Friday, March 06, 2009

Netherland - Joseph O'Neill

This is the seventh of this years book group choices by Richard and Judy and I have to admit as I said previously a while back I wasn’t convinced I was going to like this. Sold as a tale of a man whose wife leaves him to go back to England after the tragedy of 9/11 and then decides building a cricket pitch is what New York really needs alongside the unusual Chuck I thought that it sounded quite different. Especially with the twist that Chuck is pulled out of a New York canal hands tied behind his back and having been dead for quite some time I thought there might be some added mystery.

What the book turns out to be is more a description of New York after 9/11 and looks at the people living there and how they cope. It also looks at what affect this has one the marriage of our narrator Hans van den Broek and his wife Rachel who cannot cope in the aftermath and such atrocities, this was for me the most interesting story in the book. It isn’t Hans who has the plan to make a cricket pitch it is in fact Chuck a character with darkness who doesn’t seem to be all he appears. A great unreliable character though, he sadly isn’t in the book as much as I would have liked as I found him quite entertaining. The rest of the story evolves around what happens in the years between Rachel leaving and Hans hearing that Chuck is dead.

I didn’t really gel with this book at all. I started of liking it however the marital strife of a life changed by chaos and horror in New York is done and dusted within fifty pages or so. Then what follows is a succession of characters and incidents that flow through Hans depressing years after of which all bar Chuck and cricket come and go with no real relevance or point. This seems like a very long winded essay of the writer’s thoughts on America and the cultural societies in New York after 9/11 which drifts off at tangents that I couldn’t follow. I just didn’t care what happened to them again bar Chuck, I wont say the ending but I was left confused and slightly non-plussed and all in all quite nonchalant.

For me, though I know many people have absolutely loved this book, I ended up feeling quite disappointed and I wasn’t that excited about the book anyway. I didn’t feel I knew enough about Hans to want to follow his story and could actually see why his wife left him, though technically she was leaving the city. I did give the book a fair chance and I did finish it when at some points I didn’t want to, so I gave it my all I just don’t think it was quite the book for me. I’d be interested to hear other peoples thoughts though.

In the additional P.S section that Harper Perennial do in their books, which I think is genius and give you much more insight, the author says this book was hard to sell to publishers and kept getting rejected over and over again. I could sadly see why. It annoyed me a little that a book like this has gained such publicity, been long listed for the Man Booker and now is on the Richard and Judy list whereas wonderful thought provoking beautifully written books like State of Happiness (which I am still thinking about all the time) by Stella Duffy don’t and they should. Onwards and upwards though, hopefully next weeks book The Luminous Life of Lily Aphrodite by Beatrice Colin will be much better!

4 comments:

farmlanebooks said...

You finished one before me! I'm hoping to read this book this weekend.

I hope that I enjoy this book more than you did, but from your comments it doesn't look likely.

I'm interested in your comments on Child 44 too - I've had my eye on that book for a while.

C. B. James said...

I agree with you. Netherland never gelled for me either. I did become involved with the characters about 1/3 of the way through, but ended up losing interest 60 pages later.

My review is here
http://readywhenyouarecb.blogspot.com/search?q=netherland

farmlanebooks said...

Congratulations on making it to the end! This book has to win the prize for the dullest book of the year do far! I gave up after 50 pages, but wish I'd stopped earlier!

Sandy Nawrot said...

OK, I've seen you around two of my favorite blog sites, Jackie and James, so I'm now lurking. I WAS going to comment about how poor Jackie didn't even finish Netherland, but she beat me to the punch! As far as Child 44, I personally loved it. Apparently, not all did however. I listened to it on audio...perhaps that was the difference. Looking forward to your opinion.