Friday, May 11, 2012
Flashman in the Great Game Chapter 4
Chapter 4 of Flashman in the Great Game is a long one and a lot happens in terms of developing the story.
Most of it concerns Flashman and the Rani Lakshmibai. The two take a liking to one another, although Harry says it is mostly lust on his part (unsurprising) he does come to like the woman, although he can see through her hypocrisy when she sermonises about how her people were better off under local rule without British interference. He does allow the British have made mistakes, but has trouble swallowing her comments about how she treats the poor better than they do when she's wearing a pair of sandals that would cost a common labourer or clerk a years wages.
Harry paints an appealing picture of the Raj in 1856 in Jhansi. It does sound idyllic and even Flashman is, like his countrymen, lulled into a false sense of security. Given their lifestyle it is not surprising. I think Fraser also wrote it this way to make what later happens even more shocking. Flashman alludes to it and any student of history knows what's coming, but it was still a clever move by the author.
Flashman also meets up with an old friend. Ilderim Khan is serving at Jhansi. Readers will remember that Flashman was made the Afghan tribesman's blood brother when Ilderim was 16 years old in Flashman. I like Ilderim as a character, I even did in Flashman, and he's fleshed out a lot more here, and is even more likeable in this; a larger role, as an older more experienced man, even if he is a tad gung ho and bloodthirsty.
Harry, as always, thinks Lakshmibai is every bit as eager to hop into bed with him as he is with her. At times the character's ego and arrogance is breathtaking in it's depth. So when he and Ilderim get drunk one night and a messenger comes alluding to having been sent by the Rani off Flashman goes to an illicit tryst.
He never sees the woman's face, she's wearing a veil, and she moves like a nautch dancer, which she probably was. Harry will always be convinced that it was Lakshmibai, but there is significant doubt on that point. Remember the afterglow Harry mentions some of his other women, including one called Takes Away Clouds Woman, who readers have not met. Things like this often make me wonder how far ahead Fraser planned all this. Flashman in the Great Game is book 5, and Takes Away Clouds Woman doesn't appear until book 7, which didn't come out for another 2 or 3 years.
Harry is attacked by assassins while still recovering from his hang over and the affects of his energetic love making. His life is saved by Ilderim and a couple of his badmashes, who followed Harry believing something may have been afoot. The assassins turn out to be members of the local thugee cult. Under torture one of them also makes mention of Ignatieff. so Harry knows he's in trouble, but he can't simply go home.
Ilderim suggests that he go native, pretend to be a local by the name of Makarram Khan. Ilderim knows that no one else will lay claim to the name, because he killed the bearer of it. George MacDonald Fraser in his brilliant notes at the back does say that Makarram Khan was a real person and it is conceivable that he could have died in an engagement with Ilderim and his tribe. Once Harry's established his cover he can then serve as a local soldier. It sounds insane, and it probably is, but if anyone call pull this off it's Harry Flashman.
One thing that does irritate me a little about this book is the extensive footnoting. Fraser chose to use a lot of local terms to describe things and people, and he explains them in little footnotes down the bottom. They tend to distract from the reading, but that may because I've read the books so many times I know what the words all mean.