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 Chucks 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 outsiders 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 ONeills 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 YorkRachel had flown out six weeks previouslyI 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 wont 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 Yorks a very hard place to leave. And once you do leave . . ....
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).
Full Review (1003 words).
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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