I touched down at Heathrow at about 7AM yesterday after a rejuvenating three week trip all over the USA (about which more later, in text and photographs). I got back to my flat at half eight with every intention of a quick shower, a hot pot of coffee, and a brisk walk to work to try to head jetlag off at the pass. I had even tried to take advantage of my Mystery Hunt all-nighters to slingshot past jetlag and straight into productivity.
Unfortunately I made a schoolboy error and decide to lie down "for a nap". The next thing I knew it was 6PM and I had suffered a double-whammy — jetlag along with waking up at exactly the wrong time of day. While this is unfortunate in light of all the work I should've been doing, it did give me an opportunity to continue enjoying the novel I had started on the flight across the Atlantic: Freddy and Fredericka.
Mark Helprin's latest novel is a farcical story about the Prince and Princess of Wales being sent to reclaim the wayward American colonies to prove their worthiness to inherit the British crown. I'm only halfway through, but already this book is on the cusp of surpassing Memoir from Antproof Case as Helprin's best comedy; I have several times had to actually put the book down while enjoying a full belly laugh — quite a feat for a book! I'm not sure how much my enjoyment was enriched by being so jetlag-addled, but what moved me to write about it isn't even the humour in the story.
While in Seattle at the beginning of this year Dave commented on how often I complained about living in the UK. I've thought about it a lot since, and my only resolution for 2007 is to do a better job of enjoying my life here and to appreciate the incredible opportunity I've been given before it is too late. Thus, I have been particularly pensive of late about the experience of an American living in England, which made Freddy and Fredericka a godsend.
Helprin delivers nearly nonstop gems of observation of both English and American life that are hysterically funny and heart-achingly accurate. This book is absolutely written for people who have lived in both places, and I am especially tickled when I think that Helprin's observations of the UK must have been formed principally when he was...a graduated student at Oxford. Beyond merely satirizing, however, Helprin strives to explain both the differences and the familiarity of these historical nation-relatives. People often ask me to explain the difference between living in America and England and I always evade, explaining that it is hard to put into words. That is what makes great writing — and all art: the courage to show someone else precisely how you feel. In my time of need, a time when I must come to terms with my adopted country and my home, Helprin is there for me again like an old friend.
And the novel has so much more to offer, including what is already shaping up to possibly be his best love story. While all of his novels feature love stories to some extent, they never seem to focus on them, instead centering on one man's journey. Freddy and Fredericka, on the other hand, is truly the story of both titular characters, and the author reserves some spectacular language for describing their developing relationship.
I'm only halfway through this one, but I can tell I'll be rereading it soon.