Les Murray, Fredy Neptune

Fredy Neptune (UK book-jacket)

On the movies, they know it’s fake. You was a freak that be different.
You’re a freak you should look freaky. Freak without the look is geek.
So no dicerola. One day I’m lying round the flat
and a man in gloves comes to drive me out of town in a Bentley
way up past the Patton Ranch, to lunch in a piny country club…”

For eight years, I’ve been raving about the sublime novel ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’ by Haruki Murakami which would be my number one novel if I didn’t already have a soft-spot for Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’, the first adult novel I ever read.

If this book isn’t greater than Murakami’s writing, then I might still have found a joint first-place book.

Imagine a book that was written in turns by John Steinbeck, who gifted epic vision; then by Jeffrey Eugenides, who added a distinctly different ‘twist’ to the personal circumstances of the characters; on to Jeanette Winterson, who brought emotional sensitivity and passion framed by cunningly spun words; then add a bit of Peter Carey for that down-straight Australian sensibility and finally, because you thought it was a good idea at the time and because no one on the editorial committee actually read the small-print, you thought: ‘Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin was written all in verse…’

Fred Boettcher, a merchant seaman from Australia of German descent is witness to the murder of Armenian women by a gang of Turkish soldiers. He is struck numb. He cannot feel. There is no pain, no strain, no trauma, not even a slight itch. Fred cannot feel love physically and becomes disconnected from the world, watching the events of the early Twentieth Century unfold as a freak without a freak’s physiognomy. Cursed and blessed in equal measure as he comes immune to accidental injury, he becomes by turns a circus showman, a strongman performing for small tips, and not least, a traveller who witnesses war and atrocity and love and charity and all of human life.

I don’t care if you don’t like poetry: if you haven’t read this yet, you should.

Link to feature page by Carcanet (UK publisher)

Link to Amazon