I have to say that I was looking forward to reading this book. One chapter in I started to have my doubts about that.
Freddy and Fredericka is about a fictional Prince and Princess of Wales, who bear a striking resemblance to the real Prince and Princess. There's the Queen (Queen Philippa), Prince Philip (Prince Paul), Diana (Princess Fredericka), Prince Charles (Prince Freddy), and Camilla (Lady Phoebe Boylingehotte). All of the main characters from the real soap opera are here.
The story begins with a falcon named Craig-Vyvyan which is supposed to predict the future monarch; if it flies from the arm of the heir, it means that they will be the next sovereign. After several attempts, the falcon has not flown for Freddy. At this point in the story one can only hope that it never does.
The character of Fredericka, fashionable, universally loved and lauded, is portrayed as an empty-headed, shallow, and manipulative, seemingly with no redeeming qualities. Although I'm sure the real Princess of Wales had her faults, this portrayal is taken to the extreme and it becomes annoying after a while. Freddy, more sympathetically portrayed, is misunderstood, contemplative, constantly upstaged by his glamourous wife, criticized by his father, and finds solace in talking to plants and Lady Boylingehotte. Can you already see where the story is going?
Of course we can read about that in royal biographies, so Helprin's tale takes a turn. When Freddy and Fredericka's antics make the monarchy look bad once too often, they are cast out into the real world, left to their own devices, to recapture the American colonies. The events that follow are completely plausible for two naked people forced to parachute into New Jersey in the middle of the night. They have no food, clothes, money, or ID. They also can't tell people who they are.
Adopting new identities, they make their way across America, finding food, clothing, and a new respect for each other. With surprising capability, they support themselves working as dishwashers, railway workers, cleaning toilets. They also become art thieves, dentists, and political speechwriters.
Some of the names used in the novel are too farfetched to be funny; Princess Fredericka's ancestral estate is called 'Feta', Prince Freddy's estate is 'Moocock'. Their new identities are a tongue twister: Mr and Mrs. Lachproof Bachquaquinnik Des Moofoomooach. My apologies to anyone with this as their real name.
Some of the arguments in semantics that the main character's get into, usually at inopportune moments, are funny, the misunderstandings while explaining themselves are hilarious. However there are times when some of the passages drag on. No doubt these are supposed to satire politicians and political situations but it just becomes an unnecessary distraction to the main story of Freddy and Fredericka.
Stripped of their royal personages, wealth and priviledge, we see them as real people, human, flawed. As they discover each other and question their royal positions, one can't help but feel compassion towards them. This makes the book a page turner and I found myself rooting for the characters to reach their destiny, whatever their choice ended up being.
Will they stay in America and reclaim the colonies? Will they return to Britain and their royal positions?
I highly recommend reading this book to find out.
© Marilyn Braun 2006
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