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.
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.
I am off to purchase a cricket bat just so I can beat the shit out of this book with it.
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…”
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.
To begin with the book is liberally laced with cricket games and cricket trivia. As someone who has no idea about cricket I just found it very annoying. I am also not certain I know what the real story of this book is. Cricket could be a metaphor for something else but, not understanding it, I have no idea.
The story appears to be about the relationship between the narrator, Hans, and his estranged wife, Rachel. There is another story told of the friendship between Hans and a Trinidadian(?) immigrant, Chuck Ramkissoon.
Some have labelled this book a post 9/11 novel. There is a back story of how 9/11 affected Hans and Rachel and some question as to how much her fear caused Rachel's retreat back to England. Since you know the outcome for Hans and Rachel from the first few pages there must be something to keep you reading. For myself this was lacking.
Hans meets Chuck Ramkissoon in connection with cricket in New York. Chuck is an umpire and Hans, who played in his native Netherlands, is longing to do so again. There is a large subculture in New York of south Asian and Caribbean immigrants who play cricket. They have to do this on poor quality playing fields, often waiting for baseball games to end. A friendship blossoms between the two men and Hans gradually comes to realize, in an unbelievably naive way, that Chuck is a gangster. Since we also know Chuck's fate in the early pages of the novel, again, we need a reason to keep on reading.
My feeling is there is not much imperative to find out about these characters. They just seem sad and depressing and unsympathetic. O'Neill's writing is mostly pedestrian. He does, however, have some truly unique turns of phrase: "Always one saw evidence of the tiny brick houses that the incontinent local municipalities, Voorschoten and Leidschendam and Rijswijk and Zoetermeer, pooped over the rural spaces surrounding the Hague." You have to admit that is original. There are many of these: "...his train infested underpants..." (this is a child obviously). There are also many pithy political observations: re Clinton "I never puzzled out the hatred apparently inspired by the president, whose administration, so far as I could tell, had done little more than oversee the advent of an extraordinary national fortunateness." And "Next she told me, in the tone of a person discussing a grocery list, that she had definitely decided not to return to the United States, at least not before the end of the Bush administration or any successor administration similarly intent on a military and economic domination of the world. It was no longer a question of physical security, she said, although that of course remained a factor. It was a question, rather, of not exposing Jake to an upbringing in an 'ideologically diseased' country, as she put it, a 'mentally ill, sick, unreal' country whose masses and leaders suffered from extraordinary and self-righteous delusions about the United States, the world, and indeed, thanks to the influence of the fanatical evangelical Christian movement, the universe, delusions that had the effect of exempting the United States from the very rules of civilized and lawful and rational behavior it so mercilessly sought to enforce on others." Well that couldn't better sum things up in my opinion. Perhaps, as Chuck Ramkissoon suggests, we should all take up cricket. Facing your enemy across a cricket pitch will demonstrate our equal humanity.
Because I feel inadequate to review this book I suggest, should you find yourself interested in it, this review and this one do a much better job of explaining it. It has, after all, been longlisted for the Booker Prize. I just don't understand why.
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.
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
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."
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
By coming at 9/11 via his circuitous route, O'Neill may have just rendered the most incisive details of the angst, the unease, the gnawing sense of vulnerability engendered by those events I've yet to read.
Hans, a financial analyst, and his wife Rachel, a successful lawyer, find themselves spiritually adrift in New York. But then Hans has always, it seems, been a drifter of sorts. Rachel, who had initiated their move to New York in the first place, makes the decision to move back to London, and urges her husband not to accompany her and their young child. What follows is the soul searching and unique events of Hans' life living in New York's Chelsea Hotel as an abandoned father and husband.
While living alone, Hans becomes involved with, of all things, the immigrant subculture of cricket. O'Neill, raised in Holland, knows all there is to know about cricket - and it shows. We're all familiar with the hold that baseball has on writers of a certain sweeping poetic bent. O'Neill subtly uses the game of cricket to tell us much about ourselves. Cricket as played by men in their native countries has by necessity adapted to the space and playing fields of America. Hans himself resists adapting his batting style to the smaller fields, stubbornly approaching the game as he did growing up. Cricket stands as a symbol of community, of unification, of togetherness - yet in America it also stamps the faithful as 'the other'. The game stands as a symbol of the yearning for a stake in the future of this America which means a notion of acceptance, of community - yet it also holds to the traditions of separate cultures, to the uniqueness of individuality and heritage.
Hans' entry into this world is facilitated by one of the murkier, odd-ball characters of recent fiction: entrepreneur, gambler, gangster, dreamer, Trinidadian Chuck Ramkissoon. It's the demise of Chuck, who pursued the American Dream with an unwieldy panache that triggers in Hans that fever memory of reflection. It's through Chuck that Hans rebuilds his life and his own dreams.
It is through O'Neills' scratching blow the surface of the American Dream - the nether land - that we may glimpse the fury with which it can be attacked by those who have forgotten how to dream.
With his new-found spare time, Hans spends more time playing cricket in the park and meets a Trinidadian named Chuck Ramkissoon. Chuck has some big dreams and schemes involving the sport of cricket and brings Hans along for the ride. The question is whether Ramkissoon’s dealing are on the up and up. Hans begins spending more and more time with Chuck while also travelling back and forth from London so he can see his son.
Some have compared this book to The Great Gatsby, and while it does have a little of that ‘vibe,’ I don’t think the book really merits that comparison. The real question of the book is whether or not Hans is a reliable or an unreliable narrator. If he’s reliable, I don’t think I really got the point of the book. If he’s unreliable, it certainly makes the novel more interesting with all the ramifications of what that might involve. I wasn’t really clued in to the fact that he might be unreliable until I looked at some other reviews of the book.
Discussing and discovering the truth of the reliability of Hans’ narration would really make this novel a good choice for a book group. Too bad I can’t tell you more. Come back and email me if you end up reading the book, I’d like to hear your thoughts!
2008, 272 pp.
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.
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.