Saturday, May 10, 2014

Book Review - Netherland

Next up on the reading list was one of the books I picked up earlier this year at the Concord Mall's annual book fair; Netherland by Joseph O'Neill (2008, Pantheon Books, 256 pages). This was a PEN/Faulkner winner in 2009.

The New York Times called this "stunning...with echoes of The Great Gatsby" (citing the cover blurb). I'm not sure I see that. This was a very good book, don't get me wrong. But I think Gatsby is one of the greatest books of the 20th century for good reason. This was not on a par with that. Little is. Thematically, I don't really follow the comparisons. The Wikipedia entry on Gatsby says that it "explores themes of decadence, idealism, resistance to change, social upheaval" and is "a cautionary tale on the American Dream." Netherland is not this.

But I digress.

As I try to describe, briefly, what Netherland is, I find that it is not easy to do so. It is the story of a man's personal journey in the wake of a failing (and then resurrected) marriage. Part of the plot revolves around the man's wife fleeing New York city in the aftermath of 9/11, but it is not a 9/11 book. The sport of cricket is peppered throughout the book, but it is not about cricket. The protagonist is a Dutch man who has lived in London and is temporarily in New York, and some of the more prominent supporting cast are immigrants. But it is not really about the immigrant experience. It's not about the American Dream.

It's a great book. About a guy. But I think the literary critics over-think things. "A post-colonial rewriting of The Great Gatsby." "...the most exacting and most desolate work of fiction we've yet had about life in New York and London after the World Trade Center fell." Hmm. I digress again.

4 stars out of 5. A very good book, and one that I enjoyed immensely. Read it. But it ain't Gatsby. :-)

"...she reaches for my hand and squeezes it. Strange, how such a moment grows in value over a marriage's course. We gratefully pocket each of them, these sidewalk pennies, and run with them to the bank as if creditors were banging on the door. Which they are, one comes to realize." (p. 183)

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