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the Complete Review
the complete review - poetry

Fredy Neptune

Les Murray

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Title: Fredy Neptune
Author: Les Murray
Genre: Novel in Verse
Written: 1998
Length: 255 pages
Availability: Fredy Neptune - US
Fredy Neptune - UK
Fredy Neptune - Canada
Fredy Neptune - Deutschland
Freddy Nettuno - Italia
  • A Novel in Verse
  • Originally published in the PN Review

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Our Assessment:

A : an entertaining, engaging read

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The LA Times A 7/3/1999 Jonathan Levi
London Rev. of Books . 16/3/2000 Stephen Burt
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 23/3/2004 Jürgen Brôcan
The New Republic A+ 12/6/2000 Adam Kirsch
New Statesman B- 31/7/1998 Michael Glover
The New Yorker . 12/4/1999 .
The NY Times B+ 22/3/1999 Richard Eder
The NY Times Book Rev. A+ 16/5/1999 Ruth Padel
The Sunday Times B+ 26/7/1998 Tom Deveson
The Sunday Times A 6/6/1998 Trevor Lewis
Time B 27/7/1998 Michael Fitzgerald
The Times A 23/7/1998 Robert Nye
TLS A 2/10/1998 Tim Dooley
The Village Voice A 30/3/1999 Steve Burt
Die Welt A 3/4/2004 Joachim Sartorius
Die Zeit A 1/4/2004 Ulrich Greiner

  Review Consensus:

  Almost all very enthusiastic, many considering it a major work.

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A) ripping good yarn." - Jonathan Levi, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Les Murrays Versroman kratzt die Zivilisationstünche herunter für einen zutiefst pessimistischen Blick. (...) Der Übersetzer Thomas Eichhorn hat diese enorme Herausforderung glanzvoll in ein stimmiges deutsches Gewand gekleidet, so dass man gerne nachsieht, dass vielleicht manches Detail noch zu verbessern wäre." - Jürgen Brôcan, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Fredy Neptune is an extraordinarily thoughtful work, rich in both religious and worldly understanding.." - Adam Kirsch, The New Republic

  • "Murray seems to have quite failed to take into account the need for a novel to be skilfully, entertainingly, cunningly plotted, back and forth, in and out, if it is to hold us over 250-odd pages. We don't find ourselves asking, with pent breath, what will happen next because the story is, in short, just one damned thing after another for the most part, and we never find ourselves sufficiently interested in characters other than Fred himself." - Michael Glover, New Statesman

  • "Mr. Murray blasphemes, but then poets do have the license. Virtuous answers doze off; a poet can provide dreadful questions to jolt them awake." - Richard Eder, The New York Times

  • "This is a haunting, loving, fiercely democratic epic by a master poet. Its formidable poetic brilliance is never used for show, but always serves an alert, spontaneous humanity. (...) Fredy Neptune is such a page turner, has such poetic authority and ambition, is so linguistically alive and rooted in such intimate humanity, that it should be on every reading list as this appalling century ends. It makes poetry, humor and intimacy out of the worst things, and finds riches, as Murray always does, in grittily difficult lives." - Ruth Padel, The New York Times Book Review

  • "But Fredy has rather too eloquent a voice for his redneck sensibility. He is a privileged observer of his own condition, sliding slang and sentiment and metaphysical fragments into a pattern that is a waking dream, an apocalyptic vision of 20th-century death-worship, but perhaps not really a novel." - Tom Deveson, The Sunday Times

  • "Murray has crafted a verse-novel of awe-inspiring visual power whose rasping, rhapsodic language spills out to engulf the cruelty, beauty and wonder of the past century." - Trevor Lewis, The Sunday Times

  • "Over this teeming, mad-hatter's-tea-party narrative, Murray provides a frequently brilliant travelogue in verse, with images that resonate like birdsong (.....) As a novel, however, Fredy Neptune labors under the weight of a B-movie plot." - Michael Fitzgerald, Time

  • "But this is a work which demands to be heard. It takes the cadences of common speech and reveals the poetry in them, and in the same breath it tells a story more swiftly than any prose could do, cramming as much into some of the stanzas as most novelists can get into a chapter." - Robert Nye, The Times

  • "Fredy Neptune, despite its extension and detail, is always clearly a poem -- driven by metaphor and with its own internal logic. (...) The plotting would be tiresome in a blockbuster, but works in a long poem, where it is kept buoyant by the persistent inventiveness of Murray's language. (...) Fredy Neptune's demotic australocentric English borrows, steals and invents as it races to keep pace with -- or a step ahead of -- the fractured reality it confronts." - Tim Dooley, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Fredy Neptune is Murray's best work yet, an almost completely successful round-the-world adventure novel in enticing, flexibly slangy (and very Australian-sounding) eight-line stanzas." - Steve Burt, The Village Voice

  • "Die unwiderstehliche erzählerische Energie, die dieses "Erinnerungsbuch in Versen" durchströmt, die Kraft der Sprache -- einer Sprache, die australische Landarbeiter und die kleinen Farmer im frühen 20. Jahrhundert gebrauchten --, schließlich der Erfindungsreichtum und die Agilität der Episodenverknüpfung nötigen uns Bewunderung ab. Wiederum liegt auch eine verlegerische Großtat des Amman-Verlages vor. Die Übersetzung von Thomas Eichhorn ist virtuos und preiswürdig." - Joachim Sartorius, Die Welt

  • "Hier, im Fredy Neptune, hat Les Murray seine Kunst des erzählenden Langgedichts zu atemberaubender Höhe geführt. (...) Die großartige Leistung des Übersetzers Thomas Eichhorn können wir leicht überprüfen, denn die Ausgabe ist zweisprachig, was man nicht genug rühmen kann. Und man sieht, wie virtuos Les Murray Maß und Rhythmus setzt." - Ulrich Greiner, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Les Murray's long poem is, in many respects, larger than life. Action and adventure-packed, it is told by its larger than life narrator, Friedrich Boettcher -- one of whose many alternate names is Fredy Neptune. An Australian seaman, his family German immigrants, he finds himself witness to the Turkish horrors perpetrated against the Armenians around the time of the First World War. He sees a group of women torched alive and it is literally the shock of his life. Afflicted with some leprosy-like illness, he finds that he no longer has any sensation -- he can no longer feel, completely numbed by the horrors he has witnessed.
       Fredy tries to return to Australia, but it is wartime, and travel is almost impossible. Unable to feel pain he finds he is capable of great feats of strength, a talent that will frequently serve him well. Though he can be (and frequently is) physically injured, he also experiences no discomfort and heals quickly. Here and later Fredy travels the world, meeting the famous (Lawrence of Arabia and Marlene Dietrich, for example) and the common man.
       His German background is held against him and his family back in Australia, and he hardly has a home to return to. He tries to live a normal life, but these are not normal times and he is no average man. He fathers a child (though having no sensation he barely knows what he is doing), he marries the mother of the child.
       More is demanded of him: circumstances see to it that again and again he ventures abroad, for years at a time. He is forced to go to America to kidnap a man, and he winds up in Hollywood, a bit actor in films such as All Quiet on the Western Front. Fredy goes to Germany and saves a retarded man from forced sterilization at the hands of the Nazis, taking him back to Australia to his patient wife.
       Fredy's feats of strength earn him some money and occasional fame over the years. He moves in circles high and low, among hobos and among elites, hailed as a German hero then disappearing into oblivion again. His varied name (Friedrich Boettcher, F.T.Bircher, Beecher, Butcher, Fredy Neptune) fits one who never really finds his place. A witness to many of the horrors of the twentieth century between the two World Wars, Fredy tries (unsuccessfully) to withdraw and live as simple a life as possible. Only at the end does he finally regain his sense of touch, made human once again.
       A moral tale, Murray takes a lot upon himself. The very human Fredy is an interesting and exceptionally well drawn figure, thrust into history largely against his will, fighting against it until he is finally released. The novel is fast-paced, but never overly hurried, a fascinating cascade of events. Murray relates Fredy's adventures exceptionally well in this verse form -- and shows great inventiveness in what he puts Fredy through. The language is fairly straightforward, workmanlike rather than straining for high poetry, but very effective nonetheless -- and eloquent as well. Murray controls the language very well, and Fredy Neptune is a great read, beginning to end.
       "Stories need adventures; I didn't," Freddy says. There's a fill of adventure to his story, though, and Murray presents it beautifully. Highly recommended.

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Fredy Neptune: Reviews: Les Murray: Other works by Les Murray under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Poetry at the complete review
  • See Index of Australian literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Australian poet Les Murray was born in 1938. He has written numerous poetry collections, as well as two novels in verse.

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© 1999-2010 the complete review

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