Netherland, Joseph O’Neill (2008)


Is this what it’s come to? You have no idea how to understand your historical circumstances, and have been well and thoroughly convinced that any attempt to do so is doomed, yet here you are in history, and by god there must be new novels admitting that fact, so this seems like the only one available for you to write: A clueless rich guy, a sort of ahistorical zombie, wanders New York and London in a daze, making feeble attempts at synthetic thinking and failing. His only pleasure is the game of cricket, because it has rules, rules which everyone, even brown people, abide by. I think this is a book very much of its moment and that’s a way of saying how tired it made me. Its gestures are so small and timid, yet somehow excessively proud of themselves too (in a way that reminds me, incidentally, of a certain low-lying country’s national mien). The guy spends one night out drinking with some guys from Trinidad and we’re supposed to believe we’re now post-post-colonialism? I get it, I get it, but it seems puny and pale to me. Is bemusement really the only possible response to incomprehension? I don’t think Zadie Smith was much overjoyed by the book, either, but her comments are I think extremely insightful as always. I will say that O’Neill writes great sentences with great fluidity, sometimes so much so that they rise (or sink) to the level of calling attention to themselves as objects.

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