Netherland by Joseph O’Neill
Danielle comes, unexpectedly, to visit Hans at his apartment in the Chelsea Hotel:
She wore a coat that may have been different from the coat I’d first seen her in but had the same effect, namely to make it seem as if she’d just been rescued from a river and blanketed. My own get-up was shabby – bare feet, T-shirt, decaying track-suit bottoms – and while I changed, Danielle wandered round my apartment, as was her privilege: people in New York are authorised by convention to snoop around and mentally measure and pass comment on any real estate they’re invited to step into. In addition to the generous ceiling heights and the wood floors and the built-in closets, she undoubtably took in the family photographs and the bachelor disarray and the second bedroom with its ironing board and its child bed covered by a mound of wrinkled office shirts. I imagine this answered some questions she had about my situation, and not in an especially disheartening way. Like an old door, every man past a certain age comes with historical warps and creaks of one kind or another, and a woman who wishes to put him to serious further use must expect to do a certain amount of sanding and planing.
Hans van den Broek’s wife has taken his son and left for another country. Alone in post 9/11 New York, the Dutchman finds some answers through his involvement in the rough version of American cricket played by immigrants and other marginalized groups.
Towards the end of the novel one of these characters reminds Hans, “There’s a limit to what Americans understand. The limit is cricket.”
The Novel has no real plot, but it has the compelling voice of the narrator and a haunting quality, the ability to put you into a kind of trance, to which you wish to return frequently.
O’Neill recollects writing “a first draft of Netherland and essentially abandoning the second half of it because the book was fatally undermined by a preoccupation with plot. I found that whenever I tried to write towards plot points it completely deflated the central power of the narrative.”
The Great Gatsby is referenced in the novel and O’Neill clearly owes a lot to Scott Fitzgerald. But sport has also been a great motif in American literature, as has the quest for identity. And although all three are present in Netherland, the author is quite clear that he has written a post-American novel. By the end of Netherland, Hans van den Broek has moved on, packed up and left the country behind him.