|George MacDonald Fraser
||[Oct. 31st, 2007|12:18 am]
|||||tapping out an entry||]|
|||||And the Mouse Police Never Sleeps - Heavy Horses - Jethro Tull||]|
I bought his new book The Reavers last week, along with his Flashman on the March (I really like the new uniform editions), Bill Bryson's Shakespeare and Terry's Making Money (am I right in believing that Moist von Lipwig is another of his great characters?)
I got to The Reavers over the Bank Holiday weekend. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. How on earth do I start to criticise a writer with so much more cred than me?
Well, like this...
The quick in-shop glance through The Reavers that prompted me to buy it suggested that I was looking at another "romp" in the style of his much earlier book, The Pyrates. I really enjoyed (and still enjoy) this one; it's in paperback, and if you like that sort of thing, it's well worth having. At the risk of sounding like the book's own back-cover copy, this is a splendid, sprawling, deliberately anachronistic and very funny take-off on classic swashbuckling and pirate (surprise!) movies and novels, complete with the "Ar-har, lookee now an' belike" dialogue used in Jeffrey Farnol's books, by Robert Newton playing Long John Silver in Treasure Island and by anyone who really gets into "Talk like a Pirate Day".
The scene-setting introduction of Chapter One is little short of a prose-poem (I've read it aloud at SF/F cons as my preferred example of how such things should be done) and the anachronisms actually work because, though I wish there were less of them, they're brief and unlaboured. His Pirate Queen's jewelled rapier is by Cartier, her thighboots by Gucci – but once that's out of the way he gets on with the story, one that often moves so fast that attempting to labour a point would have both writer and reader left behind in a cloud of dust and small stones.
By contrast, The Reavers is Fraser riding the same social and political hobbyhorses he laid out in The Light's on at Signpost (reading like a an unfunny version of TV's Grumpy Old Men), while the "humour" rests on unremitting (rather than occasional and well-placed) 21st-century anachronisms and a constant use of dialect; neither of these are as funny as Fraser thinks, at least not in the quantity he employs them. I'll give him this much, he has a good ear for the sound of an accent: I can hear Gilderoy's genteel Glesgeow-Kelvinseide accent when I read his dialogue, and also what Spanish spy Frey Bentos (urgh, yes, really!) sounds like – even though his accent is that of the Deep South, because he's in Deep Cover... Yeah, right; that's the level of comedy we're dealing with.
Every now and again there's a hint of what I hope isn't the real GMF, because it would suggest that despite all the entertainment I've had from the Flashman series, from The Hollywood History of the World, and The Steel Bonnets, their author is a basically humourless man who tries – or doesn't bother as he grows older – to conceal his resentment of a century where he and the world he grew up in have become part of the past. Discovering these little rants slipped into a book I wanted to enjoy as much as its predecessor vexed me in the same way as finding that Lewis's Narnia books were disguised Sunday-school lessons. I hope I'm wrong about him.
A non-literary criticism I'll probably find elsewhere about The Reavers (as I've already seen about 2005's Flashman on the March) is that though one of these is a Flashman adventure, it's about a small, little-known and ultimately uninteresting campaign, and both books have "distracted"(?) Fraser from the book all his fans really want: Flashman and the War between the States (or whatever its title should be.)
Flashy's escapades on both sides in the American Civil War have been mentioned so frequently in others of the series that there are millions of readers who want to read about them. And please, the full story - not the cursory way the Zulu War was dismissed in Flashman and the Tiger (we never did find out more about that "Welshman in a top hat leading a Zulu impi"), or the Maximilian in Mexico episode which was disposed of in less than a page of ...on the March.
Fraser is 81 now; we'll never see another John M. Ford, another David Gemmell, another Robert Jordan (despite comprehensive notes and outlines enabling "the last book" to be completed by wife or son, the true authorial voice is silent) and they were all younger men. I don't want to think that the non-appearance of the Flashman adventure is a last cocking of snooks at a world which has ceased to do what Fraser wants.
Why should he do what the world wants?