Dave's Reviews > Netherland

Netherland by Joseph O'Neill
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's review
Dec 10, 2010

liked it
bookshelves: read-in-2010
Read from December 05 to 11, 2010

Like other PEN/Faulkner award winners I've picked up, I alternately loved and hated this one. I really like the last third, but cumulatively speaking, the deficit created by the first two-thirds was too deep to be overcome.

A couple of things Netherland does really well (and reasons why it's still a "good" read):
1. The specter of 9/11 is artfully murkied by both O'Neill's oblique references to safety and sublimated pain and his non-American protagonist who is affected so distinctly by the tragedy. Where Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close seems to be the seminal gut-reaction 9/11 book, I think there's a case to be made that O'Neill's is a wiser summation of the tragedy's long-term effect. That being said, this isn't a book whose plot explicitly revolves around 9/11--that's actually the main reason why its few direct references to terrorist bombings are so emotionally a/effective.
2. I really like a story whose narrative arc involves tracing the steps of a salvaged relationship. In the end, I was disappointed that O'Neill doesn't get further into the details of the relationship's repair, but the frame is nice.
3. Finally, I liked this book's out-of-nowhere premise. This story was not what I expected, which led to the following pattern of reading behavior: intrigued, bored, impatient, somewhat satisfied.

However, with all these brilliant literary moves, is not always an enjoyable read. First and foremost, the endless cricket monologues. I can appreciate how they make me feel lost in a story that takes place amid so many other, more familiar things, but there is just too much cricket. O'Neill relies too much on the image (his central one), and that's dangerous if you want your audience to at all grasp the larger ideas you're discussing. Overall, O'Neill paints with very large brush strokes. While the colors are vivid and often breath-taking, stepping back from the canvas can be a little disappointing. With all his great ideas, O'Neill often misses the details or the glue of the story that would make his little spots of genius into something more. I don't particularly recommend this one to anyone except (perhaps) the most reflective readers.

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