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Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Exclusive: A Q&A with Joseph O'Neill

Joseph O’Neill was born in Ireland and raised in Holland. He received a law degree from Cambridge University and worked as a barrister in London. He writes regularly for The Atlantic Monthly and is the author of two previous novels, This Is the Life and The Breezes, and of a family history, Blood-Dark Track, which was a New York Times Notable Book. O'Neill received the 2009 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for his third novel, Netherland. He lives with his family in New York City.

Question: President Obama mentioned in a New York Times Magazine profile that he’s reading Netherland. How do you feel about the President reading your book?

Joseph O'Neill: I'm very honored, of course.

Question: How is the world of Netherland particular to the United States after 9/11?

Joseph O'Neill: The story takes place in the aftermath of 9/11. One of the things it does is try to evoke the disorientation and darkness of that time, which we only emerged from with the election of President Obama.

Question: What is the importance of the sport of cricket in this book? Do you play?

Joseph O'Neill: I love sport and play cricket and golf myself. Sport is a wonderful way to bring together people who would otherwise have no connection to each other.

Question: One of your reviewers calls Netherland an answer to The Great Gatsby. Were you influenced by Fitzgerald’s book, and was your book written with that book in mind?

Joseph O'Neill: Halfway through the book I realized with a slightly sinking feeling that the plot of Netherland was eerily reminiscent of the Gatsby plot: dreamer drowns, bystander remembers. But there are only about 5 plots in existence, so I didn't let it bother me too much. Fitzgerald thankfully steered clear of cricket.

Question: Many reviewers have commented on the “voice” of this novel. How it is more a novel of voice than of plot? Do you agree with this?

Joseph O'Neill: Yes, I would agree with that comment. This is not a novel of eventful twists and turns. It is more like a long-form international cricket match (which can last for 5 days without a winner emerging), about nuance and ambiguity and small slippages of insight. And about language, of course.

(Photo © Lisa Acherman)

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Hans van den Broek, the Dutch-born narrator of O'Neill's dense, intelligent novel, observes of his friend, Chuck Ramkissoon, a self-mythologizing entrepreneur-gangster, that he never quite believed that people would sooner not have their understanding of the world blown up, even by Chuck Ramkissoon. The image of one's understanding of the world being blown up is poignant—this is Hans's fate after 9/11. He and wife Rachel abandon their downtown loft, and, soon, Rachel leaves him behind at their temporary residence, the Chelsea Hotel, taking their son, Jake, back to London. Hans, an equities analyst, is at loose ends without Rachel, and in the two years he remains Rachel-less in New York City, he gets swept up by Chuck, a Trinidadian expatriate Hans meets at a cricket match. Chuck's dream is to build a cricket stadium in Brooklyn; in the meantime, he operates as a factotum for a Russian gangster. The unlikely (and doomed from the novel's outset) friendship rises and falls in tandem with Hans's marriage, which falls and then, gradually, rises again. O'Neill (This Is the Life) offers an outsider's view of New York bursting with wisdom, authenticity and a sobering jolt of realism. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage Contemporaries
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (May 7, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307388778
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307388773
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (215 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #30,585 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Joseph O'Neill was born in Cork, Ireland, in 1964 and grew up in Mozambique, South Africa, Iran, Turkey, and Holland. His previous works include the novels This is the Life and The Breezes and the non-fiction book Blood-Dark Track, a family history centered on the mysterious imprisonment of both his grandfathers during World War II, which was an NYT Notable Book. He writes regularly for The Atlantic. He lives with his family in New York City.

Customer Reviews

Weak story and weak character development.
Vijay Erramilli
Once in a great while an author comes along who writes such beautiful, elegant prose that it hardly matters if the plot of the book is at all interesting.
I felt as if I was waiting for something to happen all the way through the book, and it just didn't get there.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

309 of 329 people found the following review helpful By Roger Brunyate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 11, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The book jacket of the hard-bound edition is entrancingly deceptive. Printed on what feels like watercolor paper, it shows a colored vignette of men in white playing cricket on a village green watched by spectators relaxing in the shade of a spreading chestnut tree. It could well be the nineteenth century, except that the skyline in the background is Manhattan, and Joseph O'Neill's novel is set in the first years of the present century. Written in a style of such lucidity that it might almost be an autobiographical memoir, it is the narrative of three years or so in New York City. The protagonist Hans van den Broek, a Dutch-born financial analyst, thirtyish and near the top of his profession, arrives there at the start of the millennium with Rachel, his English wife, herself a high-powered lawyer. But after the attacks of 9/11, Rachel returns to England with their infant son. Hans stays on.

On one level, this is a novel of displacement. Having already relocated to London from Holland, Hans makes the further move to New York, where both he and Rachel prosper. But they have to evacuate their loft apartment after the attacks, and move into temporary quarters in the Chelsea Hotel, which is portrayed as an almost-surreal world unto itself. So Hans is essentially rootless before the story truly starts. By sheer chance, he stumbles upon the fact that cricket is played in New York by scratch teams of immigrants from former British colonies: Indians, Pakistanis, Caribbeans. Hans, who learned the game at an exclusive school in Holland, becomes the only white member of a team formed of taxi-drivers, store-keepers, and small businessmen, who offer him a kind of camaraderie that he cannot find among his professional colleagues.
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91 of 96 people found the following review helpful By Edie Sousa on May 24, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book has been reviewed so extensively and lavishly that I wonder if I actually have anything to add. Here is what I loved about Netherland: those of us fortunate enough to live in New York typically take great pleasure in the multiple layers of life and experience we find here. No matter who we are, we are constantly reminded that we are only one of thousands of unique stories walking the sidewalks of this city and riding the trains. Netherland is a beautiful reminder of this--it takes readers outside of their own experience and says, "Consider this!" I enjoyed it less for the 9/11 connection, which is not in my mind all that important to the plot, than for the reminder of what is extraordinary about this city. I galloped through the first reading, knowing full well I'd go back to savor it again. The writing really is lyrical--that is no exaggeration. Just when you think English has been fully exploited in all the most beautiful ways, along comes another writer who does it again. Many sentences have the humor and beauty of Mark Helprin at his best. Living in Chelsea makes this story special for me, but it will resonate with readers far afield for other reasons having to do with love, dreams, and dislocation. Don't miss it.
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46 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Matthew J. Lambert on September 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Netherland" is a book that received very positive reviews from major newspapers as well as this web site. It always is a cause for reflection when one's opinion runs contrary to "experts" but I believe this book fails to live up to a five star rating.

I feel the writing is uneven, mannered and more focused on the technical elements of the fiction rather than its substance. The narrator can be an annoying and petulant presence and when he bemoans the number of friends and acquaintances (not to mention his wife) who leave him or fail to maintain contact, it is not hard to understand why.

There were times when I wondered whether I wanted to finish it but abandoning a book in mid-read has been a rare occurrence for me. There was a redemption, of sorts, in the final chapter (the book is divided into three chapters.) The author began to write in a freer and more relaxed fashion and with greater emotion. It actually felt like someone else had picked up the pen or, at the least, the author had decided to get to the heart of the matter.

There may be a time when I am willing to give this book a second read but,overall, I see it only as a partially successful effort.
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Format: Hardcover
Reading this novel gave me great pleasure. In contrast to its plain cover, this marvelous novel, written in mellifluous and elegant prose, is complex; its world sprawling and vast, with mind-boggling depth. After reading only two pages, I found myself charmed by its narrator's voice, and my mind glued to its world.

On the surface it is the story of its narrator, a banker named Hans van den Broek , born and raised in Netherlands, and working in London. While working in London in a bank, he meets an Englishwoman named Rachel and marries her. They have a son named Jake. In 1990's, they relocate to New York and live in TriBeCa. After the terrorist attack on the Word Trade Center on 9/11, however, they relocate again, and decide to live in the Chelsea Hotel. But Rachel's fear of another terrorist attack and the toxic political atmosphere in the United States create stress in their marriage, and the stress in turn compels Rachel to move with her son, once again, back to London.

Underneath this story, there is another story about a Trinidadian named Chuck Ramkissoon. Ramkissoon is a shady character. He runs a fraudulent and illegal numbers racket. But like many men, even a man from the under-world, he has big ambitions and a dream of starting a world-class cricket field and cricket club in Staten Island and of turning cricket into a national sport in America.

The third story inter-woven with the other two is the story of the game cricket itself and its ardent players at the Staten Island Cricket Club, immigrants from countries such as Sri Lanka, Trinidad, Bahamas, and other tropical countries. Mr. O'Neill weaves the three strands into a lovely braid, his lyrical prose serving as an adornment, like a rope of fragrant jasmine that often adorns a braid in tropical lands.
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