Edan's Reviews > Netherland

Netherland by Joseph O'Neill
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's review
Aug 07, 2008

liked it
Recommended to Edan by: Cory Garfin
Recommended for: People who have lived in New York.
Read in November, 2008

I want to say something about this novel because although it impressed me and I respected O'Neill's skills as a writer, I didn't find it that enjoyable. There's a pleasing boldness to the syntax and diction, and there were a few passages that felt, well, wise, and when I gave myself some time to really dig into the text, I was impressed by the fluid time shifts and how the story felt unstructured and impeccably structured at once. But, the novel never pulled me in; I never really felt inside of the story. It felt a bit too over-manicured, a bit too studied. A bit too perfect, perhaps?

I haven't lived in New York, either, and so all the descriptions of the city didn't do much for me, as wonderfully written as they were. (I must admit, I hate when people wax poetic about NY. Yeah, yeah, we know, it's amazing there--the pizza, the energy, blah blah blah...) Likewise, I've never played cricket or seen it being played, and even now I feel the need to look online to understand the sport. I liked how cricket managed to be a metaphor for many things for Hans, but I only liked that on an intellectual level. I felt nothing.

I found myself, too, frustrated by Hans' continual memories of his boyhood--I had a hard time caring, to be blunt. I would also hit passages that overwhelmed me with their abstract quality, like this one:

"Unlike many others, I managed to stay awake; and could not help thinking, as I endured an ominous dramatization of the loss of vision produced by alcohol and by nightfall and the disastrous consequences thereof, of my father's life ending in a smashup presumably just like those being presented on the screen, and of the fact, unconsidered by me before, that on top of everything else his early death had given an unfairly morganatic quality to his marriage: he had been posthumously robbed, in his son's sentiments, of a ranking equal to that of his wife."

Maybe people do think like this, do make connections in this way, but I'm having a hard time believing it. I know this is a retrospective tale, but at times that studied retrospection has the effect of filing down and buffing (to keep up this manicure metaphor) consciousness to something overly designed.

So, I'm giving this three stars not because I necessarily liked it, but because it's a truly admirable novel, and I can understand why someone else might love it. (Oh, and I thought Chuck was a terrific and fascinating character.)

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Reading Progress

11/17/2008 page 30
11/23/2008 page 140
52.04% "Sometimes I'm enthralled by the prose. Other times I'm bored to tears."
11/26/2008 page 148
55.02% "I never open this book. I have lost my brain. I'm giving it a couple hours this morning. We will see..."
11/27/2008 page 215
79.93% "I'm liking it much better now."
02/13/2016 marked as: read
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Comments (showing 1-11 of 11) (11 new)

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Julie I'm interested in hearing what you think of this Edan.

message 2: by Cory (last edited Nov 30, 2008 09:02AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Cory I appreciate your take, and am feeling a bit guilty for recommending the book so highly. And not just to you, but to everyone I talked to right after reading it. But I stand by my reading if only for personal, and not literary reasons, maybe because I did live in New York (during the exact same time-period in which the novel takes place); I have experienced heartache; and I have felt like an outsider. I've never played cricket, though, nor do I care to, but I thought he handled the descriptions and metaphorical qualities well.

I guess I'm feeling a bit defensive, especially because it's been a while since I read the book and can't call up too many specifics about why I thought it was so great. I don't think you have to have lived in NYC to appreciate it, but I don't know. And, frankly, I think people write about the city romantically because it tends to draw romantic people to it - people who are looking for something the city seems to promise. Part of the beauty of the book for me was the character's realization that it wasn't the city itself but the people that mattered (as cheesy as that sounds) - he does leave the city after all, and there's a touch of sadness about his poetical waxing. And I think this book does better than most in terms of talking about the less examined (by literature, at least) characters of any city.

As for its being too perfect, I guess I understand that, but it didn't feel stifling to me. It felt expansive and studied at the same time.

Anyway, I just recommended this to my Thanksgiving hosts, so maybe I'll be less effusive about my praise until someday when I read it again with less emotional attachment.

Edan Cory, I thought your review of the book was great and totally warranted. I can understand why someone would love this book--I just wasn't one of those people. It's so hard when you adore a book, when it means a lot to you, and someone doesn't feel the same way. You start to question your own taste, and what matters to you in general. Of course I've experienced heartache and been an outsider too, but I think there are other books (for me) that have echoed and articulated those feelings better than O'Neill's did.

I guess, even though we have the same birthday, you and I are just a tad different...so much for astrology!

Cory Yes, sad, but true. Julie said she didn't love it either. It's hard to believe that not everyone has exactly the same taste as me.

(and I never meant to imply that you hadn't experienced those things, just that they were partly what I responded to in the book, aside from the NY angle.)

message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

I picked this book up months ago, but still haven't finished it for all the reasons you cite. I wonder whether it's worth plowing through it when the world is so full of books...

The Subway Reader I read this book as well, and I gave it the same rating as you did, for pretty the same reasons as you cite: "the novel never pulled me in; I never really felt inside of the story. It felt a bit too over-manicured, a bit too studied. A bit too perfect, perhaps? ". Contrary to yourself I live very close to New York City. I don't believe it matters.

Rachel I feel the same way exactly!

message 8: by Laff (new)

Laff So well put!

message 9: by Romaissa (last edited Feb 05, 2015 07:48PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Romaissa I'm a bit past the halfway point in this novel and I feel the exact same way! Perhaps my feelings will change once I do finish but for now, this is how I feel.

Julian Hignell I read the book quite a long time ago now but I remember loving it. I was pulled in by the story. I have never been to NYC but have played cricket,,,I do think that is at all irrelevant anyway, just a beautifully written novel and one that stays with you long after you finish it.

message 11: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Zhang Before I start a new book, I read it's three star reviews to get a picture of the good and bad. Of the bad includes pretentious "writerly" crap, I steer clear! Edan, your excellency review has convinced me to start this one ... Thanks for your honest feedback!

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