Netherland (Review)

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Netherland
Joseph O'Neill, 2008
272 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
January 2009

Many tout this as the top book of 2008—and it's easy to see why. Netherland is a stunning read, a 21st-century send-up of The Great Gatsbythe Gatsby figure, in this case, a charming, enigmatic immigrant from Trinidad, Chuck Ramkissoon.

The Nick Caraway narrator for the book is Hans van den Broek, a Dutch banker living in Manhattan, whose wife, in the aftermath of 9/11, leaves him for their home in Britain.

Lost and abandoned, Hans turns to the game of cricket to fill time and alleviate his loneliness. It's how he first meets Chuck Ramkisson.

O'Neill gives us a kaleidoscope view of New York—a world of immigrants and Wall Street bankers, of shifting identities and aspirations, of solitary desolation and odd relationships. Chuck, a gregarious, charasmatic, and tireless entrepreneur, draws Hans in through the force of his personality—and it's mainly through Chuck that we see the variety that is New York.

Chuck's "field of dreams" is a pristine cricket field, which he creates and nurtures in the hope of turning the game into the true American sport. The field represents Chuck's ineffable yearning, his spot of green ... akin to Gatsby's green light at the end of Fitzgerald's book.

Netherfield covers a lot of ground—memory, marriage, self-knowledge, spiritual bareness, filial love, and so much more. Beware, though: as one reviewer wrote, the book is "slow on action and heavy on musing." But O'Neill writes with such wit and intelligence that I treasured every sentence, every word.

See our Reading Guide for Netherland.

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