Netherland

Joseph O’Neill

First Sentence: The afternoon before I left London for New York – Rachel had flown out six weeks previously – I was in my cubicle at work, boxing up my possessions, when a senior vice president at the bank, an Englishman in his fifties, came to wish me well.

The protagonist of this book, Hans van den Broek, is a Dutch born Briton living in New York. Most of this book is set in New York at the time Hans lived there with his wife Rachel and son Jake in the Chelsea Hotel. As an immigrant living in the US in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, he seeks refuge in cricket and forms an unlikely friendship with Chuck Ramkissoon, fellow cricket enthusiast. We learn at the beginning of this book that Hans has since moved back to London and that Chuck’s body has been found in a New York canal with his hands bound behind his back. And so the mystery begins as Hans begins to tell of his friendship with Chuck…We learn that Chuck used to help Hans with his driving and that there were times when Hans would be left in the car while Chuck appeared to trash people’s offices and/or beat them up. This book is many things; it is a commentary on life in America after the terrorist attacks of 2001, it is a story of one man’s struggle with his disintegrating marriage, it is a novel about cricket, it is an ode of sorts to The Great Gatsby, and it has been praised ceaselessly since its publication in 2009. It most certainly is an impressive book and one I enjoyed, though I get the feeling it just couldn’t live up to the hype for me ( just like Freedom ). If ever someone asks for a good novel about cricket however, this is the one to give them.

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Last Sentence: Then I turn to look for what it is we are supposed to be seeing.

Last Sentence explained: The final scene of this book is set in London and Hans is on the London Eye with Rachel and Jake. Jake is pointing to something and Hans turns to look. Obviously this is symbolising something more but like a lot of this book it is all very vague. At one point Hans mentions how he finds it hard to relate to earlier incarnations of himself:

I […] seem given to self-estrangement. I find it hard to muster oneness with those former selves whose accidents and endeavours have shaped who I am now.

All that has gone before seems almost unimportant and it appears the future is all that matters. The here and now of his son and London is what Hans must be looking towards, not his past in New York with Chuck.

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