Monday, 15 April 2019

Netherland

Regular readers will know that I seldom read recently published fiction. However, when I recently spotted Joseph O'Neill's Netherland on a charity shop's shelves, I bought it, if only because I knew it was partly about cricket in New York. I took it with me to Greece and found it thoroughly enjoyable holiday reading, and a good deal more...
  Set in post-9/11 New York and London, Netherland is related in the first person by one Hans van der Broek, a Dutchman by birth, who earns good money in oil equities. Finding himself alone in New York, in the Chelsea Hotel, after his wife leaves him and takes their young son with her back to London, Hans finds a kind of solace in cricket, the game he played in his boyhood. He discovers that in New York it's a very different game from the one he knew in England and the Netherlands – a decidedly urban and marginal game, played on coconut-matting strips in scruffy parks in obscure outlying parts of the city. It's almost entirely a game played by immigrants from the West Indies and South Asia. One of these (a West Indian) is the smooth-talking, charismatic Chuck Ramkisoon, a man with big ideas and big dreams – one of which is to create a world-class cricket ground in New York. Taking Hans under his wing, he leads him into areas of life, and of the city, that are quite new, and often mystifying, to him. What – apart from cricket – is Chuck's game? It takes a long while for Hans to discover the truth, or some of it...
  Chuck Ramkisoon is a strong and well drawn character, but others – especially Hans's wife – are underwritten (perhaps because other people are not quite real to the troubled and emotionally inadequate Hans?). Some of the Chelsea Hotel scenes are not entirely convincing, and Hans's accounts of his Dutch boyhood perhaps go on a little too long, but these are minor weaknesses. The strength of the novel is in its evocation of the particular atmosphere of New York after 9/11, and its descriptions of neighbourhoods that are rarely visited and barely noticed. And, of course, of the New York cricket scene.
  Overall, I'd rate Netherland as a very good, very readable novel by a man who can clearly write. And that, from me, for a contemporary novel, is high praise. If I come across another of Joseph O'Neill's, I might well buy it.

5 comments:

  1. Dear Mr. Ness, well, I hope you enjoyed your rambling in Greece. I've been there and it's not too bad for a small country, although their wines need a bit of work. But I digrese! I read your note about Netherland, and what you say about contemporary novels, but I was a bit stumped. Surely all novels were contemporary at one time, like when they were first published? By the way, I hope you will get to review my novel when it's all done and polished up: it's mainly about the women who have crossed my path and had such pleasure from me over the years, but I am following in your footsteps and trying to squeeze in a bit of culture and history, with some of the sex taking place in a couple of your old churches. Thanks for the inspiration!

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  2. Think nothing of it, Newman!

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