Book Read! Netherland
First sentence: “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.”
P. 99: “I was skating.”
Last sentence: “Then I turn to look for what it is we’re supposed to be seeing.”
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 Chuck Ramkissoon, begins to reconnect with his life and his adopted country. Ramkissoon, a Gatsby-like figure who is part idealist and part operator, introduces Hans to an “other” New York populated by immigrants and strivers of every race and nationality. Hans is alternately seduced and instructed by Chuck’s particular brand of naivete and chutzpah–by his ability to a hold fast to a sense of American and human possibility in which Hans has come to lose faith.
Netherland gives us both a flawlessly drawn picture of a little-known New York and a story of much larger, and brilliantly achieved ambition: the grand strangeness and fading promise of 21st century America from an outsider’s vantage point, and the complicated relationship between the American dream and the particular dreamers. Most immediately, though, it is the story of one man–of a marriage foundering and recuperating in its mystery and ordinariness, of the shallows and depths of male friendship, of mourning and memory. Joseph O’Neill’s prose, in its conscientiousness and beauty, involves us utterly in the struggle for meaning that governs any single life.
I loved this book although I know nothing about cricket, but I do understand that someone can try to escape life and its problems by playing a game. I especially enjoyed the parts about Hans’ relationship with his wife and friends. I wouldn’t say this was the best book I read this year, but it was a nice read.
This is the 8th book I read for the Off the Shelf! Challenge.