Netherland

So, about 4/5 of the way through The Savage Detectives I dropped it (do plan to go back to finish) for Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland, which is kind of the polar opposite of Bolano: where The Savage Detectives is sprawling, wild, passionately raw, and multi-voiced, every small chapter introducing a brand new speaker, sometimes, with his or her own worldview, cadence, & set of references — reminding me of On the Road more than anything — Netherland is a classically realist novel with everything focalized through the precise lens of its almost fussy central consciousness.  O’Neill’s protagonist, Hans van der Broek, is a Dutch banker living in NYC with his British wife and son.  After 9/11 the marriage founders and his wife takes the son back to London on a trial separation, and Hans in his loneliness and disorientation gets involved in a cricket-playing outer-boroughs subculture in which he is usually the only white man.

The novel revolves around Hans’s friendship with Chuck Ramkissoon, a Trinidadian cricket enthusiast and would-be entrepreneur who adds a jolt of ethnic striver/hustler energy to Hans’s rarefied life.  (When Hans drives around Brooklyn with Chuck, who is supposedly assisting him in getting his U.S. driver’s license, I thought of the car service in Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn).  Hans’s comment about his wife — “She has accused me of exoticizing Chuck Ramkissoon,… of perpetuating a white man’s infantilizing elevation of a black man” — serves as a tacit admission that the novel could almost be accused of (a very subtle version of) the same thing, in that Chuck brings a kind of “life” and vitality to an otherwise pallid elite white world.  (The novel made me think of Louis Begley, too, in the glimpse it offers into the higher reaches of NYC professional life.)  But cricket functions in this 9/11 novel as a hopeful model of polyglot globalization.  Cricket is loaded with colonialist legacies, but for both Hans and Chuck, the sport is all about form, ritual, skill, memory, and beauty:

the white-clad ring of infielders, swanning figures on the vast oval, again and again converse in unison toward the batsman and again and again scatter back to their starting points, a repetition of pulmonary rhythm, as if the field breathed through its luminous visitors.

Netherland made me want to go back to CLR James’s Beyond a Boundary.  I still really do not understand how cricket works.

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