Freddy and Fredericka (a short review)
October 29, 2006
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I’ve just finished Mark Helprin’s picaresque novel Freddy and Fredericka. It’s a good book that could have been a great book–or, perhaps, a pretty good book that could have been a good book–with better editing. It’s conceit is wonderfully ludicrous: Freddy and Fredericka, the Prince and Princess of Wales, (based on Charles and Diana) are set the quest to reacquire the United States for the British Empire. They are parachuted into New Jersey under cover of darkness and face a number of American perils and adventures: fighting off a biker gang, traveling down Twain’s Mississippi, burgling modern art from the nouveau riche, tramping on freight trains. At its best, it’s a modern take on the human cost of the royal quest, reminding me of White’s Once and Future King. At its worst, it has too many “Who’s on first” routines (My father, who’s sane… You say your father’s Hussein?, etc.) and funny names (Lord Psnake, Dewey Knott, Lady Boylinghotte, etc.). Helprin has that storyteller’s way which can convert the impossibility of the plot into an advantage. Most (not all) of their adventures, and the overall quest itself, makes sense in the world Helprin creates. If there were a divine right of kings, this is the sort of adventure that might befall them.
Worth a read, now available in a Penguin trade cover edition.