Tuesday, November 11, 2008

By Joseph O'Neill (Fourth Estate $30)

Reviewed by Gordon McLauchlan

The thrill you get from a first-rate novel is the sense you have been admitted to real lives with their complicated problems, with pleasures to share, and ultimately a sense of fulfilment, not in the sense of a happy ending, but a truthful one.
The intrigue of Netherland begins with the title. Does it mean the homeland of the Dutch narrator, Hans van den Broek, or the netherworld? The issue remains ambivalent.The story is deeply about New York, especially after the terrorist attacks. It also concerns cricket, of all things, and a troubled transatlantic marriage.Van den Broek is a financial analyst with a bank and his wife Rachel is a highly paid, very English, barrister.
On 9/11, they are living with their small son Jake in a loft apartment close to the twin towers, an address to which they never return. Rachel is unsettled and insecure and having decided Hans is an inadequate husband and protector, returns to London with Jake.
But there is more to the marital split than just post-9/11 nerves. Van den Broek is a strangely passive man, neurotically haunted by his past.
Left alone in New York, he has no work friends and involves himself with cricket, a game he played as a young man growing up in Holland, but which is an almost invisible sport in baseball-mad New York and which attracts mainly West Indians, Pakistanis and Indians.
He is exasperatingly prone to self-deprecation and to allowing his life to drift along on the whims of friends and acquaintances.
He is especially charmed by Chuck Ramkissoon, a loquacious, extrovert West Indian expatriate who lives on the edge of the underworld, but whose driving ambition is to give cricket a major headquarters in New York.
The novel opens with the revelation that Ramkissoon's handcuffed body has been discovered in a New York canal, into which it had been tossed a long time before.
By this time, van den Broek is back in London, his marriage repaired, and it is from this standpoint he tells his story.
It may seem cliched to say the book is beautifully crafted, well paced and structured, but this is an appropriate description because the style is precise and realistic in a tradition that is so often dispensed with now in the interests of experimentation. The backdrop of New York is authentically chaotic and rooted in its Dutch origins. I found the novel satisfying in almost every way. Perhaps a flaw is the inadequately drawn character of Rachel. oGordon McLauchlan is an Auckland writer.

This review was first Published in the New Zealand Herald on 8 November, 2008 and is reproduced here with permission from Linda Herrick, Arts & books editor, New Zealand Herald to whom I extend my thanks.

No comments: