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Fredy Neptune
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About the Author

Les Murray was born in 1938 in New South Wales, where he lives. FSG is publishing his new collection of poetry, Selected Poems.

Reviews

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. (Feb.)

This "novel in verse" is neither a booklength poem nor interwoven narratives. Sustaining it through 200-plus pages is no easy feat, and Murray will lose many readers within the first 50. Set against a backdrop of Wolrd War I and the world between the wars, the poems follow the preposterous life of Fredy, an Australian of German ancestry, as he goes through unwilling stints as sailor, soldier, and even leper, surviving on the sole hope that he can reach his home shores, then arriving to find everything ravaged by war and epidemic and signing onto another ship. His escapades pile up quickly. The problem is that Murray tells, rather than shows; or what he attempts to make vivid is so caught up in Australian idiosyncrasies, uniform stanzas, and haphazard rhyme that it will bypass many readers. Librarians should keep in mind, however, that Murray (Subhuman Redneck Poems, LJ 5/15/97) is the contemporary Australian poet best known in the United States. And history buffs, take note.‘Rochelle Ratner, formerly with "Soho Weekly News," New York

"Murray's way with language and imagery is thrilling. . . . He has given his protagonist a biting plebeian voice, a vernacular that soars." --The New York Times "Working-class lyricism undiminished in two hundred and fifty-three pages. . . . You can rely on the unexpected to keep happening here, and always to be exhilarating." --The New Yorker "Highly charged in ideas as in language, Fredy Neptune may jump from sin to salvation and from Suez to Sydney in a single stanza, but it is no novelty act. Neither archer nor centaur, it is a novel. And a ripping good yarn." --Los Angeles Times Murray's way with language and imagery is thrilling. . . . He has given his protagonist a biting plebeian voice, a vernacular that soars. "The New York Times" Working-class lyricism undiminished in two hundred and fifty-three pages. . . . You can rely on the unexpected to keep happening here, and always to be exhilarating. "The New Yorker" Highly charged in ideas as in language, "Fredy Neptune" may jump from sin to salvation and from Suez to Sydney in a single stanza, but it is no novelty act. Neither archer nor centaur, it is a novel. And a ripping good yarn. "Los Angeles Times"" "Murray's way with language and imagery is thrilling. . . . He has given his protagonist a biting plebeian voice, a vernacular that soars."--"The New York Times" "Working-class lyricism undiminished in two hundred and fifty-three pages. . . . You can rely on the unexpected to keep happening here, and always to be exhilarating."--"The New Yorker" "Highly charged in ideas as in language, "Fredy Neptune" may jump from sin to salvation and from Suez to Sydney in a single stanza, but it is no novelty act. Neither archer nor centaur, it is a novel. And a ripping good yarn."--" Los Angeles Times"

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