A thinly veiled satire of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, pre-divorce—his serious mien and protruding ears, her horsey sex appeal—turns into a comic adventure when the eponymous royal couple are sent on a secret mission to conquer the United States, where they plunge in and out of such ludicrous scrapes as knocking out each other’s front teeth and surviving a raging wildfire. The narrative often feels burdened by its subplots, including a nefarious attempt by press barons to dethrone the royal couple, and Helprin has a distracting tendency to throw in gossipy asides about real personages, such as Bill Gates. But the sentimental pieties familiar from Helprin’s previous work—his strapping, athletic hero and heroine rhapsodize about the values of hard work and finding oneself—are here made more palatable by the absurd context. Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” perhaps wields too overt an influence, but at its best the novel achieves genuine lightness.
Marking a complete turnaround from the sanctimonious, self-important tales in Mr. Helprin's last book, The Pacific and Other Stories, this novel is great silly fun - a rowdy, rambunctious read that's part acid farce, part bittersweet fairy tale. It's a book that skates merrily and improbably along on the author's bravura storytelling talents and love of verbal high jinks, a novel as funny and antic and purely escapist as his recent stories have been preachy, pretentious and glum … With Freddy and Fredericka, Mr. Helprin has constructed a perfect showcase for his heretofore underused gift of humor, and in doing so he has produced a delightful romp of a book.
The New York Times
Veteran English actor Mackenzie lends a patrician air to this recording of Helprin's first novel in a decade, a wild and keenly imagined but overstuffed modern fairy tale of royals rampant. Mackenzie's precise headmaster British accent is fitting for a story about the trials of the prince and princess of Wales as they are thrust out of their posh existence and left to make their way incognito across America on a quest that is as mysterious as it is imperative. Mackenzie captures the main characters perfectly: the dignified solemnity of Prince Freddy and the self-assured yet often misguided assertions of his beautiful wife, Fredericka. Mackenzie proves just as adept in capturing the gravity of the story's opening and closing scenes as he does delivering its numerous farcical elements. While Helprin's often barbed humor is generally amusing, his wordplay can become tiresome, particularly in the scenes featuring a dog named "Fah Kew" or an American presidential candidate named "Dewey Knott." Listeners may feel that several episodes were unnecessary to Helprin's clever premise, but Mackenzie's zestful performance makes it a largely enjoyable romp. Simultaneous release with the Penguin hardcover (Reviews, May, 9). (July) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Helprin's expansive, kitchen-sink fiction (Memoir from Antproof Case, A Soldier of the Great War) is often marked by the occasional madcap flight of fancy, but his latest is a full-out farce and a fable of epic proportions. Freddy, the Prince of Wales, is a stiff intellectual, while his beautiful wife, Princess Fredericka, lives for public adoration. To save the monarchy from an all-consuming media circus, these thinly veiled versions of Prince Charles and Princess Diana are sent on a mission; they're kicked out of the palace and literally dropped from a plane into New Jersey. To avoid the limelight while wandering America, they must live as destitute tramps and find themselves tossed into myriad strange situations. But, remarkably, through their hardscrabble existence they find themselves drawn closer together than ever before. While Helprin often succumbs to cheap-shot lampooning humor, his prose never flags; there is a regal quality to his writing in anything that he undertakes. Still, the novel is a disappointment. It feels more like an empty exercise or a stop-gap for Helprin, lacking the emotional depth of his earlier work. Recommended for public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 3/15/05.]-Misha Stone, Seattle P.L. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
The Prince and Princess of Wales make a royal cock-up of the monarchy and as penance are sent on a daffy mission-to conquer America. On the face of it, Helprin (Memoir From Antproof Case, 1995, etc.) is just about the least likely to produce a slaphappy comedy, yet that's exactly what he's done here, starting in embarrassing disaster, zooming through epic travels and ending in glorious redemption. The story imagines what would have happened were Charles and Diana (the barely fictionalized heroes) still a going concern, and had the powers-that-be given them a stern talking to about embarrassing the hell out of the royal family, then sent them on a self-improvement quest. After a beginning that lays bit too much groundwork but thoroughly illustrates how bad at being royal Freddy (insanely bright and well-read but goofy-looking and utterly impervious to common sense) and Fredericka (gorgeous and close to brilliant, but shallow to the point of nonsentience) are, Helprin sets up a surreal episode providing the two of them a murkily described mission (to retake America for the Empire, or something) designed by a man who just may be the incarnation of Merlin. It hardly matters that the story stops making a whole lot of sense after about the first 50 pages, however, given what a lively romp Helprin makes of the whole affair, packing it full of vaudevillian wordplay and rapturous flights of fanciful prose as Freddy and Fredericka stumble through the baffling land of America-initially confused and ultimately elated. The tale begins to lose some steam when the royal couple (after stints as manual laborers, dentists and forest-fire watchers) ends up working on a presidential campaign and Helprinstarts to lay on the Tory politics with an unusually (for him) thick trowel. Even in the midst of some structural clumsiness, though, he frequently astounds with the freshness of voice and the oddly soaring majesty of this admittedly silly and inconsequential fable. A comic call for greatness in a mediocre era.