Saturday, August 22, 2009

Netherland by Joseph O'Neill

Netherland By Joseph O'Neill
272 pages
Published May 2008 by Knopf Publishing Group

Hans van den Broek is a Dutchman who has immigrated to the U.S., by way of London, with his English wife and small son. In the aftermath of 9/11, his wife decides that she must return to England, taking Hans' son with her. Left on his own, Hans' stumbles into the world of cricket where he meets a Trinidadian named Chuck Ramkissoon. Hans has money and Chuck has a plan--he wants to build a cricket stadium in New York. The two men bond over a love of cricket and a shared immigrant experience. But it turns out there is more to Chuck than originally meets the eye.

This book is an enormous critical success. The New York Times called it "stunning" and "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." Which makes me feel a little stupid. Because I just didn't get "stunning" from this book. It is an interesting read, it is a unique plot. I listened to it on CD (and it was really well read) and that may have effected how I felt about it. Sometimes I think it's harder to really get into books that I'm listening to.

This book has very little action. It's mostly a journey down memory lane. And you know how sometimes, when you're thinking, you wonder how you got to a certain point from where you started? This book is like that. Hans will start reminiscing about an affair he had after his wife left which leads him to his wife which leads him to his mother. You have soon forgotten where he started or even which point of time you are supposed to be in. Because this book jumps around a lot in time. So much so that I think if you don't read it quickly, you will completely lose track of what's going on. It is a great examination of the immigrant experience in this country--particularly for someone who lives in the insular world in which I live.

So, even as I write this, I still haven't decided exactly how I feel about this book. I liked it, but I keep wondering why I didn't like it was much as the critics did.


  1. I finsihed reading this last week and my reaction is close to yours.

    I don't understand the hype.

    Having won the Pen/Faulkner I expected more

  2. For me it's like movies - it seems like the "artier" they are, they more I'm just not that interested!!!

  3. I was interested in this book because I am always on the look out for books that take place in Holland or are told from the perspective of a Dutch person. Is Holland a central setting in this book or is it more New York and London? Does the Dutch heritage figure a lot in the story? Sorry to ask so many's just that I have heard not so great things about this book but I am still not settled on whether or not I will read it. I also have a hard time getting into audiobooks. I have tried quite a lot this year but only like a few.

  4. I had the same reaction that you did. At the half way point, I decided not to continue listening to it. Had there been more scenes with Vinay the food critic, I would have really enjoyed it. I had high hopes for it since it was about a Dutchman (being of Dutch decent myself I notice those things).

    Quite honestly, I've had enough of Bush/America is evil dialogue to last me the rest of my life. It feels like beating a dead horse to me. Even though Hans doesn't hold that view, I couldn't bear the idea of having to listen to it any longer. I realize that this viewpoint is very much a part of the post 9/11 world. Perhaps that is why it received such critical acclaim.

    I think you did well to finish it myself.

  5. I enjoyed your review. I have this one at home from the library, but may have to return it unread, or take it out at another time. Seems reviews are mixed.

  6. When I read Netherland a couple of months back I found it hard to get into but then it grew on me and I got into Hans and what was going on in his life.

    I know that its popularity soared when Obama said he was reading it but other than that, I'm not sure I get all the hype over it.

  7. Interesting review.... I like the sound of the book. :)

  8. I laughed when you said you didn't get the "stunning" from this book. Oftentimes I read the critical reviews, read the book, then wonder what I missed. Sometimes I wonder if I'm not as smart as the critics? How is it they think it's so awesome and I don't think it's all that great?