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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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 About the Author:
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....
Les Murray lives in his native Bunyah, New South Wales. His books include The Rabbiter's Bounty: Collected Poems (FSG, 1991), Translations from the Natural World (FSG, 1994), and Subhuman Redneck Poems (FSG, 1997).
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Book Description Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M0374158541
Book Description Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P110374158541