Summer Lovin’-in a flashy 19th Century Sort of Way

At the beach this week, my friend was reading Music for Torching by A.M. Homes. After the novel, she couldn't get her dramatic internal monologue to turn off. She confessed the novel left her narrating her life with a similar sort of agonizing ennui. She said it was something like: “Okay, it’s time for dinner.” She hated the way he swung the dishtowel over his shoulder like he’d actually been the one cooking dinner for the last eight years! Or:

“Great. Let’s go.” And for that moment, she believed they could love each other.

Flopped down there as I was on the beach, I was so happy to have an adventure novel to dig into. My beach book was packed with drama, to be sure, but was light on the simple-sentence quips between white suburban depressives. I turned to my yellowed little paperback Flashman in the Great Game. There I could give myself up to that randy ol’ rascal Sir Harry Paget Flashman of the “Flashman” series by George MacDonald Fraser.

The series came about in the 1970s, and are brilliant books. The novels are chronological memoirs told as the found diaries of Sir Harry. (Fraser based his character off of Tom Brown’s bully at Rugby School from Tom Brown’s School Days of 1857.) The memoirs are artfully written; each book packed with forty or fifty encyclopedic footnotes about various geographic or biographic addendums for further historic reading. And they are saucy and witty as hell. The novels take us through Harry’s missions in India, Crimea, the slaving United States, Germany, and back again to Russia. In short, he emerges as the lucky and yet hexed hero of nearly all of the major wars of the 19th century.

What’s fun about reading Flashy are the novels’ absolute cheek in the face of feminism, heroism, patriotism, and religion. Flashman fancies himself to be a Victorian victor and yet few who meet him do not see through his brazen charade. Our hero is a confessed womanizer, whoremonger even, and an absolute coward in the thick of battle. He’d rather throw a drugged naked women off a sled in Siberia to save his own skin from the Cossacks. In his own words, he’s "a scoundrel, a liar, a cheat, a thief, a coward—and oh yes, a toady." In The Great Game, Flashy manages to tell off a Christian zealot better than any ethicist, “roger” the princess of Jhansi (an Indian province in 1852), and escape execution by his own English army- all in a mere 300 pages.

I’ve been bingeing on Flashy, plowed through five of the series of 12 books in the last two months, and have bought the first book, Flashman (about the first Anglo-Afghan war) for most of the readers in my family. (That makes me feel a bit odd, because the novels are littered with anglophile/intellectual/farcical sex scenes in which Flashman is unabashedly base and fervent. And yet-my dad loves them!) And best, in my mind, these books are a sort of adventurous and historical antidote to the likes of Music for Torching, books that remind us of our suburban monotony and cliche hairdos. I highly recommend going along for a ride with Sir Flashy.