Saturday, 13 June 2015

Review: The Pyrates by George MacDonald Fraser

The late George MacDonald Fraser is perhaps best known for his hilarious Flashman stories, one of which was also turned into rather a funny film, starring Malcolm McDowell. Towards the end of his career, he wrote two somewhat different comical novels, the first of which is The Pyrates. In his afterword he describes his love for golden era pirate films and novels and therefore it is with great expectations that a reader begins to read the first pages.

The story stars some very interesting historical figures, one of which is a loose interpretation of Thomas Blood - a scoundrel always looking out for himself. The hero of the story is Captain Benjamin Avery, who is perhaps even more pure, dashing and heroic than Errol Flynn in his best roles. Female characters are also good, including Sheba the She-Wolf, a pirate captain, and Lady Vanity, Avery's beloved and the damsel in constant distress.

The story itself is relatively simple: Captain Avery is charged with the transportation of a valuable crown. The crown is stolen by pirates, along with Lady Vanity, and Avery must clear his name by catching the pirate captains responsible while also saving Lady Vanity and trying to keep her safe thereafter.

The biggest problem with the novel is the storytelling. In an attempt at hilarity, the author fills the story with modern day references (Chanel No 5 etc.) and constantly steps between the story and the reader to explain something, thus breaking any semblance of immersion. For the most part, this feels very forced and I ended up laughing at the jokes only a handful of times, though pretty much every page is filled with quips and other antics.

Because of the storytelling style and blissful ignorance of the period, a history enthusiast will get nothing out of the story and even for someone looking for pure comedy, the style of this novel is probably a very acquired taste - it did not appeal to me in the least. Overall, I think it was a pity that potentially funny and great characters were diminished by the storytelling choices.