Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Review of The General Danced at Dawn by George Macdonald Fraser (Harper, 1970)

Much to his surprise, at the end of Second World War, Dan MacNeill is commissioned into a Highland regiment, moving from Burma to the Middle East.  As a young officer he’s struggles to find his place and assert his authority and proceeds through a series of incidents, including a football tour, being in charge of troop train making its way between Cairo and Jerusalem, an inspection by a general, changing of the guard at Edinburgh castle, a court martial, and regimental rivalry at the Highland games.

The General Danced at Dawn is the first book in a set of three semi-fictional memoirs of Lieutenant Dand McNeill, based on the first-hand experiences of George Macdonald Fraser.  The book has a weak overall story arc, consisting of a set of anecdotes about various incidents, as McNeill makes his way from Burma, via the Middle East, to Edinburgh.  Told in a light-hearted fashion, each of the stories has a humorous tone, being more amusing than laugh-out loud, as McNeill blunders through various scrapes and japes with an odd assortment of characters that populate his regiment and those they encounter.  Macdonald uses the same memoir technique to much better effect with the Flashman series, where the overall story arc and hook is much stronger both in relation to the main character and historical framing.  Overall, an amusing set of anecdotes, but little more.

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