Friday, 22 August 2008

Team B Reads the Bookers - Part 1: Netherland

Hello, hello. As some of us here at Team B are dipping our reading toes into the Booker Prize long list we thought we'd share our views on the contenders here on the Blog of Bloggy Delights. There's no way we'll get through them all before the long list becomes the short list early next month, but what we do read, we'll write about here.

I finished Netherland by Joseph O'Neill last week. Early doors, it was the bookies favourite to scoop the Booker Prize. Not sure if that's still the case. The novel focusses on a Dutch banker named Hans who's living in New York with his English lawyer wife and young son. September 2001 comes and Hans' wife quickly goes...scurrying back to the supposed safety of England with their child.

Left alone in New York with a fragile marriage based on frequent trans-atlantic travel, Hans spends his time moping around his temporary home in the notorious Chelsea Hotel and becoming involved with a cricket team consisting primarily of Pakistanis, Indians and West Indians. One of those cricketers is the enigmatic going-on-weird Chuck Ramkisoon, a West Indian with a bizarre field-of-dreams like vision of creating a cricketing empire in New York.

Hans is gradually drawn into Chuck's dream in what I found to be an annoyingly passive fashion (for a high-earning banker he really did seem to be an easily led character) whilst occasionally remembering to spend some time thinking about rescuing his marriage.

It's a clever novel and one with stacks of atmosphere. It's also one of the best looks at the slow-burn impact of 9/11 on the lives of New Yorkers that I've read. The early chapters on the expat cricketing scene in New York are also excellent. But, overall, for me the book lacked anything to keep me hooked. Hans becomes ever-more self-absorbed and morose and I didn't really care whether what happened to his marriage or to Chuck or to his friendship with Chuck. There was just too much motionless musings by Hans rather than anything really actually happening and even when things weren't happening Hans' musings and the descriptive parts weren't enough to keep me turning the pages particularly enthusiastically.

So that's that. Bear in mind it's a review of something touted as favourite for the Booker Prize so I am thinking about it against high expectations. It's a good novel and at times the writing is superb, but it really didn't do it for me overall. [Nic]

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