This month, we are grateful for a choice from writer Anthony Horowitz, author of more than 40 books including the bestselling Alex Rider series. He remembers the books which captured his imagination as a teenager.
“I have always had a passion for the Flashman books by George Macdonald Fraser. I started reading them in my late teens (the first one came out in 1969) and my sons have both loved them too. I often recommend them.
George Macdonald Fraser had a brilliant idea. He took the bully, Harry Flashman, who famously appears in Tom Brown’s Schooldays and followed his career across the world when the British Empire was at its most powerful. The joke is that Flashman is never anything but a bully, a coward and a womaniser…but due to a series of coincidences and mistakes, Queen Victoria and the British public believe him to be a hero. He has a VC and a knighthood. The stories are told by him in his old age, looking back at his ill-gotten gains.
The books are wonderfully funny and inventive but what makes them unique is the way they mix fiction and historical fact. Among the real people that Flashman meets are General Custer, Bismarck, Abraham Lincoln, Florence Nightingale and many others. He gets caught up in the Charge of the Light Brigade (during which he has an uncontrollable attack of flatulence), the Siege of Khartoum, the American slave trade and the Indian Mutiny. His escapades are often hilarious but at the same time, they’re quite horrific too.
The books are brilliantly researched with notes and annotations and if you are interested in the history of Britain from 1840 onwards, you’ll find a plethora of detail – social, political, historical – that will give you a superb insight into life at the time of the Empire. They are also, you should be warned, as politically incorrect as it is possible to be and this may have dented their popularity in recent years.
But I think they can still be enjoyed, provided you don’t take them too seriously. Flashman himself is an utterly disgusting rascal and a villain but it’s impossible to dislike him, if only because he is so honest about himself. His sexual appetite frequently leads him to almost certain death but he can’t stop himself. In many ways he’s his own worst enemy. Even he is astonished that he somehow manages to survive.
Fraser treats the whole thing quite seriously, pretending that the books are based on papers that have only just been unearthed. It’s all part of the fun. I’d recommend them to anyone aged eighteen or over. There are eleven in the series and you should read them in order although my favourite is probably Flashman in the Great Game.”
A big thank you to Anthony Horowitz for this contribution! Read all our past book of the Month choices here.