Monday, July 13, 2009

Monday Bookworms: Netherland

Netherland, Joseph O'Neill

Netherland was our July book group book picked by Jen. She said she chose this book because it was recommended and given to her by one of her clients. She said another reason she picked this book was because when she was reading the reviews about half said they loved the book and about half said they didn't love the book and she thought that would provide for good discussion. And a good discussion, we did have!

Netherland is primarily the story of Hans Van Der Broeck. He is originally from Holland, but moved to London for a job in his 20's and ended up marrying a Brit named Rachel. In 1997 or 1999 they decide to move to NYC just for the experience. After 9/11 Rachel becomes fearful, distant and unemotional and eventually says she's leaving, she's going back to London and she doesn't want Hans to go with her and their son.

Hans is left in NYC, living in the iconic Chelsea Hotel with other"misfits", and looking for a place to fit in. He rediscovers his love of cricket and through cricket he meets Chuck. Chuck is a dreamer, always only looking at the big picture, always living "larger than life". Hans and Chuck strike up a bizarre friendship during the rest of his stay in NYC.

This book is a story about a man, a marriage and a friend all tied into one. It deals with the immigrant experience in New York City, love, friendship, sports, family and loyalty.

So where do I stand on the book - I'm kind of teetering on the fence. My biggest problem with the book was that I didn't feel O'Neill painted any of the characters as sympathetic so really I just didn't care what happened to them, which doesn't keep you reaching for a book day after day. And Hans, oh Hans, he was so blah, he had no fight in him, no passion, no anything he was just a lump on a log used as a vehicle to tell the story. It was a shame because he was the narrator and you wanted to root for him but at the same time you just didn't really care!

One of the things I did really like about it was that New York City itself (in all of it's glory and weirdness) was a central character in the book. We all agreed that since we live in NYC that made us like the book a little more, because we could relate to some of the things that were said, or we new some of the places or people mentioned in the book. We were curious during our discussion as to what a non-New Yorker's opinion of this book would be.

All in all it was OK, but as we've discovered in book group, sometimes it's the books that are just OK that provide the best fodder for discussion. In the case of the Netherland that proved true.

As an aside, many have compared Netherland to the greatness that is The Great Gatsby. To this I strongly disagree! I mean his prose is just not as beautiful and his characters are not crafted as well. Fitzgerald has a gift (IMHO) for creating characters that you love so dearly you almost wish you have their life. Then he shows the reader that in all their glamour, they're real people, with real faults, but you love them so much that you still root for them in the end. O'Neill did not in my opinion achieve this.

However, as one of my fellow book group members pointed out, maybe when Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby, his contemporaries didn't feel that way about his writing. Perhaps in 50 years if I was to revisit this book I too might feel different.

Post In Comments:

What books have provided your book group with the best disccusion??


shi said...

by the way, you and Jen inspired me to try The Great Gatsby for the third time. i'll let you know that goes and if i feel differently...

third times a charm???

readerbean said...

ooohhhh...I hope this time you love it!