Netherland

by Joseph O'Neill

Hardcover, 2008

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

New York : Pantheon Books, c2008.

Description

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.--From publisher description.

Media reviews

5 more
...the narrative is unwieldily organised, the supporting characters are underdeveloped and the dialogue is often pretty bad.... The biggest problem, though, is Hans himself. In addition to being much less interesting than Chuck, he tells the story in a determinedly overambitious style.... O'Neill's take on the notion of the American dream is both unsentimental and cleverly attuned to that notion's grip on the local imagination. Perhaps stories of striving immigrants and America's ambiguous promise speak to New York reviewers on frequencies inaudible to outsiders. O'Neill has said that he wrote the book as "an American novel ... My first novel as an American novelist", and in this respect, he seems to have succeeded.
Netherland has been described variously as a "post-colonial" and a "Great American" novel. But this beguilingly subtle work transcends old geographical, political and temporal confinements as it renders the strange mutations, partial visions and bewilderments of our globalised world.
Despite cricket’s seeming irrelevance to America, the game makes his exquisitely written novel “Netherland” a large fictional achievement, and one of the most remarkable post-colonial books I have ever read.
...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. On a micro level, it’s about a couple and their young son living in Lower Manhattan when the planes hit, and about the event’s rippling emotional aftermath in their lives. On a macro level, it’s about nearly everything: family, politics, identity. I devoured it in three thirsty gulps, gulps that satisfied a craving I didn’t know I had.
...like Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, Joseph O’Neill’s stunning new novel, “Netherland,” provides a resonant meditation on the American Dream.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Quixada
This guy can’t stop writing about cricket! And the fothermucker dissed baseball at one point. Instead of Netherland it should be called “Cricketland”. Or “About Cricket”. Or “Cricket, Cricket, and more Cricket”. Or “Everything You Never Wanted to Know About Cricket”.

And the back of the book says absolutely nothing about cricket. Not one word. There should be a disclaimer: “Warning: this guy loves to write about cricket. If you do not like cricket or if cricket offends you in any way, step away from this book immediately”.

Random paragraph from page 48:

In the world of men’s cricket, I surprised myself. Aged thirty-four, troubled increasingly by backache, I found I could still fling the ball into the wicket-keeper’s gloves with a flat throw from forty yards, could still stand under a skyer and hold the catch, could still run up and bowl outswingers at a medium pace. I could also still hit a cricket ball; but the flame of rolling leather, caught up in long weeds, almost always was quickly put out. The bliss of batting was denied to me.

ARRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I am off to purchase a cricket bat just so I can beat the shit out of this book with it.
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LibraryThing member katiekrug
As the author admits in an interview I read, this is more a novel of voice than one of plot. I won’t try to summarize what little actually does happen because it would sound crazy and turn you off. It’s like when I try to explain to people down here in Texas what I love about New York City – it’s dirty and loud and chaotic and sometimes scary – sure, it might sound awful but you really need to experience it for yourself.

O’Neill has written a dense, genuine, and verging-on-heartbreaking-but-there’s-a-bit-of-hope-in-the-end portrait of alienation, identity, connectedness, and loss. The title has multiple meanings, and I think you could pick whichever resonates the most on a personal level and write a lovely review based on that one piece. But it’s a kaleidoscope of images and voices and emotions. And despite how some people want to categorize it, Netherland is not a book about 9/11. It is, maybe, a book of 9/11 in that I doubt the same story could have been written and had such resonance absent that event. It’s a book about the American Dream, as seen by a Dutch equities trader from London and a Trinidadian crook from Brooklyn. As the old hackneyed saying goes, “Only in New York…”
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LibraryThing member juli1357
This is one of those books that the critics loved, but left everyone else thinking "what?" Some compare it to The Great Gatsby, but as even the author said himself, they are only similar in that in both books "the stranger drowns, the bystander remembers." The Great Gatsby is a well-written and complex story that can be read over and over again, allowing the reader to discover something new each time. Netherland is well-written in the sense that O'Neill can craft a sentence, but The Economist said it best in noting "the plot is light and fragile" and that a well-written paragraph does not a novel make. Of all the post - 9/11 novels, this is my least favorite by far. The problem is that the narrator is so disconnected with the events in his life that as the reader, you find yourself unable to connect with him. Although the book is only a couple of hundred pages and should have been a quick and easy read. I found myself putting it down for days at a time because I simply lost interest. If I hadn't had to read this for book club, I would have put it down after the first 50 pages, gone to the NYTimes to see what they had to say about it and then decided whether or not to continue. If you fail to heed my caution and attempt to muster through this yourself, a couple of things that might make it a tad bit more interesting would be to read the reader's guide (there are many, but the questions are all the same), both the official and the unauthorized. The official reader's guide will give you background info on the author which will reveal that in some ways, the protagonist's life mirrors that of the author. For example, both are of Dutch descent, both married strong women (O'Neill met his wife when she rejected his first book while working at a publishing house) and he, his wife and sons live in the Chelsea hotel. The unauthorized readers' guide poses the question of whether or not the protagonist is a reliable narrator. Some of the questions seemed pretty far out, but if nothing else, it's an interesting perspective.… (more)
LibraryThing member NigelM
It took a while for this book to cast its spell, but once it had I found it quite enchanting.

The novel is narrated by a Dutch-born market analyst, Hans de Broek, who has spent most of his adult life in England, but who moves with his British wife and young child to New York. The experience of 9/11 politicises his wife, and frustrated by the apparent lack of a similar response in her husband, she separates from him and returns to the UK with their child. Whilst alone in New York, Hans (who was an enthusiastic cricketer in his Netherlands childhood) becomes involved in the local cricket scene, played mostly by first-generation immigrants from the Indian sub-continent and the East & West Indies. Here he first encounters Chuck Ramkissoon, with whom he strikes up a strange friendship. Years later (and this is not to give away the plot, since it is revealed in the opening pages), with Hans having returned to England, he learns that Chuck's corpse has been fished up out of the Hudson river.

That is the bare-bones of the plot, but It is hard to describe what the novel exactly is about, as it encompasses so many different subjects and themes in a relatively short space. The 'selling point' in publicity for it has been what it has to say about cricket, but this is a relatively small part of the book - I would say happily a small part, since I am not a fan of cricket, but O'Neill writes so beautifully and compellingly about it that you are able to share the narrator's enthusiasm whilst you are reading.

A major theme appears to be loss: both in terms of losing (Hans has lost his wife and son, his father died when he was young and he has suffered the loss of his mother twice, firstly when he left the Netherlands and then again with her death, and underlying everything are the losses of 9/11), and in terms of being lost: Hans is doubly displaced in New York, being an immigrant first from the Netherlands and then from England. His experience as a wealthy immigrant is contrasted with that of his fellow cricketers, and particularly with that of Chuck, but not in a moralistic way; indeed it is quite a feat, given the current climate, that Hans comes across so sympathetically. He is portrayed mostly as an observer of life and his surroundings, who doesn't make judgements and for the main part is happy to drift along, taking things as they come. This is a chief cause of his wife's frustration with him, but also what allows him to pursue his friendship with Chuck, who by contrast is a visionary, someone who always has plans and schemes on the go, some of them disreputable (leading to his eventual downfall) but others magnificent follies, most notably his plan to build a cricket stadium in New York.

Chuck's story is reminiscent of that of The Great Gatsby's, and O'Neill shares Fitzgerald's lyrical prose style. Another writer that came to mind when reading the book was W.G. Sebald. Like Sebald, O'Neill's structure is (seemingly at least) very discursive and digressive, with memories nested inside memories, meaning it can be difficult to keep track of events if you are not reading attentively. But this is a book that very much rewards your attention, and I am sure I will be reading it again to draw more from it.
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LibraryThing member mollygrace
I have been trying to write a review of this book for several days without much success. I have been adrift, though not quite as adrift as the main character, Hans, after his wife leaves him alone in post-9/11 New York City and returns with their son to England .

Umberto Eco says that "the list is the origin of culture" and that his own novels are "full of lists". So, too, this book. Hans tries -- whether he realizes it or not -- to create order out of chaos, to connect with people, to get back on solid ground (something a Dutchman would have a feel for, I imagine) -- and his mind is a swirl of lists, so perhaps I should try a list of my own to explain why I so admire this book:

That title: Netherland. Nether-land. Nethermost. Netherworld. Neverland. Never. Nether. Land.

The Walt Whitman poem with which the book begins: "I dreamed in a dream". It's the way Hans moves from memory to dream to childhood to the characters he meets in the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel to the long drives he takes with his West Indian-American friend, Chuck Ramkissoon, whom he meets due to their shared love of cricket.

Cricket: At its essence cricket is about order and white-on-green and tea and sportsmanship and things done properly, things Hans longs for. Early in the book, he says that there is no such thing as cheap longing -- "Who knows what happened to that fellow over there?"

Whitman again: His "invincible city." New York seemed anything but that at the moment it was attacked in 2001, and yet, and yet, it's still there. And Hans is still there, and despite the shock and the grief and the being-set-adrift, maybe there's still some way to hold on . . . list, dream, memory.

History: There is so much of American history in this book, so many opportunities to consider the damage done in the name of empire -- and the good, too, and the blending of cultures -- cricket, the English language, the influence of its Dutch past on the city of New York. Who we are now -- what we do to one another now -- shaped by events and decisions and accidents and whims long past. Hans and Chuck visit a statue of Horace Greeley, his "Go West, young man" having sent so many in search of their American dream. Dreams again. Whitman. Song of myself. Chuck's song of himself -- his long rambling prose-poem of hopes and dreams and prospective deals.

New York City: New Amsterdam. New Netherland. The port, the city through which so many exiles and immigrants have come, Miss Liberty, the merchants, the shopkeepers, the craftsmen, the businessmen, the banks, the stock exchange, the World Trade Center. The great melting pot. The United Nations. The Empire State. The art of the deal. The hustle.

And, once more, Whitman: The "City of Friends". There is a wonderful passage in this book about the nature of male friendships, the need of men to have friends (and allies and business associates) who take you at face value, not looking too deeply, not sharing too much, which is how he takes Chuck, for better or worse. Like Hans Brinker, skating on the surface. Hans' wife, Rachel, would have been suspicious of Chuck from the start, but she's not there. Chuck is. And what a fascinating character he turns out to be.

The Dutchman and the (West) Indian: 1626. Peter Minuit and the Indians. The purchase of Manhattan for $24 worth of trinkets. Hard not to think of that as you travel the city in the company of our two businessmen: Hans, the stock broker, and Chuck, the dealmaker, the entrepreneur, the hustler, the American dreamer

The way the story begins: Hans is preparing to leave his job as a stock analyst for a London bank to take a similar job in New York. A colleague who lived in New York for a time several years before comes to wish him well and to tell him to enjoy his time there. There is a certain wistfulness in what he says, as though his time in America was memorable and perhaps more than that. What will it be for Hans? Later, he realizes that if he'd stayed in London he would have been finished, locked in place by early middle age. But America is different: "selfhood's hill always seemed to lie ahead". A wistfulness. The frontier. Just across the next hill. King of the hill. Winthrop's city on a hill.

The love story: Several love stories, really, overlapping, connecting, weaving, forming a lifeline to save yet another lost soul, while another soul is lost in the struggle. There's even an angel. America, the refuge for those in need of a second chance, a new beginning, a way to reinvent yourself, a way to survive the worst disaster and keep on going. America, the energizer bunny. How many lost souls? How many souls saved?

Our need for story: Our need to create order out of chaos. One of my favorite minor characters -- and there are many -- is the woman who will take your photos and put them in order and create a scrapbook for you -- a story to give meaning to the mess that is your life. "People want a story," she says.

Hans' mother: Keep an eye on her eyes. Keep your eyes on the prize.

This is a prize of a book, a book to fall into, to allow its lists and dreams and memories and images and characters to work on you. I recommend it.
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LibraryThing member gregory_gwen
I thought it would be really great, from all the hot press and awards. I found it to be not so exciting. More about a guy and his marriage. I guess I need more thrills than that.
LibraryThing member TheAmpersand
Excellent! "Netherland" is so many things at once. First, and perhaps most obviously, it's a book about men who play cricket in New York City. It's also that rarest of all things: a distinctly post-9/11 work that refuses to get unnecessarily hysterical or shamelessly sentimental. The author does not describe the events of that day, nor does he portray them as a world-ending catastrophe. "Netherland's" characters, like most New Yorkers, survived the attacks but were left in a city that was shaken and scared. In this novel, the attacks function mostly as a disruptive event that prompts new questions, and poses new challenges, for its survivors. Hans, our Dutch narrator, mostly seems inconvenienced: he didn't lose any friends or family members, but he's been moved out of his Tribeca apartment and into the Chelsea Hotel and he's just trying to get on with things. It's a remarkably level-headed depiction of the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, and it mirrors the experiences of most New Yorkers I knew more closely than just about anything else I've ever read in the past ten years.

Writing from Hans's point of view, O'Neill seems to be asking if the safe, conventional, financially comfortable European life that his main character prepared for himself in Europe is all that is available to him. It's a question that preoccupied many of the modernist writers who wrote in the first half of the twentieth century, and I'm both pleased and surprised to see O'Neill take it up in a decidedly twenty-first century context. The attacks didn't just move Hans out his apartment, they also shook him loose from the web of cultural associations that he assumed would endure until well after his death. After his wife, who fears another attack, decamps to London with his son, he finds himself spending time with the Caribbean and African immigrants who make up New York's cricket clubs. O'Neill is good at tracing the way that cultural identities shift and blend in a thoroughly globalized city like New York, and I expect that many New Yorkers – native and otherwise – will recognize their city in this novel's pages. What really sets O'Neill apart from so many other contemporary writes who deal with similar material is what he makes of all of this delightfully promiscuous cultural exchange. Hans's willingness to connect, perhaps for the first time, with the different cultures and communities that make up his city is, at the end of the day, a far better response to the attacks of September, 2001 than his wife's decision to flee to the safety of her childhood home. "Netherland" is, among other things, a sort of blueprint for what a personal response to the cultural and religious absolutism of that motivated the terrorist attacks might look like. As a pluralist call-to-arms, it's both important and inspiring.

It's also a very good novel. O'Neill's prose throughout most of the book is precise and restrained, a reflection, perhaps, of his narrator's upbringing. At its center, however, is Chuck Ramkisson, a Trinidadian of Indian descent, a first-generation American, an unlikely mentor to Hans, and one of the greatest bullshit artists I've ever met, fictional or otherwise. Verbose, ambitious, seductive, and self-confident to the point of grandiosity, he fairly leaps off the page. O'Neill is also very canny about how he presents Chuck to his readers, gradually revealing more and more about his business dealings, personal history, and inner life as his role in Hans's life grows in importance. In closing, I'd also like to mention that I read this novel expecting one of its characters to criticize baseball, the bat-and-ball game that I love, as nothing more than a degraded form of cricket. In a truly cosmopolitan act of tolerance, however, both O'Neill and his characters reserve their judgment. Chuck, in fact, dreams that Americans might one day play cricket in their own way. "This is the United States," he advises Hans, who is typically a stiff and timid batsman, "you've got to hit that thing in the air."
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LibraryThing member bibliobibuli
The novel won a great deal of critical praise and was longlisted for last year's Booker Prize, as well as being nominated one of the ten best novels of 2008 by The New York Times and sweeping up the Pen/Faulkner Award. Obama was apparently also reading it.

The cover is decorated with words lifted from reviews - Wonderful (Jonathan Safran Foer), Stunning (New York Times), Breathtaking (Observer). I felt a measure of guilt most of the way through the novel that I felt some ambivalence towards it. Most of the way through I just felt I couldn't get a handle on it, there didn't seem enough that was cohesive to hold it together, and I longed for that simple, old-fashioned thing - a good story, to take over.

Netherland is a pretty unusual book : it's a novel about New York but focuses more on immigrant communities than the skyscrapers of Manhattan; it's a post-9/11 novel in which the incident is hardly mentioned (yet casts an enormous shadow); and its a novel about cricket set in a country where there sport is scarcely played at all.

Financial analyst Hans van der Broek finds himself alone in New York when his wife Rachel leaves him to go back to London, and finds refuge in cricket, played almost entirely by immigrants, mainly Asian and from the Caribbean. He becomes friendly with Chuck Ramkissoon, the "oddball umpiring oracle", a wheeler-dealer businessman with dubious connections who takes him under his wing. Later Chuck is found murdered - his wrists handcuffed and his body thrown into the Gowanus Canal.

But if if the reader expects the solving of and fallout from the murder to drive the story, this isn't the case at all. O'Neil actually says in the notes that accompany the novel that he actually abandoned a first draft because it was:

... undermined by a preoccupation with plot.

And then there is Hans marriage to Rachel. We're never quite sure why she decides to leave him and take their son, Jake, back to London, and why she can't get back together with him. We're not privy to her thoughts and we aren't given the opportunity to warm to her, while Hans who comes across as ineffectual and inert. He drifts and allows matters to take their course, rather than taking any kind of decisive action. It isn't surprising that he finds himself following in the wake of the charismatic Chuck.

Yet O'Neill catches Han's depression and sense of dislocation most convincingly, in the first person narration. He employs an almost stream-of-consciousness style where one memory flows back into another (very much in the style of John Banville in The Sea - I don't think that it is coincidence that O'Neill is also an Irish author), the novel moving between layers of time and recollection. I was also reminded very strongly - perhaps because of the introspection and aching melancholy - of Richard Ford's The Sportswriter : we get the sense of a real man doing his best to make sense of his circumstances.

There are some beautifully observed scenes of New York, especially those which centered on his quirky neighbours in the Chelsea Hotel (where the author actually lives), and his visits to Brooklyn. I appreciate too what I learned about cricket (especially how pitch conditions and the weather affect play, and about how it is a game of perspectives - knowing when to switch from the wide view to the telescopic).

But I'm still not sure what to tell you about whether I enjoyed the novel or not. I still feel I'm pulling together the threads and making sense of it, but I suspect that this might be one I want read again.
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LibraryThing member LynnB
This is a very interesting novel in that it uses the shock and disruption of 9/11 as a backdrop to the disruption in one man's life. But, not the major tragedies of losing loved ones that so many people lived through; instead, this book is about what probably most New Yorkers experienced -- no close family members killed, no major property loss, yet a fundamental shock and change to the life they thought they were living.

Hans has moved to New York from London with his wife. After the 9/11 attack, she returns to London with their baby son, making it clear that Hans is not welcome to move with them. Rather, he is to visit every two weeks. So, we find Hans alone in a strange city that is, itself, feeling detached from its foundations. No surprisingly, Hans looks back and has strong memories of his mother and he begins to play cricket as he had done as a boy.

This search for some link to his past brings him, in some ways, farther from it. He drifts into the New York cricket scene which is populated by recent African and Caribbean immigrants, notably Chuck Ramkissoon who becomes Hans' friend. Through Chuck, Hans is drawn into Russian culture, illegal gambling and various schemes. Yet, Hans remains somewhat outside of Chuck's world as he remains estranged even from his own life.

The book is well written. Hans thoughts often wander, taking us with him. Mr. O'Neill is able to maintain the flow of the writing and the story through these digressions and jumps in time by his excellent writing, including a strong ear for dialogue.

Some reviewers say nothing happens in this book. I disagree. Life happens; people touch each other in unexpected ways; and life goes on.
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LibraryThing member metamariposa
I attempted to finish Netherland. I really did. But right now my reading time is very limited, and halfway through the book I asked myself, "Do I care what happens? Why am I still reading this?" No satisfactory answer presented itself. So I lay it down for a day, and two weeks later nothing is nudging me to return. So long, Hans. Hope you and Rachel negotiate custody of the kid. But I do not care.… (more)
LibraryThing member stillatim
The word for this novel is congealed. I was really liking it, because I too am a cricketer living in the U.S. I enjoyed his snide attempts to explain cricket to an American audience, and his humorous observations on expatriate life, and his quite pleasant prose style. And then I noticed, thanks to a friend of mine, that it's all quite empty and ham-fisted. Fifty pages or so after I thought to myself, you know, he really is exoticizing Chuck in a most unpleasant manner, the wife tells him that he's exoticizing Chuck in a most unpleasant manner... and he says "No, Chuck is my friend," and that's the end of that. Similarly, just when I start to think, you know who must have killed Chuck? His front-man... the front man is on the phone denying that he killed Chuck, and a few pages later, the narrator has decided that he couldn't have killed Chuck. And suddenly I saw all the seams, and all the cricket and expat fellow feeling and lovely prose style couldn't hold it together. It sounds great when the NYT Book review says this 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." Except it's not very witty, not angry, not particularly exacting, and certainly not desolate. And then you notice that the comparison being made here is to *other novels about life in New York and London since 2001.* That's not such a huge category.… (more)
LibraryThing member abitmorejerry
I have had a few goes at trying to get into this book but finally gave up. Almost 100 pages into it and it is still just mundane drivel. Kind of like a Seinfeld episode but without any trace of humour! (not to mean any disrespect to Seinfeld which I found really entertaining) - but nothing's happening in the book. Just seems like a bunch of incoherent ramblings to me and just doesn't work for me.
I kept trying mainly because of some of the reviews of the book and seemingly it is on the US President's book list (which probably sold me on the idea of having a read).
Have a look at a number of reader reviews rather than professional reviewers before you make your mind up. I, like a number of others, may be missing something but then again, you may just get it.
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LibraryThing member iftyzaidi
Really enjoyed this book. Narrated from the viewpoint of a Dutch Wall Street analyst Hans Van Den Broek who moves to New York in 1999, the story follows the period post 9/11 when his marriage becomes frayed and his English wife moves back to London with their young son. Emotionally numbed and estranged both from his family and the unfamiliar city in which he lives, and increasingly, from his job, Hans' discovery of a cricket club (played mostly by immigrants) allows him him to discover both a sense of camaraderie, friendship (with a Trinidadian immigrant and Brooklyn hustler Chuck Ramkissoon) and a way to reconnect with his own childhood and memories. Chuck meanwhile is driven by a gloriously unlikely dream - to build a cricket ground in NY that would become the staging ground for international cricket clashes between the best teams in the world.

Having for a short time been an immigrant studying in the USA as well as a cricketing aficionado, Hans' circumstances struck a real chord. Cricket is one of those odd sports which is virtually a religion in a handful of countries but almost absolutely unknown in the US. Almost but not quite, for the US is a also a country of immigrants and just as Hans does in the book, one can suddenly stumble upon a small group of cricket fans or an impromptu cricket match in the most unexpected nooks and crannies of the country. The realization sets in that there is a community with whom one has something in common - like a secret handshake, a love of cricket gives you access to a secret society hidden beneath the surface of everyday American life. So some of my fondest memories are of unlikely cricket matches played in an open field with a motley band of cricketers - mostly of Indian descent with a couple of Bangladeshis and Pakistanis and a solitary New Zealander. We managed to entice one of the natives to join us and of course he batted like a baseball player, using the long handle and swinging high and hard to send the ball soaring in to the air. I on the other hand preferred batting in a compact, restrained fashion, much like Hans in the book, playing the ball along the ground in the technically correct manner. In the book Chuck encourages Hans to play his shots with more abandon, urging him to play like an American and hit the ball up in the air.

In many ways the story is about Chuck more than the Hans. Certainly he is the fizzing soul of the book, though it seems fitting to the tone of the book that the narrator is at the periphery of events. (Most of the major 'events' that occur in the book occur off-page as it were and are referred to only obliquely - whether 9/11 itself, Hans' reconciliation with his wife, his decision to move and most importantly Chuck's demise). Another reviewer has pointed out Chuck's evocation of James Gatz of The Great Gatsby, right down to an obsession with the green of the cricket ground he wants to build which seems to exercise the same fascination over him as the green light on the docks did for Gatz. Like Gatz's dreams, Chuck's dreams come to nothing in the end. But if in The Great Gatsby Gatz's move across the USA from the western state of North Dakota to the eastern one of New York is also his journey from a solid moral grounding to immoral crass materialism (and Gatsby's narrator, Nick Carraway's decision to leave New York to head out west a rejection of that same materialism), then what are we to make of Hans and Joseph's move from across the eastern seas to New York and Hans' final decision to move back to England? A reconnection with family and reconciliation and acceptance of his past perhaps? If so the Netherland of the title could be the New York Hans inhabits in his day-to-day life as a stock analyst and which he eventually leaves. There are other interpretations, of course, but one of the hallmarks of an evocative phrase is that it may have multiple meanings. The prose O'Neill uses is wonderfully crafted with wonderful turns of phrase which manage to contain both beauty and ambiguity (I was sometimes reminded of Ishiguro). Some may find that maddening, but I found it wonderful.
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LibraryThing member rmckeown
This novel won the prestigious PEN/Faulkner Award and a friend recommended it after a discussion of some of its post-modern qualities. Although well-written, I am not entirely convinced it deserves the accolades showered upon it.

First of all, it flips back and forth between first and third person, much like the narrative flips back and forth between present, future, and past. This book most definitely will require another read, so I can track these changes and see if some narrative justification exists for these shifts.

O'Neill has written a fine, interesting story of a Dutch financial analyst, Hans, who travels with his wife, Rachel, to New York from London. The reason for these job changes does not come out in the early chapters, but only much further along. Had I had this information, my understanding of the events in the "present" would have made more sense, and the "future" events would have been more logical. Because O'Neill jumped around, following the motivations of these characters became a chore.

Also, the early parts of the book -- the prose seems a bit stiff -- possesses a voice different from later parts, which seem more natural, like this passage, when Hans describes an incident from his childhood in the Netherlands:

"The old visual domain was unchanged: a long series of unlit back gardens leading to the almost indiscernible silhouette of dunes. To the north, which was to my right, the Scheveningen lighthouse twinkled for a second, then fell dark, then suddenly produced its beam, a skittish mile of light that became lost somewhere in the blue and black above the dunes. These sand hills had been my idea of wilderness. Pheasants, rabbits, and small birds of prey lived and died there. On escapades with a friend or two, we would urge our twelve-year-old bodies under the barbed wire lining the footpaths and run through the sand-grass into the wooded depths of the dunes." (86)

I got the impression this represented the height of mischief and rebellion for the young boy. This passage also reminds me of young Stephen Daedalus coping with the vagaries of Clongowes in Poratrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

The novel contains long paragraphs that seem ever so slightly organized to prevent the conclusion that Hans is day dreaming or we are experiencing his stream of consciousness, I found myself frequently back-tracking to find out where I was.

Despite these drawbacks, I could not bring myself to abandon the story. I cared about Hans, and took his side in the discussions with Rachel. Fortunately, I have a large book of cricket rules, so I could make sense of some of the many references to the sport. However, some deeper connection between life and cricket must lie buried in all this, but I do not know enough about the sport to figure that out. Four stars

--Jim, 7/25/09
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LibraryThing member CBJames
Netherland by Joseph O'Neill is often compared to F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. The two books do share a superficial similarity. Both take place in and around New York and both are narrated by an outsider. Both are centered on a fantastic character, one that inspires admiration in other men, but this character is not the narrator. There the similarities end.

Though born in the Hague, Netherland's narrator is a Londoner, living in New York, where he works in finance, with his English wife and their young son. Shortly after the September 11 attacks, their marriage enters a period of trouble, and the narrator's wife returns to London, where she says she'll be safe, with their son. The narrator stays in New York, moves into the famed Chelsea Hotel, and becomes involved with a cricket league.

Cricket, and the mix of men who play it, make up much of the novel. The narrator meets cricket enthusiast, one-time umpire Chuck Ramkissoon who drives a cab, runs an illegal lottery, and plans on building a cricket stadium in New York to convert America into a cricket loving country. When the narrator hires Chuck to teach him how to drive so he can get an American driver's license, he begins to spend time with Chuck and to learn more and more about his illegal business dealings, his family history, and his devotion to cricket. Along the way, the reader meets several other unusual characters, the narrator lives in the Chelsea Hotel after all, but none of these come to life the way Chuck Ramkissoon does.

Netherland drew me in at first. The story is not exciting nor very compelling. It's difficult to understand why the narrator stays in New York when his family has moved back to London, and attempting to bring cricket to America is a charming idea, but it's difficult to accept that anyone who knows the country at all would ever see it as possible. (Americans don't even pay attention to World Cup Football, let alone cricket.) But in spite of all this, I was drawn in to the narrator's story, so much so, that I read 80 pages before realizing that I needed to get Dakota her dinner. Reading an outsider's take on one's country is inherently intriguing and the post September 11 setting makes it easy to empathize with the characters. Unfortunately, after feeding Dakota, I was never re-drawn in to the novel. So reading the rest of it became something of a slugfest.

Netherland is very well written, and it probably has something profound to say about America after September 11, but it lacks a narrative thread to pull the reader through it all. We learn in the novel's opening scenes that Chuck Ramkissoon has been found dead in a canal, but this mystery does not become a reason to read the novel. Instead, the narrator jumps back and forth in time, revealing what he knows about Chuck, describing what his life in New York was like, discussing the changes in his relationship with his wife. Plot elements that could generate suspense are undermined by flash forwards and flashbacks so much so that would could have become a mystery is turned into a fictional memoir without much dramatic tension. Memoir works best when it draws the reader in.

Since I was fully drawn in once, I'm giving Netherland by Joseph O'Neill four out of five stars
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LibraryThing member jintster
This is a rather curious and disjointed novel. The story is straightforward enough, a Dutch oil analyst has moved to New York with his English wife and young son. His marriage slides away from him for reasons he can't grasp and his family move back to London. He tries to find some meaning in life by playing cricket with expatriate West Indians and sub-contintentals forming a strong if strange relationship with one of them who dreams of bringing cricket back to America.

As a cricket nut this book should have been right up my street but it never really engaged me. O'Neill's narrative swoops around all over the place so that, for example, one jumps from the present to the past and then to the future where he is talking to some one about the past.

The book is character, rather than plot-driven, and the confused narrative perhaps mirrors the difficulties the hero has in understanding himself and his relatioships. O'Neill is partially successful here - we do get a good insight into a fundamentally decent but emotionally stilted man. On the otehr hand this is at the expensive of the other characters, particularly the wife, whose actions appear incomprehensible.
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LibraryThing member thesearch
Sometimes it's more about how you say things, than what you say. The strongest feature of Netherland is the dispassionate voice of the narrator Hans van den Broek. The narrator takes you along a detached journey through an emotional time as he re-lives post 9/11 New York City, a separation from his wife and son, psychic exhaustion, and a rebirth through the unlikely avenue of cricket While there is something of a snobbish air to the first half of the novel, and much gratuitous romanticization of New York City, O'Neill captures, in liquid prose, an honest and intimate picture of one man's universe. Quite good.… (more)
LibraryThing member writestuff
The protagonist of Joseph O’Neill’s latest novel is Hans, a wealthy banker living in the Chelsea Hotel in post-911 New York City. Rachel, Hans’ conflicted wife, abandons him to return to London with their child and leaves Hans to navigate his way through a city of immigrants, idealists, and whacky characters. It is not long before Hans discovers the little known, yet thriving culture of immigrant men who gather each week to bat and bowl their way through cricket games. One of these men is Chuck Ramkissoon - an immigrant from Trinidad who runs an illegal gambling operation, cheats on his wife with a scrapbooker, and dreams of creating The New York Cricket Club - a venture which he envisions making millions while introducing Americans to a ‘whole new chapter in U.S. history.

Netherland explores the aftermath of 911 through the eyes of America’s immigrants who have come to America in pursuit of their dreams but find a country conflicted in the face of impending war with Iraq.

O’Neill uses Hans and Rachel’s marriage as a metaphor to explore fear, isolation, disaapointment and reconciliation as they separate and then come back together. Family and country are two intertwined themes as Hans tries to understand his own identity within the larger concept of community.

Although O’Neill’s writing is fluid and evokes a New York which most American’s will relate to, I found myself indifferent to Hans and his troubles. I liked the colorful and outgoing Chuck, but his ultimate fate left me thinking “so what?” I am not exactly sure why the character development left me cold in this novel - O’Neill certainly gives the reader plenty of background and insight into the two main characters - but, ultimately, I found them forgettable. There are also long passages about the game of cricket - a sport which I know next to nothing about - and these I found mostly boring.

At the end of the book, Hans is talking to a minor character who had considered funding Chuck’s idea for a cricket club in New York:

“The New York Cricket Club,” Faruk says, raising his eyebrows, “was a splendid idea - a gymkhana in New York. We had a chance there. But would the big project have worked? No. There’s a limit to what Americans understand. The limit is cricket.” - from Netherland, page 251 -

And this is pretty much how I felt about O’Neill’s novel. A good idea, but it did not work for me. Although this book has gotten some great reviews (including being recognized as a NYT Most Notable book in 2008), I wonder if many Americans will struggle as I did with a story which in large part centers around a sport which is not well-known in our country. Some readers might like this one.
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LibraryThing member heidialice
Hans van den Broek, a Dutch banker, and his wife Rachel, an English lawyer, move to New York City from London to pursue their careers. Rachel never quite recovers from the attacks of September 11th, and eventually moves back to London with their son, and without Hans. Adrift in a world where he feels like he has no place, depressed at the loss of his family but unable to do anything about it, he eventually falls in with a ragtag bunch of immigrant men who play cricket once a week. On the outskirts of this group is the great dreamer, Chuck Ramkissoon, whose great dream is to build a cricket stadium, and introduce it to the American mainstream.

As others have noted, this is not a novel of plot. The murder mystery doesn't play a huge role. The relationship drama hardly registers. It's the story of one man's quiet struggle with himself, and of the immigrant's experience in a strange land. Less a march through a story and more a beautifully written meander through the mind. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member bobbieharv
Nicely written and interwoven, especially if you like cricket, which I don't, so there was a bit too much cricket talk in it for me.
LibraryThing member brenzi
I looked forward to reading this book with great anticipation and considered the NYTimes designation as a Top Ten Book of the Year as all the endorsement I needed. But I have to say that it was a bit of a disappointment.

The story is narrated by Hans VanDenBroek, a financier based in London who moves to NYC with his attorney wife and son prior to 9/11. After 9/11 she decides to move back to London, where she feels she and her son will be safer and from then on the couple has a strained long distance relationship. The story centers around this marriage, cricket, the secondary character Chuck Ramkissoon, a cricket referee who becomes friends with Hans, and the different cultures of NYC. Although the prose was beautiful in parts, the story did not draw me in. It was interesting to learn about the cultural differences in NY but way too much of the story dealt with cricket, which I knew nothing about and, even with the lengthy descriptions that this book provides, still do not know much about. The one mystery that provided a plot line, namely, who killed Chuck and tossed his body in the Gowanus Canal is not resolved. I had a difficult time even finishing the last ten pages. I could not really recommend this book.… (more)
LibraryThing member writergal85
This dark, often pessimistic take on post-9/11 New York is told from the viewpoint of a Dutchman named Hans who has lived in Manhattan for over a decade with his wife. He feels he can claim the City for himself but realizes in the end he will always be known as the Dutch guy. The tragedy effects their marriage and she returns to London with their infant son. He remains in New York for work and becomes engulfed in playing cricket with other displaced non-Americans. This bizarre subculture leads him to befriend a mysterious Trinidadian named Chuck who has huge ideas and dark connections to parts of New York Hans hardly knew existed. Is it the therapeutic escape he needs or is it only another excuse for him to run away from his responsibilities? Netherland is captivating and a fine piece of fiction on the years following a time when one devastating and cowardly event brought together strange bedfellows and tore apart the most secure relationships.… (more)
LibraryThing member KnowWhatILike
I should have counted the number of words I ought to have looked-up while reading Joseph O'Neil's "Netherland." They must have numbered at least one hundred. Not a bad trick to play on someone with a masters from an Ivy League university. Also, there were those inordinately complex sentences that I needed to reread at least three times to get their full meaning. Perhaps, an English professor's dream and the basis for an excellent literary essay. But the makings for a great novel? I think not, without a good plot and character development to back up those fancy words and sentences. I am perplexed why this book has been selected by The New York Times as one of the ten best books of the year and how it made the cut for the Man Booker Prize's long list. Apparently, all the reviewers were mesmerized by Mr. O'Neil's literary style to the point that they overlooked other ingredients normally associated with a good book. For me, "Netherland" was simply boring and pretentious. I plodded through to the end but then wondered why I had bothered.

I decided to read "Netherland" because it has been described as a post-9/11 novel. There are several references in this book to the emotional impact of 9/11 on New Yorkers and on the main character Hans whose wife uses the threat of future terrorist acts as a pretext to move back to London along with their son. A book that I found much richer in its discussion of 9/11 was "A Thousand Veils." It tells about a lawyer, totally immersed in the corporate greed of Wall Street, whose last-minute escape from the North Tower leads him to question his values and results in his life-changing decision to assist an Iraqi refugee. This is a much more satisfying solution than Hans' response in the aftermath of the crisis to bury himself in the game of cricket.
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LibraryThing member queencersei
Unless you have a strong interest in the sport of cricket, avoid this book. While O'Neill has a nice, clear writing style. The story became entirely bogged down with explination after explination of the sport of cricket.
LibraryThing member CasualFriday
How could I not read the novel endorsed by Barack Obama? The narrator of Netherland, Hans van den Broek is a well-to-do financial analyst living in Manhattan in the aftermath of 9/11. When his wife takes his son and flees to London, Hans copes with the loneliness and disorientation by playing cricket and by befriending a Trinidadian "businessman" (read: gangster) named Chuck Ramkisson.

The novel is beautifully written (and the only book I've read in a long time that drove me to the dictionary a few times) but I have to say I admired it more than I enjoyed it. I want to say that the overall effect is more cerebral than emotional, but in fact Hans is av very vulnerable character and there's emotion all over the place. I think I'll need to revisit this later and try to connect with it in a more substantial way.
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