Thursday, January 03, 2008

Fraser's Flash of brilliance

I was sad to see that George MacDonald Fraser, author of the Flashman novels has died.

Fraser's Flashman books are ripping good reads and I'd recommend them to anyone with a darker sense of humour, based as they are on the fictional writings of a Victorian bounder, cad and product of the British Empire in all its racist, pillaging glory. Some may have been put off by the wilful abandon with which Fraser's anti-hero would take to the foulest of words and deeds, but for me that's part of their charm.

Flashman reveals his inner self where possibly no single redeeming characteristic can be found, yet in the process we are treated to the thrill and excitement of a genuinely authentic voice coming at you from the page. Though the stories are told in the first person (through the device of the Flashman Papers) we're able to glean an understanding of those around him, even when Flashman is either unaware or completely mistaken about them. It's neat trick to pull off and Fraser always did so flawlessly.

The film never quite captured the brilliance of the books, despite having the dashing Malcolm MacDowell in the lead role. Incidently it's only now that I discover Fraser wrote the screen play for the best Three Musketeers film ever produced (the one with York, Chamberlain and Reed) which displays all the wit and energy I've seen in his books.

When describing his books Fraser said "It may be tripe but it's my tripe – and I do urge other authors to resist encroachments on their brain-children and trust their own judgment rather than that of some zealous meddler with a diploma in creative punctuation who is just dying to get in to the act."

His books certainly were not tripe but he did, as this quote suggests, plough his own course in life. A historian of British Empire he still came to believe that the Iraq war was "the foulest war crime that this country has ever perpetrated" even though there is no shortage of competition.

Fraser will be sadly missed I'm sure - but I'm off to the bookshelves in honour of his memory. Obituaries in the Guardian and the Independent

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