Monday, August 11, 2008

68. "Netherland" - Joseph O'Neill

A post-9/11 world, but this is not a 9/11 novel. Hans is a Dutch-British businessman who lives in New York City with his wife, Rachel. After 9/11, Rachel decides that she needs time out of the marriage and takes their child back to London.

So, what to do with all of his extra time? Hans pulls out his cricket bat and joins a Saturday team where he is "the only white man." Through cricket, Hans is introduced to Chuck Ramkissoon, a louder self-promoter than the Oxi-Clean guy. Chuck wants to bring cricket to the big stage in the U.S., believing that all Americans need to feel united is cricket.

The plot is set for a decent ride. So why didn't I love and adore this novel as so many others have? Because half of the time I felt annoyed. Hans, who is living in the Chelsea Hotel and flying back to see his son every other weekend, acts like the rich kid playing on the other side of the tracks for kicks. Similarly, Chuck seems to want to play a bad guy when he is the most interesting character in the book. I'm sure the author meant this to show depth in character, but without the right props, it lacks dimension and believability.

Perhaps this was why I ended up disliking most of the characters. Rachel seems to be cruel and uber-bitchy. Though we know from the beginning that Hans and Rachel get back together, there is no real reason for it. Hans has his moments, too, where it's unbelievable. Characters, like humans, have much more depth. This is severely missing.

While Hans's thoughts about politics, love, lust, sport, driving, and history are intriguing, every time he opens his mouth to speak, he seems to spit out marbles. It's the same with the other characters. The dialogue clunks and rattles along like an '88 Peugot.

Those annoyances aside, it is a thoughtful novel. I loved learning about cricket and wonder why more Americans are closed to it. I think that Netherland will make it to the Man Booker short list. Most importantly, I'm interested in reading other reactions to it.

2.75 out of 5.0 No Ideas.


LisaMM said...

Sounds interesting. I haven't read this one and am surprised to hear what it's about (I don't know why but I was thinking Neverland-as in Michael Jackson, little boys, and pet chimps). Sounds pretty good- I'm putting it on my list.

Stefania said...

It's weird how a sport like cricket can be so popular in certain countries, like India or Australia, but almost completely unknown in others, like Italy. And why don't you Americans like soccer, eh? :-D

I'm looking forward to your review of "A case of exploding mangoes"...

J.Danger said...

I keep hearing about this book. Maybe it is a sign!

Kristin Dodge said...

Ever since my son started playing soccer, I've appreciated the game. He's going to play American football in the fall, but springs and summers are devoted to futbol now.

Pomiane said...

I've just finished this book, and I think it one of the best, most measured, most linguistically and conceptually 'tuned'works of literature I've read in a very long time. Hans and Rachel might seem small, and unfinished and imperfect to you, but I found them achingly and exquisitely recognisable. And all of the stuff about cricket crept up on me so subtly that I didn't realise until I'd already absorbed it all how much of it was metaphor for their relationship and for the way in which they interacted with their worlds ... and even details about how the grass grows were actually representations of the context against the background of which the characters were operating. It's all done with a light but impressively sure touch. Not a word I would often use, but I certainly would describe this one as a masterpiece.