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Netherland

A Novel

By Joseph O'Neill

Netherland
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  • Hardcover: May 2008,
    272 pages.
    Paperback: Jun 2009,
    272 pages.

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Cloggie Downunder (09/20/13)

an OK read, but nothing earth-shattering.
Netherland is the third novel by Irish-born author, Joseph O’Neill. Set mainly in post 9/11 New York, it is narrated by Hans van den Broek, a Dutch-born equities analyst living the Chelsea Hotel and working in for a large bank. When his English wife, Rachel takes his young son, Jake, and returns to England, Hans fills his empty weekends with the unlikely (in America) pastime of cricket. He makes the acquaintance of the charismatic Chuck Ramkissoon, a Jamaican of Pakistani extraction who has a finger in many pies, including Kosher sushi, real estate, the establishment of an International Cricket Arena, running a betting business and perhaps something darker, all the while with a wife and a mistress. There are lots of interesting and occasionally surprising tidbits in this novel: cricket in New York; cricket in Holland; preparation of cricket pitches; and New York’s non-white immigrant population. The concept of cricket as a civiliser is novel and the comment on America’s seeing (or lack thereof) of the world is perceptive. There is quite a lot of description of New York which is likely to appeal to people who have lived there. But I found the main character frustrating, emotionally deficient and therefore difficult to really like or care about. Even the departure of his wife and son seems insufficient impetus to stir him from his depressive mood and make him feel strongly enough to insist on leaving with her: he settles for no more than visiting every second weekend. When he returns to England, Hans seems to get his wife back by default: “ ‘He’s fucking someone else,’ Rachel said. ‘Good,’ I said, ‘that means I can fuck you.’ ‘OK, she said.’” There is certainly some lovely descriptive prose and imagery: “My family, the spine of my days, had crumbled. I was lost in invertebrate time” and “Huge trees grew nearby, and their leaves intercepted the sunlight very precisely, so that the shadows of their leaves seemed vital and creaturely as they stirred on the ground – an inkling of some supernature, to a sensibility open to such things.” But does this novel live up to the descriptions on the cover: “Mesmerising”, “Dazzling” and “A Brilliant Book” (Barack Obama)? This was an OK read, but nothing earth-shattering.
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