chime in and say yes, they are very, very good. Especially interesting are the ones that cover the wars that you did not read about in history, like the adventures in Afghanistan and China. Start with “Flashman”, but they can be read in any order.
I agree with what others have said – they’re very fun to read, and very educational as well (lots of well-researched historical information.) And go in order, you will get to know the character best that way (I suspect that starting in the middle, you’ll not find him as lovable and hated as if you start at the beginning.)
You might also like George MacDonald Fraser’s Mr. American, a standalone novel, but one in which his Harry Flashman character appears as an old man. More serious than the Flashman novels, and with a slightly more conventional “hero”.
Fraser also wrote the screenplay for Richard Lester’s version of the The Three Musketeers (1973?), easily the best of the many film versions of that story.
The reason why I was concerned if they were any good is that I understand that the main character is actually a real jerk, who stumbles onto these historic events and performs bravely in spite of himself. I see from your comments however, that the books seem to be a great read. I’ll give the first one a try!
I think they’re immensely enjoyable once you get past the fact that Flashy is irredeemingly racist, sexist, elitist, lying, cheating, backstabbing coward and poltroon. For one thing, he’s the first to tell you all these things. He never tries to justify himself and does not even seem to recognize his occasional moments of genuine bravery or heroism for what they are.
The books are also well worth reading simply for their wealth of historical detail and accuracy. Flashman is hardest on himself but does not spare criticism of the real historical figures he bumps up against either and McDonald’s scrupulous accuracy in describing historical events, battles and people recommends the novels all by itself.
Performs bravely? Rather seldom, and only as a rule if someone is watching and it would cause him later embarrassment if he were seen to be a coward. He took part, for instance, in the stand of the Thin Red Line and the charge of both the Heavy Brigade and the Light Brigade, all on the same day, but only because he couldn’t get out of any of them. On other occasions he has cheerfully left friends and allies in the lurch, tossed inconvenient unconscious women out of a sleigh into the snow, hauled down his country’s colours intending to surrender them only to be picked up wrapped in the flag and lionized for defending them to the last with his own body, and so on.
His major redeeming feature is that he cheerfully admits, as narrator, to all of the above, and makes no secret of it. They’re supposedly written as the memoirs of a very old man who fully expects to die soon and doesn’t care who knows the truth about him after he is gone. His whole life has been a giant joke, albeit one that has seen him unwillingly going in the worst kind of harm’s way the world over time after time, and before he goes he treats himself to the last and grandest laugh of all by spilling the whole disgraceful pot of beans. And the author’s editorial footnotes are amazing.
IMO, the first book (the British retreat from Kabul) was the best and it was all downhill from Book Two onwards. But the journey down was slow and most, if not all, of the Flashman books were fun to read. But the first book was just great fun though I know some people who dropped it like a hot potato as soon as they reached the chapter where Flashman raped the Afghan girl. I think George Fraser realised that that was a mistake because in the subsequent books, Flashman’s conquests were all…consensual.
George MacDonald Fraser died recently so we’ll never get to read about Harry’s adventures in the American Civil War (where he served in both the Union and Confederate armies) or his days in the French Foreign Legion. But what we do have are fun fun reads.
Truly a monumental series, and one of my favorites. To disagree slightly with DataZak, I think the series got stronger towards the middle, then tapered off. The first book was great, but it lacked the…depth of some of the later books. My personal favorites are Flashman and the Redskins and Flashman and the Great Game, but they are all wonderful. They really should be read in order, most especially the fact that Redskinsmust follow Flash For Freedom! This is mainly because Redskins takes up 10 seconds after Freedom leaves off, even though there were several intervening books. Fraser could be quite irritating that way.
Well, I don’t think Fraser “learned a lesson”. In that same part of the book he states “mind you, that was the only time I ever had to do that” or something to that effect. So he never intended to have more rapes in the novels.
I agree that the books seem to go downhill, but I found taking a break and not trying to read them back to back keeps it fresher. I just picked up Flashman on the March after taking about a year since the last one and I think my enjoyment of it so far was enhanced by the time off.
Indeed. I very much enjoyed reading them (out of order, as I recall), but when I got to that part… well, I found it sufficiently disturbing to sour me on the series, to the point of never going back to it. I just couldn’t find Flashman humorous after that, and if you don’t find him humorous the novels don’t work.
Nareeman. To be fair, it was never presented as anything but the despicable apalling act of an appalling man, and Fraser had the good grace not to attempt to treat it as remotely erotic or titillating: indeed, Flashy’s almost off-handed description of his violence and cruelty- “…after a vicious struggle I managed to rape her - the only time in my life I have found it necessary, by the way.” - pretty much sums up the awful allure of his character. However, the first book sees him at his utter worst, and his character is somewhat softened as the series progresses: almost too softened, by the later books, where his cowardice has almost evaporated and he’s little more than a genial erotomane with a somewhat casual attitude to his duty.
It also helps alleviate the sense of outrage in the reader that Flashy is later captured, severely brutalized and almost killed (not to mention coming within a hair’s breadth of being castrated) in retaliation for the rape. Even if he’s incapable of really feeling remorseful about it, he is certainly made to regret it and the reader is made to feel that he didn’t just get away with it.