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Customer Review

TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 16 August 2008
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
As others have said, this is a difficult novel to review. The novel is a stream of consciousness, rambling monologue on the part of Dutch businessman Hans van den Broek. The two returning themes in this monologue seem to be the shaky marriage to his wife Rachel, and his relationship with the mysterious Chuck Ramkissoon, a charismatic West Indian trying to introduce cricket to New York.

The cover makes all sorts of comparisons with great novels - The Great Gatsby, perhaps, or early Saul Bellow. It reminded me most closely of Salman Rushdie's Fury. Whilst much of the novel is set in New York, it is written very much from an outsider's perspective. Hans is not ambitious; is not career focussed, although he does seem to be very successful. He is not living the American Dream and this is not Carpe Diem. And at the same time, we don't see idle money waiting to make more money - there is a Dutch work ethic at play. Hans is drawn to Chuck not through being seduced by money, but rather a curiosity to see what the larger than life Ramkissoon is really up to. And as we see more of Chuck, we learn that he is dead and that he was a bit of a wide boy - a chancer with grand plans that were made before the ink had dried on the previous plans. Netherland does create a real intrigue through the Chuck character that offers time and space to explore the world of West Indian and South Asian immigrants to New York - and their struggles to play cricket in a land of baseball. Hans is never fully part of this set, and this is borne out by his unwillingness to change his cricket game to suit local conditions.

Rachel, the wife, though, is a bore. For reasons that remain obscure, she has decided not to live in New York, apparently in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks. Her reasons are probably more complex, but don't feel fully explored. Rachel seems to serve largely as a vehicle for introducing cameo characters such as Martin the chef and the Irish priest. There are other cameo characters too - the angel who lives in the Hotel Chelsea and Abelsky, for example. These characters don't seem terribly central to any storyline; they don't seem to do much other than inhabit a specific situation at a specific time, but they are quite amusing. In fact, the storyline itself could be seen just as a vehicle for various remeniscences and chance encounters.

If there is a criticism, it is that the language is sometimes too dense; too overblown. That can feel self conscious and can make the book drag. Interior monologues are tricky - the writer has to retain the reader's interest - and there are parts of Netherland where the language is a barrier to doing so. And the quote on the front cover, promising a post 9/11 masterpiece, drives up expectations of a work of major political import when in fact 9/11 is really rather incidental to the whole piece.

Overall, Netherland does have a familiar feel to it - the style is not new, but the content in focusing on the immigrant communities it does a convincing job of offering some insight into modern day New York. But for a short novel, it does drag a bit in parts.

It's a toss up between three or four stars, but the longer I think about it, the closer it gets to four.
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