67 of 70 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars To Find a Silver Chalice
My advice is to find a quiet place and prepare to read this one all the way through in one sitting. Don't get lost in the comedy--though it is hilariously funny, it is a gallows humor. As ridiculous as the plot or characters may seem, the book is never far from the truth. Our society passed into the absurd some time ago and Mr. Helprin is merely holding up a...
Published on August 8, 2005 by J. Brian Watkins
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars many good ideas with not enough editing
The beginning of Freddy and Fredericka, detailing poor Freddy's inability to come across in public as anything but a dunce and a lunatic, and Fredericka's airheadedness crossed with flashes of genius, had me laughing loud enough to scare the cat. I cruised through the long middle section, in which our heroes learn that anyone can be anything they want to be in America...
Published on June 28, 2006 by Min
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67 of 70 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars To Find a Silver Chalice,
My advice is to find a quiet place and prepare to read this one all the way through in one sitting. Don't get lost in the comedy--though it is hilariously funny, it is a gallows humor. As ridiculous as the plot or characters may seem, the book is never far from the truth. Our society passed into the absurd some time ago and Mr. Helprin is merely holding up a mirror.
In my opinion there are a good deal of readers who just don't get this book. It would be most instructive for them to review Mr. Helprin's "Swan Lake" series and to see Mr. Helprin's contempt for the ersatz "leaders" most now choose to follow. If we learn anything from this book, and most will choose to disregard its very simple teachings, it is that anything just and true has a cost. Those who pay the cost are entitled to an understanding that brings the peace and contentment that money or fame falsely promises. Frankly, there is not one of Mr. Helprin's works that doesn't clearly address a theme of rising above the ordinary--a quest for perfection.
An author this gifted writes at many levels--I cannot hope to have plumbed the depth of this work on one reading but like his other novels expect the book to reward additional study. Helprin reminds us that we each have an unlimited destiny and power to do good in the world if we will choose the correct path. Indeed, that there is one correct path to success, which is admirably summarized by Freddy in a particularly memorable speech, is Helprin's message. There are no shortcuts. There is absolute truth.
We can become kings and queens--it is our inheritance. Disagree if you will with the message or its presentation but I have encountered no other modern author possessed of the sheer force of language to do justice to the argument.
90 of 97 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Man Who Would Be King,
"Though it is hard to be a king, it is harder yet to become one." Thus begins Mark Helprin's hilariously wacky fantasy "Freddy and Fredericka".
Freddy is the Prince of Wales. In private he is a fit and intelligent man approaching middle age who tests his physical skills by hiking across the wilds of Scotland with nothing but a backpack. He is thoughtful and well read. In public, he is ungainly and misunderstood. His rather large ears and his penchant for making malaprop-riddled public utterances make him a laughingstock to the British public. His wife, Fredericka can do no wrong. Considerably younger than Freddy, she is beautiful but empty-headed. Despite that, no matter what she says, no matter how vacuous or wrong headed the public eats it up. Freddy's mother, Queen Phillipa, abhors Fredericka. The Queen's relationship with her daughter-in-law is dysfunctional to say the least. Freddy has a sizzling relationship with an older yet extraordinarily passionate woman, the aptly named Lady Phoebe Boylinghotte. Freddy and Fredericka's relationship is strained to say the least. Sound familiar yet?
As the story opens, Freddy is in the Scottish Highlands trying unsuccessfully to get a falcon to fly at his command. This is no trivial matter. The falcon will only fly for someone with the qualities to be a king and no Prince of Wales can succeed to the throne unless can make the falcon fly. Freddy has failed in his first three attempts. He has one more to go.
After a series of hilariously funny misadventures that makes Freddy look like an insane clod a mysterious stranger, a wizard in fact, is summoned to Buckingham Palace in what can only be described as a royal intervention. Mr. Neil, who claims to be old enough to have first-hand knowledge of the earliest Kings of England, with the blessing of the Queen, commands Freddy and Fredericka to go out on a quest to prove they are worthy of the throne. Their task is to reconquer America. To that end they are stripped of their clothes and money and flown to the States in a military aircraft. They parachute out of the aircraft and find themselves in "Hohokus" a wet swampy area just west of New York City. Their subsequent journey takes them through the United States. They hop rail cars, do manual labor and see a side of the U.S. and the world that no royal has ever seen. As they discover America they also discover themselves and, more importantly each other. By this point it becomes clear that any similarity between Helprin's fantasy Prince and Princess and any real royal persons is superficial; just a jumping off point for an exploration of what lies below the surface of those we only know through the media. It is also a nice jumping off point for what lies below the surface of all of us. Helprin does this without ever slowing down the pace or humor of the story.
A mere description of the outline cannot describe the enjoyment I derived from reading the book. Helprin's writing style is funny and frenetic. It is also thoughtful. Some readers may not find the Dickensian names Helprin gives some of his characters particularly witty. I found them endearing. Some may think that some of the humorous set piece fall flat. For example, the linguistic confusion Freddy experiences in discussing the relationship between one Dewey Knott and his uncle Arwe Knott revisits Abbott and Costello's classic "Who's on First" routine. Some may think it derivative. I thought it worked very well. Some of humor did not work for me but that is only a minor complaint when viewing the book as a whole.
The most enjoyable part of Freddy and Fredericka was the fact that the book evoked so many different reference points for me. The snappy one liners, word-play and somewhat less than dry British wit that marks the first portion of the book seemed one part Yes Minister (a Britcom that poked fun at British politicians and civil servants), one part Dickens and one part Monty Python. Freddy and Freddy's journeys through the U.S. to reconquer America contained some (distant) echoes of Mark Twain; the old movie Sullivan's Travels (a pampered Hollywood movie star goes on a quest through Depression-era America in the guise of a hobo), and Kipling's The Man Who Would be King.
All in all, despite a couple of flaws and false notes, I enjoyed Freddy and Fredericka immensely. The book turns reflective as it nears its conclusion but I think the zany adventures that precede the conclusion renders the change in tone and pace more effective.
Shakespeare's Richard II demanded people to "let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings!" In the case of Freddy and Fredericka you won't go wrong if you sit upon the ground (or preferably the beach) and read this zanily-realized fantasy of the birth of a king.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Huckleberry Fred,
Freddy and Fredericka tells the tale of two familiar characters: a large-eared English prince prone to muck up public relations at every conceivable opportunity, and his blonde consort, a princess who is as ditzy as she is beautiful. But instead of degenerating into the cheapened tabloid tragedy of Charles and Diana, the lives of Freddy and Fredericka are suddenly and miraculously redeemed by an unexpected series of events -- on the orders of the mysterious "Mr Neil," the apparent power behind the British throne (the name's an anagram, hint hint), they are parachuted naked into New Jersey with the understanding that they are to remain in exile until they can win back the American "Colonies" and reincorporate them into the British Empire.
If the plot at this point sounds ridiculous, it only becomes stranger and more fanciful. Freddy and Fredericka, during the course of the novel, find themselves battling Neonazis, driving hotdog mobiles, posing as dentists from a state whose name they can't pronounce, and managing a presidential campaign (which is perhaps the most farcical incident of all), along with many other strange and magnificent adventures that I won't give away. Helprin has crafted an amazingly hilarious book that, while lighter and more readable than his earlier efforts A Soldier of the Great War and Winter's Tale, still manages to be moving. The farce is somewhat unsubtle (Fredericka's dog is named Fah Kew, and whenever it goes missing, perpetually misunderstood Freddy must roam the streets screaming "Fah Kew! Fah Kew!" in the earshot of horrified and insulted citizens), but is most often absolutely, uproariously funny and, incidentally, perfectly suited for a film -- will we see our first Helprin movie in the near future? One can only hope.
In sum, Freddy and Fredericka is a little long for such a lighthearted book, but with its fast pace, parade of fantastic characters, and picaresque roots (it reads like a postmodern, slightly Nabokovian Huck Finn) it is a novel that most anyone can enjoy, while diehard Helprin fans like myself will be over the moon. Mr. Helprin's first novel in ten years does not disappoint -- it is a marvelous, gripping story that had me crying both tears of laughter and of emotion.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Different Side Of Helprin,
As a longtime fan of Mr. Helprin's I was a bit concerned as I read through the first one hundred pages of "Freddy & Fredericka". The narrative just didn't have the flow or beauty of anything from either "Winter's Tale" or "A Soldier of the Great War", and I thought he had passed his prime. But as Freddy and Fredericka make their way to America, the canvas of this story broadens, and you realize that you are in store for a great, romantic and very funny adventure. Similar to some of the more comical set pieces from "Winter's Tale", the entire story rests on Helprin's incredibly clever play on words and names to create situations that are laugh-out-loud funny, and, at times, heartbreaking. Ultimately, the romantic in Helprin is back in full force, and the final chapter contains some of his finest passages. If you are a Helprin fan, this is a different but extremely satisfying read. If you are new to his work, get through the set-up of the first section, and then simply enjoy.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars many good ideas with not enough editing,
The beginning of Freddy and Fredericka, detailing poor Freddy's inability to come across in public as anything but a dunce and a lunatic, and Fredericka's airheadedness crossed with flashes of genius, had me laughing loud enough to scare the cat. I cruised through the long middle section, in which our heroes learn that anyone can be anything they want to be in America (which is a complete fairy tale, of course, though Helprin seems to genuinely believe it), and got attached to F and F as they learned about themselves, duty, freedom, love (and yes, it is a cliched as it sounds, but it goes down easily). The ending was touching and sweeping, but my helpless giggles had been reduced to an occasional chuckle by about page 300. There's a fine line between a good running gag (i.e., that F and F inevitably misunderstand anything someone says to them, and hilarity ensues) and beating a dead horse, and Helprin crosses it, and crosses it again. This is worth a read, but also worth some skimming.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I Loved This Book,
Mark Helprins' "A Winters Tale" is one of my all-time favorite books and after reading descriptions of "Freddy & Fredericka" I wasn't sure how I would feel about this one.Well, It's wonderful. I laughed out loud and I was deeply touched. I believe this book has a lot to say about the nature of love and loving and seeing America anew through the eyes of Freddy & Fredericka is a revelation.Others have described the storyline in depth so I won't do that again. I think this will be one of those books that will mean more to me the more I think about it and reflect on it.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars GREAT if it's your first Helprin novel, NOT QUITE if it is not,
This fine tale contains all of Mark Helprin's trademark literary magic -- exemplary prose, magical situations, delightful (and not) characters, verbal slapstick and more. If "Freddy" is the first time you've encountered his style, you'll likely consider this book absolutely terrific.
If you've steeped yourself in Mark Helprin's previous work, though, including his magnificent Wall Street Journal commentaries across the past several years, you'll likely experience a twinge of... let us call it... "recognitional disappointment." Too many of Mr. Helprin's literary Laurel-and-Hardy-type comedic situations in "Freddy" seem a tiny trifle formulaic, for a reader familiar with his other novels. The humor in "Freddy," compared to a first-time reading of the (intended-to-be-misunderstood) hilarity in "Memoir From Antproof Case," conveys a slight staleness of spontaneity.
There is a risk in offering anything but praise for Mark Helprin's work, because someone can always point a finger at you and say, "Well, chump, how does "Freddy and Fredericka" stack up against any books that YOU have written? Well, chump?" At the same time, it's fair for an avid fan -- and one whose literary talents are pretty much limited to mere reading, rather than composition -- to expect something new and fresh each time Mark Helprin wields his fantastic pen. "Freddy" was a good effort, but it did not exhibit the progression we have observed across the catalogue of "Refiner's Fire" to "Winter's Tale" to "Soldier of the Great War" to "Memoir From Antproof Case." "Freddy" is a pause upon a plateau.
I sincerly hope Mark Helprin's next major work will be non-fiction, and will consist of his appraisal of the current state of the world. I don't want a reprint of his Wall Street Journal material, but I do want to encounter the same sort of contemporary immediacy (and wonderful language), in his thoughts about the path our American life now is taking... and what he hopes will happen next. Mark Helprin is an American literary treasure, and we can only look forward with content anticipation to his next endeavor.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Royal Yucks,
So here I am in the dentist's office reading a large, serious-looking tome, snorting with laughter like an idiot. Or actually, rather like Freddy, the Prince of Wales and one of most misunderstood souls to ever stagger through the international spotlight. Freddy is an intelligent, thoughtful fellow, in grand physical shape with the best possible intentions who nonetheless manages repeatedly to make such a total idiot of himself in public that many--including those in his own family-are beginning to fear mental illness. Freddy is married to the beautiful Fredericka, who, we see, will be showered with accolades no matter what balderdash she utters. She and Freddy like each other, although he is involved in a thermonuclear affair with Lady Phoebe Boylingehotte and she with, well, others.
With the British monarchy in such jeopardy, a wizard appears to order Freddy and Fredericka on a quest to reconquor the United States, thus to prove their worthiness for the throne. Bearing capsules up their woo-woos with Alabama driver's licenses that identify them as Desi and Popeel Moffat (but wearing no clothing) the Prince and Princess parachute into Bayonne, New Jersey, ready to win the US back for the UK.
Mark Helprin's new novel is very funny, and it is easy to forgive him if it goes on a little long. Freddy and Fredericka will call upon the resources bred into them by generations of nobility as they cheerfully tackle one challenge after another, beset by such individuals as British newspaper publisher Lord Faintingchair, the Gypsy king Kitten the Tenth, and US Presidential candidate Dewey Knott. The names may have a Dickensian flavor but much of the dialogue smacks more of Monty Python and Abbott and Costello (the Desi and Popeel have such tortured accents that strange misunderstandings often ensue). You're left feeling that it's a shame the Royal family has so few opportunities to show what they're really made of. You will laugh out loud. This funny book is highly recommended.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a pleasant surprise,
I have read all of Mr Helprin's books and I have to say that Winter's Tale remains my favorite. However, F&F is such a delightful read I couldn't put it down. I don't think it is too long as other reviewers have indicated; my interest was captured from beginning to end. His characters, as usual, are deftly drawn and his amazing descriptive abilities are at the forefront once again. It was a long wait but well worth it.
(Also, check out 'The Pacific,' his latest (and I think best) collection of short stories.) You won't be disappointed.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Abbott and Costello Meet Monty Python,
This review is from: Freddy and Fredericka (Paperback)
Mark Helprin's often funny, sometimes touching, "Freddy and Fredericka" is overlong and sometimes overdone, but stay with it and you'll be rewarded. Spoofing the British royal family (you'll figure out who F&F are meant to remind you of in about 12 seconds), the very modern models of the modern major media, and the politicians who feed off them, Helprin's pair, becoming an embarrassment to the Queen, are parachuted into New Jersey in the middle of the night with minimal clothing, and end up working their way across the country, meeting up with used car salesmen and collectors of modern art, practice dentistry (after a fashion), take a job as forest rangers, and finally join the staff of a presidential candidate. Lessons are learned, and the frivolous pair develop gravitas and love along the way.
As a running gag, Helprin keeps riffing on Abbott and Costello's famous "Who's on First" routine, and it gets tiresome and predictable after a while. And the author piles on overstuffed descriptive passages by the cartful. It's one case where less would have been more.
Still in all, some parts are howlingly funny, although most of the laughs come at the beginning, and then again toward the end, when F&F meet up with presidential candidate Dewey Knott, and Prince Freddy becomes a speechwriter. (Political speeches are something that Mr. Helprin knows quite a bit about--he was on Bob Dole's staff in 1996.) And, because the author has such a keen moral sense (I get the impression that if you were to advocate anythng remotely like "moral relativism" to him his hair would catch fire), parts of the book are quite profound--the speech Freddy delivers himself to a political convention is a classic take on what America could be if we'd only try.
Give it a whirl.
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Freddy and Fredericka by Mark Helprin (Paperback - July 25, 2006)