Netherland by Joseph O’Neill

29 01 2009

netherlandI’m a sucker for end of the year book lists.  I love them – I print them out and save them and use them for my wishlist at the library and on Amazon.  Every once in a while, I end up with a book that is a giant ball of disappointment and suck (I’m looking at you Atmospheric Disturbances). Most of the books go unread, stuck on a wishlist because I can’t remember why I put it there in the first place.  Then there are the books that make me happy that I know how to read.  I’m putting Netherland by Joseph O’Neill in this last category.

If I had just picked up this book randomly in the library and read the jacket description, I’d probably never check it out.  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 ChuckRamkissoon, begins to reconnect with his life and his adopted country. Sweet Baby James, that sounds like absolutely nothing I want to read; it actually almost makes me want to punch something.  But, oh, how wrong I would be.

This book is about all of those things, that really is an accurate description.  However, the way O’Neill weaves it all together, and the way he structures his sentences, is nothing short of divine.  There were paragraphs I would read over and over – not because I was trying to understand them, but because the way each word was placed, the flow and sound and texture, made me all kinds of happy.  Now, this isn’t a happy book – not by a long shot – but it isn’t oppressive, either.  O’Neill perfectly captures the isolation and depression that comes when a relationship falls apart, but there is also joy – the passages about cricket almost made me want to learn more about the game [almost].  This book may not suit everyone, and if it doesn’t grab you by page 30, you probably won’t like it at all.  As for me, I’m putting Joseph O’Neill’s other books on my wishlist – and I know I’ll remember why they are there.

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