Fredy Neptune: A Novel In Verse Paperback – Jan 10 2000
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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 againDetached 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.
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....
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.