Book Review: Netherland by Joseph O’Neill

Author:Joseph O’Neill
Title: Netherland
Publication Info: Pantheon (2008)
ISBN: 0307377040


This is a novel written by a Dutch man Hans who marries a English woman Rachel and together move to New York for business.  There they have a child and their marriage begins to crumble.  The September 11th attacks prove to be a catalyst for Rachel to demand a separation, returning to England and leaving Hans alone in New York.  The novel is the story of the three years Hans spends adrift in New York.  Two things are prominent in this time – Hans renewed love for playing cricket with Carribean and South Asian immigrants in Staten Island and Hans’ odd friendship with Trinidadian entrepreneur/thug Chuck Ramkissoon.

The novel is non-linear and jumps between ruminations on Hans’ loneliness in New York with memories of his childhood in Holland and marriage with Rachel.  Hans seems to be a man with no passion for anything, unable to make friends in any traditional manner, and easily lead about by Chuck on his various schemes.  The book is also peppered with wonderfully humorous and seemingly random vignettes.

This is a slow-moving book (in a good way I think, although I could see how someone could find it boring) with a focus on the interior life of the troubled narrator.  There are no easy answers or resolution either although the time of exile does come to an end and some revelations are made.  I enjoyed this well-written book and it may end up being on my list of favorites for the year.

Recommended books: Playing Hard Ball: County Cricket and Big League Baseball by Ed Smith and The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem.
Rating: ****

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