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Fredy Neptune: A Novel In Verse [Paperback]

Les Murray

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Book Description

Jan. 10 2000
A riveting, beautiful novel in verse by Australia's greatest contemporary poet, winner of the 1996 T. S. Eliot Prize.

I never learned the old top ropes,
I was always in steam.
Less capstan, less climbing,
more re-stowing cargo.
Which could be hard and slow
as farming- but to say

Why this is Valparaiso!

Or: I'm in Singapore and know my way about
takes a long time to get stale
.-from Book I, "The Middle Sea"

When German-Australian sailor Friedrich "Fredy" Boettcher is shanghaied aboard a German Navy battleship at the outbreak of World War I, the sight of frenzied mobs burning Armenian women to death in Turkey causes him, through moral shock, to lose his sense of touch. This mysterious disability, which he knows he must hide, is both protection and curse, as he orbits the high horror and low humor of a catastrophic age.Told in a blue-collar English that regains freshness by eschewing the mind-set of literary language, Fredy's picaresque life-as, perhaps, the only Nordic Superman ever-is deep-dyed in layers of irony and attains a mind-inverting resolution.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Jan. 10 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374526761
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374526764
  • Product Dimensions: 23 x 15 x 2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 408 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #980,359 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Amazon

Despite laudable efforts by Vikram Seth and Anne Carson, the novel in verse isn't exactly a fashionable genre. It seems to promise readers a ripping good yarn, only to bog them down in slant rhymes, enjambments, and other linguistic niceties. Yet even the staunchest fiction fans may find it hard to resist the charms of Les Murray's Fredy Neptune. For one thing, the hero--an Australian itinerant named Friedrich Boettcher--engages in the sort of adventures that are usually reserved for his opposite numbers in prose. Fredy fights aboard a German battleship during World War I, witnesses several of the worst slaughters of our century, and journeys from the Holy Land to Africa to America to the Far East before making a final landfall back in Australia. But Murray's eight-line stanzas are also eminently readable: slangy, swift, and jam-packed with narrative propulsion.

Fredy Neptune isn't, it should be said, a mere action movie in verse. After our hero witnesses the genocidal slaughter of some Armenian women, he undergoes a sympathetic reaction that would perplex the likes of Indiana Jones:

I was burning in my clothes, sticking to them and ripping free again
shedding like a gum tree, and having to hide it and work.
What I never expected, when I did stop hurting
I wouldn't feel at all. But that's what happened.
No pain, nor pleasure. Only a ghost of that sense
that tells where the parts of you are....
Detached from human feeling, endowed with superhuman strength, Fredy continues his odyssey, which takes him through so many of the era's premiere trouble spots. At one point he fetches up in Hollywood, serving as "an extra just then for the famous Prussian director / who I thought sounded Australian, when he wasn't talking English." And there he encounters poetry-loving vamp Marlene Dietrich, who sells him once and for all on the merits of Rilke's "The Panther": "It sat me up. This wasn't the Turk's or Thoroblood's 'poems', / big, dangerous, baggy. This was the grain distilled. / This was the sort that might not get men killed." Murray's own poem is too discursive, perhaps, to match Rilke's 86-proof lyricism. But it's plenty big and dangerous, and even in its baggiest moments, Fredy Neptune remains an exhilarating read. --Bob Brandeis --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Australia's best-known poet has surpassed himself: this entertaining, sprawling, serious novel-in-verse is the best thing Murray (Subhuman Redneck Poems) has written. His expansive, colloquial free verse and eight-line stanzas?sometimes chewily irregular, sometimes conversationally fluent?hide their verbal subtleties in order to hook readers on character and plot. After Freddy Boettcher, an Australian sailor of German descent, sees women burnt alive in Turkey in WWI, he develops psychosomatic leprosy. When he recovers he has gained superstrength but lost his sense of touch. Over the next 30 years he visits (mostly unwillingly) Constantinople, Egypt, Jerusalem, Queensland, Paris, Kentucky, Hollywood, Switzerland, Nazi Germany, Sydney, Shanghai and New Guinea; meets (among others) Lawrence of Arabia, Chaim Weizmann, Marlene Dietrich, the mad-scientist aesthete Basil Thoroblood and the hermaphrodite ex-artilleryman "Leila, now Leland" Golightly; wrestles a "poor opium-mad bear"; inspires the creators of Superman; and becomes a reporter, a circus strongman, a fisherman, a father, a swamp-dredger, a hobo, a movie actor and a Zeppelin crewman, mostly while trying to get home to his wife. Fred's first-person story, "big, dangerous, baggy," makes him a (literally) numb modern Everyman and a spokesman for tough-minded, populist pacifism: "There were no sides for me: both were mine. I'd seen them both." He also defends masculinity, saving a retarded German from castration by bringing him to Australia. If Murray's first verse-novel, The Boys Who Stole the Funeral, struck many readers as sexist, this one will not. Fredy Neptune overflows with story; the roller-coaster stanzas stay clear and memorable: "I leaped up, healthy again, and gravity hung my boots downwards." Murray's deliberately talky, ungainly style can disfigure his shorter poems; it's perfect, though, for this eventful, globe-trotting?and, it turns out, deeply Catholic?modern epic, linked almost equally to Homer's Odyssey, Milton's Paradise Regained and Lucas and Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the man with blank senses Nov. 8 2001
By Jose J Olivo - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is an odd book; even down to its dimensions.
It's taller than average...a good thing if you plan to travel with it. I dunno, some things just carry easier.
As for the content, all I can say is it sometimes carries the same tune as Bukowski in his rare "sensitive" moments, when the ugly monster disappears and is replaced by something far more palatable. I bought the book at a bookstore blowout, when all that was left were Road Atlas's, How To books and posters of various 'has beens' and 'what-nots'.
There it was, completely ignored on the shelf, and probably because as the title suggests, it's completely in verse.
It's not in rhyming verse though, which is a plus for those of us who are annoyed by musicals and slant rhymes.
One bit of irony is that while the book is about a man who has lost his ability to "feel", both literally and figuratively in some cases, it is extremely sensuous and is able to condense into one verse what a regular novel would take pages to resolve.
The book is dark, gritty and you can smell the stink of the various docks and ship holds and whores our hero meets on his travels.
Hell, I'm raving about it and I haven't even finished it yet. I take it with me while I'm sucking down coffee, and there are various markings and underlinings and cheap tea stains all over it; I suspect that I will destroy this book before I reach the final page, which is fine, because I really don't want it to end, which sounds rather childish, even sophomoric.
Whatever.
I'll be searching for more of Murray's work. I would give you a verse but it wouldn't do the whole any justice whatsover.
It sings like "The Man Without Qualities", and in fact has alot in common with that book. They just "feel" the same. I know, Bukowski, Musil? There's more, but I don't want to risk anymore comparisons.
Email me if you have nothing better to do with your time, and think you want to wrestle with idiots.
Jose[f] Olivo
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars amusing, amazing, definitely worth it July 1 1999
By Lisa Sharp Borger - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
i would be less than honest if i said i was not daunted by the prospect of reading a novel in verse. many were the times when i had to reread passages to catch the drift. there was a considerable amount of aussie argot that needed getting used to. but i remember struggling at first with homer and the odessey( there is a striking resemblance to this ancient work in terms of this book's morality) and figured it was worth doing. the mother in law will teach you forbearance, laura is steadfast and truly honest. saving the best for last, the last book and indeed the last pages are a true climax to what you hoped would be the great end to this novel. have a go!!
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Moby Dicked Jan. 19 2009
By David Schweizer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
It's tough out there. Don't be fooled; given the chance, our fellow man is a brute with a night stick. Les Murray paints a Hobbesian world and takes the reader on a global ride to prove his point. It begins in Turkey with the sight of women being burned alive and ends in Dresden and Hiroshima. The killing and cruelty never end. Man's senses are geared to sniffing out outsiders and making them sorry they ventured outside their allotted doghouse. At the end of Fredy's odyssey through the twentieth century's killing machine, which includes Europe, America and Asia, we learn that the exploitation of man by man is the only universal worth talking about. Stalinism, Hitlerism and other isms of liberation are just cover for atrocity-making at the hands of goons in the employ of the state. Fredy learns and simultaneously teaches the lessons of the century. It's always better to stay home. This novel in verse is Homeric in every sense of the word; the writing is superb. Murray has all the tools of the English language well in hand; his is a Shakespearean talent, equal to best novelists of our time, with the added genius of the poet. Compression is the key; in the hands of the magical realists this would be a 3000 page, 10-volume monster of unreadable prose. One is dazzled not only by the verbal dexterity and wit, but one basks in the glow of wisdom. Fredy is never taken in by the century's cant; his is an Orwellian cast of mind, always on the alert for words that justify killing. His is a moral conscience equal to our greatest poets: Dante, Goethe, and Shakespeare. What is evil, he asks? He can't say, but he knows it when he sees it.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Odyssean Myth for the Twentieth Century Feb. 6 2005
By Gary Clark - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
`Fredy Neptune' is a rare thing. It is one of the great democratic novels of the twentieth century, paralleling `Ulysses' in its sense of the ordinary and reverence for the everyday. And like Joyce's masterpiece, it is Homeric in its sense of suffering, exile and homecoming. Yet the homecoming, in `Fredy Neptune', is more psychological and existential than geographical.

The main character, a German Australian sailor witnesses the murder of a group of Armenian women during the Turkish genocide of 1915. He suffers profound moral shock and loses all sense of feeling, both bodily and psychologically. After rescuing a Jewish man and a handicapped boy from Hitler's racial hygiene program, Fredy stumbles across an idea that will heal his fragmented condition; he must `forgive the victim'. Why? This is Murray's response to current ethical imperatives. He can only heal himself, can only return from the traumatic seas of psychic dissociation, if he comes to terms with the voice of conscience. Fredy forgives the victims of history, who include Jews, women and Aborigines, for they linger like a moral irritant in his mind. Once he has forgiven them he begins to `pray with a whole heart' and the process of re-integration with his body begins.

Readers interested in Murray's other poetry will find 'Fredy Neptune' is resonant with his collection of autobiographical poetry `Killing the Black Dog', which also contains a revealing essay by the author. The parallels between `Fredy Neptune' and Murray's personal history are illuminating. `Fredy Neptune' is arguably one of the major works of 20c poetry.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Novel in verse is appealing Feb. 11 2007
By Dan Redican - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Writing a novel in verse is a diffidult task. I've been reading a few lately and there seem to be a few ways to go about it. One way to do it is embodied by Golden Gate, by Vikram Seth which is modeled on Eugene Onegin by Pushkin. Both novels have an emphatic style, clear rhyming pattern, iambic tetrameter that allows the story to bounce along. This is a very satisfying and energetic read, but the repetitive patterns will become wearing for a lot of readers, particularly those who are not familiar with reading exteneded verse. (but then the words "novel in verse" should act as some sort of warning for you. Hard to complain when that's printed on the cover)

The other way to approach it is to follow the more "vers libre" route, where the sense of poetry is more framed by a "poetic mindset" than by outside structure. I think of Catherine Cookson or of History:The Home Movie which become oblique, idiosyncratic - the story becomes a poem because of its sketchiness, its odd imagery, its refusal to be story driven.

Fredy Neptune is somewhere between the two. The regular 8 line stanzas give a sense of structure, the pounding metrical stresses drive home the sense of poetry, the now-you-see-it-now-you-don't rhyming structures and alliterations provide odd satisfactions of their own, that remind you occassionally that you are reading poetry, without ever getting precious, distracting or boring.

The story is of a man who witnesses a world war one atrocity and who becomes physically numb. At first he seems to be a leper, but after a time he becomes a superman, possessed of increased strength and healing abilities. This allegorical condition (the numbness of being removed from one's own life feels like something I've experienced) allows him to follow life as a numb husband and father, emotionally touched by people, but not properly feeling his own responses to life and situations. He occassionally comes back into the world as a feeling person, before slilpping away again into wooden nervelessness.

It's an engaging and constantly evolving story, sometimes emotionally disturbing, sometimes frustrating in terms of the obstacles that life throws up for the hero. There were a few times, paritcularly at the beginning where I drifted off and lost the story, but that's often a danger of verse, which is prone to sometimes draw attention to its sounds more than its sense. Still, the novel is possessed of good energetic diction which can be a real pleasure to reread.

If you do end up reading and liking it, I would recommend also Tiepolo's Hound by Derek Walcott (sp?) and Puskin's Eugene Onegin. Also Orlando Furioso by Ludovico Arriosto. Tiepolo's hound is kind of difficult to follow at points, but it is a work of genious,. perhaps more of an extended narrative poem than a novel in verse. Orlando Furioso is a page turner, both an example of romantic chivalry and a satire of it. Onegin is funny, insightful and engaging. These three books are work of genius. If you ask me.

Which you didn't.

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