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I quite frequently prefer listening to an audio book on my walk into work rather than listen to music as I find a good story can completely transport me from the mundane workday morning of traffic fumes and the view of tired roadside verges and take me to whichever destination I choose. As I was travelling up to Lancashire last week to visit my mother and check that all was well with her and the family home, I decided to borrow an audio book from the library to help me pass the time on my drive up there.
Although I've read and enjoyed the entire Flashman series, it's been some time since I did and I've never listened to them in audio format so thought I'd give the first one a whirl. It's an abridged version but even so, the 5 CDs amount to approximately 4½ hours listening time which was more than enough to get me from Berkshire to Lancashire.
The version I borrowed from the library is published by Harper Collins and narrated by Rupert Penry Jones, star of one of the earlier series of Spooks. I've always thought that any film or TV version of the Flashman books should star another Rupert; Rupert Everett who, when he was younger had that slightly sneering and upper-crust arrogance which I've always imagined Flashman would possess. That, coupled with his slightly caddish demeanour, would make him ideal for the role of the cowardly and lecherous Flashy. As Rupert Penry Jones always seems to star in the more heroic roles and possesses a pleasant though rather light speaking voice, I admit I had my reservations about his suitability as a narrator for this book. A couple of later books have also been recorded and they're narrated by Toby Stephens, again someone whose slightly raffish and arrogant air, along with his drawling tones immediately conjures up images of cads and bounders.
My doubts about Rupert Penry Jones turned out to be completely unfounded, however. From the very beginning he became Sir Harry Flashman,V.C., now a much decorated octogenarian who is looking back on his long and distinguished military career but has no qualms about admitting that throughout that career he was a cad, a womaniser and a coward, who inadvertently managed to play the hero many times whilst in actuality desperately trying to extricate himself from danger and save his own skin.
This first instalment of Flashy's career covers the period from 1839 to 1842 and begins with his expulsion from Rugby School where, you'll remember, he was the bully who made Tom Brown's schooldays so unhappy, until he was caught in the local hostelry in a somewhat drunken state and expelled from the school by Dr Arnold, the headmaster, whereupon he joined the army. Flashman is very keen to set the record straight about his expulsion. He had not mixed his drinks, beer on top of gin punch, as written in the book. He calmly notes, "I knew better than to mix my drinks, even at seventeen." Flashy goes on to promise that he will be breaking the habit of eighty years and being scrupulously honest and freely admits that throughout his life he's been nothing but "a scoundrel, a liar, a thief, a cheat, a coward and, oh yes, a toady!"
And so be begins the truthful account of a his, erm, less than illustrious military career which began as a young officer in Cardigan's Hussars, and saw him promptly take ship for the Indian sub-continent and headed for Afghanistan where he was to be involved in the historic Retreat from Kabul. And as he's lived to tell the tale, we already know that whilst Lord Cardigan and his 500 fearless men were riding 'half a league, half a league onward' into the valley of death, young Flashy was going in completely the opposite direction!
Although this is an abridged version of the novel it was impossible to tell where the cuts to the text had been made and the story flowed seamlessly and without any glaring omissions that I could detect. Contrary to my expectations, Rupert Penry Jones does an excellent job of voicing not only the eighty year old Sir Harry Flashman but also young Flashy and various other people who were involved in his early military career. The action is fast paced, highly entertaining and the exploits of our erstwhile hero are guaranteed to raise a smile. The story is filled with accurate historical detail which is so well intertwined with the fictional parts of the story that it makes for an easy history lesson. For anyone who enjoys history, especially that dealing with the expansion of the British Empire during the reign of Queen Victoria, this is a great way to learn all about it.
I highly recommend these recordings as an easy way to learn some history whilst being entertained by the exploits of one of life's more charming cowards. I'll be returning this one to the library and borrowing the next episode as I've decided that now I've become reacquainted with the caddish but so very likeable Flashman, I'm going to immerse myself in the other stories of his career over the next few weeks.
Publisher: Harper Collins
5 CDs - Run time 4½ hours approx.
Price: £10.70 (Amazon) or used from £4.99 (or alternatively, free from your local library)
George MacDonald Fraser's famous Flashman series appears for the first time in audio book with an exciting new series style, ready to please his legions of old fans and attract armies of new ones. The Flashman Papers 1839-1842 Volume One Flashman, soldier, duellist, lover, imposter, coward, cad and hero, triumphs in this first instalment of The Flashman Papers. His adventures as the reluctant secret agent in Afghanistan and his entry into the exclusive company of Lord Cardigan's Hussars culminate in his foulest hour -- his part in the historic disaster of the Retreat from Kabul. This is the story of a blackguard who enjoyed villainy for its own sake. Shameless, exciting and funny, Flashman's deplorable odyssey is observed with the cynical eye of a scoundrel who was honest only in reporting what he saw. He makes all other black sheep look respectable grey.