Summary and book reviews of Netherland by Joseph O'Neill

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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Book Summary

In a New York City made phantasmagorical by the events of 9/11, Hans--a banker originally from the Netherlands--finds himself marooned among the strange occupants of the Chelsea Hotel after his English wife and son return to London. Alone and untethered, feeling lost in the country he had come to regard as home, Hans stumbles upon the vibrant New York subculture of cricket, where he revisits his lost childhood and, thanks to a friendship with a charismatic and charming Trinidadian named Chuck Ramkissoon, begins to reconnect with his life and his adopted country. Ramkissoon, a Gatsby-like figure who is part idealist and part operator, introduces Hans to an “other” New York populated by immigrants and strivers of every race and nationality. Hans is alternately seduced and instructed by Chuck’s particular brand of naivete and chutzpah--by his ability to hold fast to a sense of American and human possibility in which Hans has come to lose faith.

Netherland gives us both a flawlessly drawn picture of a little-known New York and a story of much larger, and brilliantly achieved ambition: the grand strangeness and fading promise of 21st century America from an outsider’s vantage point, and the complicated relationship between the American dream and the particular dreamers. Most immediately, though, it is the story of one man--of a marriage foundering and recuperating in its mystery and ordinariness, of the shallows and depths of male friendship, of mourning and memory. Joseph O’Neill’s prose, in its conscientiousness and beauty, involves us utterly in the struggle for meaning that governs any single life.

The afternoon before I left London for New York—Rachel had flown out six weeks previously—I was in my cubicle at work, boxing up my possessions, when a senior vice-president at the bank, an Englishman in his fifties, came to wish me well. I was surprised; he worked in another part of the building and in another department, and we were known to each other only by sight. Nevertheless, he asked me in detail about where I intended to live (“Watts? Which block on Watts?”) and reminisced for several minutes about his loft on Wooster Street and his outings to the “original” Dean & DeLuca. He was doing nothing to hide his envy.

“We won’t be gone for very long,” I said, playing down my good fortune. That was, in fact, the plan, conceived by my wife: to drop in on New York City for a year or three and then come back.

“You say that now,” he said. “But New York’s a very hard place to leave. And once you do leave . . .”...

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About The Book

Joseph O'Neill's Netherland is the mesmerizing story of a European man living in New York City after 9/11, with two troubled loves--that for his wife, and that for his adopted country. Told in a lyrical voice, the story of his journey involves an immersion in the cricket-playing subculture of the city, a tragic friendship with a Trinidadian immigrant, and a darkening understanding of the great American narrative. It is a story of heritage and home, of sports and work, of friendship and love, and it ultimately offers universal truths about the search for meaning in life and the hope for renewal.


Reader's Guide

  1. Describe the structure of Netherland. Why does the author open with Hans moving to New ...

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Netherland is best when it introduces its kaleidoscopic and near-infinite cast of background characters—the colorful denizens of the Chelsea Hotel, the international team of cricketers on Staten Island, the marginal figures with whom Chuck socializes and does shady business. But none of these characters stick around for long, as Hans keeps taking up the story in his plodding and uninflected voice, and even Chuck's story gets buried in the far less engaging story of Hans' reunion with Rachel. I rooted hard for this book, but in the end it let me down.   (Reviewed by Amy Reading).

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Media Reviews
Kirkus Reviews

This love story about a friendship, a place and a marriage is not easy to read, but it's even harder to stop thinking about.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. O'Neill (This Is the Life ) offers an outsider's view of New York bursting with wisdom, authenticity and a sobering jolt of realism.

Chicago Tribune - Art Winslow

O'Neill has a pleasantly subtle touch that allows him to make those portions of the novel affecting without hint of gratuitous sentimentality.

International Herald Tribune - Dwight Garner

It's too urbane, too small-boned, too savvy to carry much Dreiserian sweep and swagger. But [it is] the wittiest, angriest, most exacting and most desolate work of fiction we've yet had about life in New York and London after the World Trade Center fell. ... I devoured it in three thirsty gulps, gulps that satisfied a craving I didn't know I had.

The New Yorker - James Wood

The simplicity of the writing here and the choosing of a frozen racial emblem echo V. S. Naipaul, that Trinidadian Indian, and, if Netherland pays homage to The Great Gatsby, it is also in some kind of knowing relationship with A House for Mr. Biswas. These are large interlocutors, but Netherland has an ideological intricacy, a deep human wisdom, and prose grand enough to dare the comparison.

The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani

Joseph O'Neill's stunning new novel, Netherland, provides a resonant meditation on the American Dream…[he] does a magical job of conjuring up the many New Yorks Hans gets to know.

Reader Reviews
Cloggie Downunder

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,...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Cricket
It would seem that Joseph O'Neill's secret mission in writing Netherland is to convert Americans into cricket fans. Hans, his narrator, implicitly assumes that his readers are not familiar with the game, and long passages are given over to (rather aggrievedly) pointing to its illustrious history and explaining its subtleties. Herewith, for those who know baseball but not cricket, a few additional pointers on a game that Bill Bryson calls "a sport that is enjoyed by millions, some of them awake and facing the right way."

Like baseball, someone throws a ball and another person bats at it, but the similarities, for the most part, end there. Cricket is played on a circular field and the play extends in all ...

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