Freddy and Frederika

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Another pick off National Review's 2010 Conservative Lit 101 list. Which has not failed me yet, this one is excellent. (I've got one left to go, No Country for Old Men. Someday.)

It is a massive (550 page) tale, set in a slightly-alternate universe, of the English monarchy. Currently, Queen Phillipa sits on the throne, kept company by her husband Prince Paul. But she's getting up there in age, and there are many concerns about the heir apparent, Freddy, Prince of Wales. Who is married to the lovely, but large-snouted, Frederika.

One thing you'll note right away, is that the Royal Family is a bit … off. They are not without their admirable qualities, but their environment, isolated from both commoners and budgetary constraints, has made them psychologically odd. Freddy especially is given to inappropriate humor and wacky causes. (He became aware that most published books were about mammals. Out of a desire for uniformity, he importuned a publisher to make him general editor of a series of books not about mammals. And so it came to pass, each book containing his introduction: "Though the volume that follows is by a mammal, it is not about a mammal, and a jolly good thing, too.")

But there's a strong (and justified) concern that Freddy might not cut it as monarch. Enter the mysterious Mr. Neil, who has allegedly been advising the monarchy for ages. His prescription: Freddy and Frederika must travel incognito to the USA and persuade them to rejoin the mother country. Piece of cake, right?

Well, although it takes until page 155, they eventually parachute into America (specifically, a fetid New Jersey swamp), and their quest begins. More, I shall not reveal.

The book is very funny, with frequent dodges into hilarity. The author, Mark Helprin, is not above low-brow humor (there's a lot of "Who's On First"-style dialogue), but you'll get generous amounts of middle- and high-brow entertainment as well. But how can you resist cracking a grin when Freddy's mistress's name turns out to be "Lady Phoebe Boylingehotte"?

Not that it's all funny. There are some dark turns near the end. All in all, it's a moving work as well as a comic one.

I kept thinking: "They should make this into a thirteen-part miniseries. And cast it with great British actors." Sadly, it's hard to see how such an effort could do justice to the book.