It is always irritating when you live up to a female stereotype. I'm an enemy to theories about Typically Female Behaviour, mostly because they mention so many characteristics that don't fit me at all (caring, maternal, home-building etc.). But in one respect, I have come to realise that I'm girly in the most maddening, cliché-ridden way. It's sad, but I have to face it: in the same way that I don't fancy war documentaries, or programmes about fast cars, or sports - my tepid and ignorant football interest whenever there's a World or European Championship going on is almost worse than nothing to the real football fan - I really am not that into derring-do.
It was the first volume in George MacDonald Fraser's acclaimed Flashman series, called simply Flashman, that made me realise this sad fact. It was impossible to fault in any other way. It was pacy, well-written, and often funny. I liked the dastardly protagonist, who rises to fame in the army in spite of being a blackguard and a a coward (in fact, mostly because of it). This was more than I expected, as cads aren't really my kind of thing villain-wise, and Flashman certainly belongs to that category. True, he's far from being in danger of becoming my New Crush, but I approved of his common sense and his way of admitting his ignoble deeds without bragging about them. Add to this the fact that the book was obviously well researched but wore its learning lightly - the English troops' misfortunes in Afghanistan in the 1840s is deftly woven into the plot, so it doesn't feel too much like empty exposition. Nevertheless, there is derring-do, and there's military history, and it's just not my kind of thing.
Even if Flashman subverts the premises of the typical Boys' Own Adventure, the market is still the same as for the more po-faced, straightforward books about granite-jawed, highly-principled men who love honour and their country. Flashman is the opposite of all that, but he gets up to much the same things: fighting and sleeping with beautiful women (I don't mean he fights the beautiful women: well, not always). He reaps the rewards of an adventurous life, without actually having to display any bothersome virtues. I can see how that must seem vastly appealing to day-dreaming male reader, and I would heartily recommend the Flashman books to derring-do lovers: the way downright silly "honourable behaviour" is lampooned is rather healthy. But, still. If fights and beautiful women are not something you day-dream about, then where are you?
In my predictably womanly way, I like relationships - or, to put it bluntly, gossip - and so the tales of Flashman's conquests were for the most part amusing reading (he's pretty nonchalant about them, though: don't expect any carefully constructed Regency Romance-style sex scenes designed to make you hot under the collar). What I remember best from the Afghanistan disaster is the scene where an up till then irrepressively dignified English bigwig desperately tries to save his younger brother's skin: "Run, baby, please! Run!" become his last words before he's hacked to pieces. The brother didn't make it either.
That will stay with me long after I've forgotten the name of the Afghan pretender who was trying to seize the throne from the English puppet monarch (wait, it was Something Khan. Akbar?). Women, eh?