Netherland by Joseph O’Neill
**Discussion Questions available!
Synopsis (from back cover): 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.
First line: “The afternoon before I left London for New York — Rachel had flown out six weeks previously — I was in my cubicle at work, boxing up my possessions, when a senior vice-president at the bank, an Englishman in his fifties, came to wish me well.”
Review: I was so excited to read this that I was afraid I would be disappointed — especially when I realized it was largely set in New York City. As I’ve frequently commented, lately I have found books in and about NYC to be pretty predictable and myopic. But, happily, Netherland is neither and I thoroughly enjoyed it — especially the beginning and end.
After the first few pages — 10, I think? — I excitedly told my husband that it lived up to the hype and just might be the next Pulitzer winner. O’Neill’s writing is beautiful — effortless, yet substantial. His narrator is so credible and likeable, even though he is surviving the worst years of his life. And the backdrop of cricket and New York are wonderfully metaphorical, as well believably realized. O’Neill even found his way through 9/11 in a subtle yet meaningful way.
In addition, the barely-there glimpses of The Great Gatsby are appropriate and fresh. Chuck Ramkissoon certainly has Gatsby-like qualities and is larger than life in his persona and in his weakness. He embraces America and New York in such a fatalistic and joyous way that we can’t help but be anxious. Even Hans, the narrator, is like a much more credible and likeable Nick Carraway. And the “American Dream” is portrayed in its glory as well as its emptiness.
Which leads me to the absolutely perfect ending. I won’t “spoil” it — but after recently reading a series of “theme-less” novels that left this reader wondering, “So What?” I can tell you that this ending will answer that question and most likely leave you, too, in happy tears.
Anyone else read this yet? I would love to hear your impressions!