Last year I read the first of the O'Brian Aubrey/Maturin novels. I really could not understand what all the fuss was about. Reading similarly positive reviews on Fraser's Flashman series, I initially hesitated, afraid of another O'Brianesque disappointment, but here I thank my fellow reviewers for their convincing arguments.
Considering it at first glance, Fraser set himself an almost impossible task to combine an accurate history lesson with the memoir of a drinking, whoring, raping, conniving coward. Yet, the results are both highly informative and extremely entertaining/funny.
Flashman has a clear predecessor in Hasek's brave soldier Svejk. Yet, Flashman's sense of self-preservation and -promotion, add a contemporary edge, that make him so appealing to mankind entering the 21st century. When reading biographies of contemporary icons like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, you often wonder what really took place at the critical moments of their heroic careers. I would not be surprised, if those two -and many, many others for that matter- each had armies of Flashmans in their closets.
The history writing in this book really has the classic feel of two of my high school staples: Ceasar's "de bello gallico" and Xenophon's "anabasis". The comedy writing sometimes equals the level of Gargantua, Don Quichote and Tom Jones.
There are so many gems throughout the book that it is hard to choose a favorite, but for me Flashman's attempt at fornication on the horrific retreat from Afghanistan is one of the greatest tour de forces in the history of comedy writing. After reading it, even Sigmund Freud might have considered adding another chapter to "der Witz".