Review: Netherland

By Joseph O’Neill
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Pub. Date: May 2009 (reprint)
ISBN-13: 9780307388773

The blurb from Barnes and Noble:

In a New York City made phantasmagorical by the events of 9/11, and left alone after his English wife and son return to London, Hans van den Broek 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. As the two men share their vastly different experiences of contemporary immigrant life in America, an unforgettable portrait emerges of an “other” New York populated by immigrants and strivers of every race and nationality.

The Short of It:

A complex story about love and loss. Full of meaning yet it takes a bit of effort to peel away the layers.

My Thoughts:

My book group chose this book for the month of June so I felt obligated to read it. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I was also a bit curious about it because Obama mentioned that he was reading it too, and if Obama is reading it then it MUST be good enough for me. Right? Initially I had a really hard time with it. At page 100, I was thinking about giving up on it. Why? Well, it was very wordy and there was a lot of internal dialogue which I don’t normally “get.” However, right around page 150, something clicked for me.

The book centers around the sport of cricket, yet the main story really has nothing to do with cricket but I was so distracted with trying to understand the game that I think I missed some of the initial set-up. Once I realized that it wasn’t about cricket, then things started to fall into place for me. The other thing I should mention, is although the setting is post 9/11, it’s not really a huge part of the story. That surprised me.

Basically, Hans is lonely. His marriage is falling apart. He has money but really nothing to show for it. He is desperate for love and acceptance and just sort of stumbles through life. Things happen to him. Well, he lets things happen to him. Oh, and he loves cricket. That pretty much sums it up.

This is one of those books that you have to read for yourself. After discussing it with my book club, I did gain an appreciation for it that I did not have prior to the meeting. You really have to peel away the layers before you “get” it. However, you have to be patient enough to do that because the first few pages may not grab you right away, unless you enjoy a lot of internal dialogue. That said, in the end I was happy that I read it. Oh, and if you enjoyed The Great Gatsby, you will enjoy this book as there are a lot of similarities between the two.

Netherland won the 2009 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. If you’d like to read more about Joseph O’Neill, click here to read an interview that The Atlantic ran back in 2008.

This review copy was provided by Kate over at Random House. Thank you Kate!

8 thoughts on “Review: Netherland”

  1. I've heard The Great Gatsby referred to with this book before. I initially wanted to read it because a lot of people whose reading taste I trust say it is good. But now that I've read Gatsby (only recently), I want to read it because of that. Because I loooved Gatsby. Thanks for your thoughts, very helpful. 🙂

  2. Interesting. Doesn't sound like my kind of book. Wonder what Obama saw in it – wait, you say he is NOT in your book club?

  3. I don't mind a lot of internal dialogue if it is done right. You've definitely got me curious about this one. It sounds complex, which may not be the best thing for me right now–but definitely worth keeping in mind for later.

    Atonement was a book that got off to a slow start for me. I am so glad I kept reading though.

  4. I read this when The Elegant Version ( a lit blog) raved over it some months back, and is still raving. He just interviewed the author in four parts. It was an okay read for me but not as good as hyped and not particularly memorable. I haven't seen other reviews on the book blogs yet. Glad to get your perspective on it. Thanks for reviewing it.

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