Monday, April 13, 2009

NETHERLAND by Joseph O'Neill (2008)

I only became aware of O'Neill's writing through his review of the Beckett Letters in the Sunday New York Times a couple of weeks ago. His kicker involved a hand scribbled note from his fellow Irish expat--a cherished private possession. So, I picked up O'Neill's novel NETHERLAND, posing as one of the "Best bets" at my local TPL branch in the Beach.

The cover claims that the story is "stunning with echoes of THE GREAT GATSBY," and I agree. O'Neill's narrator Hans, a Dutch-born, London-based investment banker, begins to unravel his tale in a modulated voice that is reminiscent of tone and style of Fitgerald's Nick Carraway.

In the late 90s Hans and his British-born wife Rachel move to NYC as their professional lives rocket to the top and find themselves both bewitched by the city that never sleeps and altered by being first-hand witnesses to 9/11 as they are forced to evacuate their chic loft and move into the Chelsea Hotel with their infant son Jake. Rachel decides she cannot raise Jake with the ghost of 9/11 terror looming, and moves back to London while Hans remains in New York.

Free to roam the city at all hours of the day and night, Hans finds himself rekindling a love for cricket which thrives under the watchful eye of Trinidadian born idealist/operator Chuck Ramkissoon, the Gatsby figure whose corpse mysteriously washes up in the river at the beginning of the novel, and whose presence in both Hans's life and ours by extension is the reason Hans is compelled to tell this story.

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