Netherland

Joseph O?Neill's new novel, Netherland, is the rare fiction that is unabashed at the fact of its having been written. Hans, the pensive narrator, is a foreigner twice removed -- a Dutchman arrived in New York City by way of London -- and his voice has an outsider?s relish for the stranger words and usages of English. With a keenly perceptive eye, Hans takes us through his solitary New York existence in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks: his wife has left, taking their young son back with her to England, and Hans faces sudden, stark awareness of his own isolation. A tip-off from a cab driver leads him to a largely immigrant-driven cricket scene in New York?s outer boroughs, and Hans falls into an unlikely friendship with a soliloquizing Trinidadian named Chuck Ramkissoon, whose grandiose plan is to turn an unattended patch of park near JFK airport into an international cricket mecca. What follows is an awakening of sorts for Hans -- a chance for the recovery of a lost self -- and a less fortunate outcome for Chuck, whose racketeering operation introduces Hans to a seamier side of New York. While it would be easy to lump Netherland into the burgeoning school of post-9/11 fiction, its fixations have more to do with how a singular mind navigates the atomized world of the modern city (in this respect, O?Neill?s Irish inheritance is plainly visible). The novel is low on action and heavy on musing, but the sharpness of O?Neill?s reflective sensibility is more than enough to keep things moving: he packs into Hans all the revelation and despair of a man able to tunnel into his own depths.

April 19: "What you see first, after the starting gun's crack, is a column of bobbing runners, thousands of them, surging downhill..."

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