Monday, April 12, 2010

Netherland, Joseph O'Neill

For the record, we are avid readers.  We enjoy exploring fiction and non-fiction and allow our group discussions to flow in whatever direction they may.  One of our members made a comment about a recent book selection of ours being painful and the individual to whom she was speaking took great offense.  The offended, a professional author, suggested that since our member was not an author or editor that she had no business criticizing the work.  This may be the most absurd suggestion ever uttered.  Authors are to be commended for their efforts but because they write and publish books it does not mean they are the only people entitled to an opinion.

You don't have to be a chef to know when something tastes bad, you don't have to be a clothing designer to know when someone is dressed inappropriately, and you don't have to be an author to know when something you read is badly written, boring or over indulgent.

So there!  We are entitled to our opinion and while we hope you authors keep writing (ok maybe not you Alice S.) but we will have opinions and we will share them with anyone who cares to pop by our little page.

Our book this month was Netherland by Joseph O'Neil.  It was supposed to be "suspenseful, artful, psychologically pitch-perfect" and an engaging tale of life as an immigrant in New York.  We didn't find it to be any of those things. 

The gist of the story is that Hans is in New York working for a bank and married to a British woman who is understandably shaken up after 9/11 and takes her leave with their son and tells Hans to stay in the US for a while.  They will "figure out" what to do about their marriage later.  Hans, being European naturally is a cricket fan (naturally!) and gets involved in a cricket club and meets Chuck, a dreamer/schemer from Trinidad.  Eventually, Chuck is murdered (I'm not revealing anything, it is the first two pages of the book) and the situation with the marriage is 'resolved'.

There is A LOT of cricket talk in the book, and perhaps for an educated reader for whom cricket is more than a sport with a funny stick and white shorts the parallels between the game and the narrative may have been clear.  However, for this reader and the other rather smart ladies of our book group we agree we know more about the nuances of "Quiddich" from the make believe world of Harry Potter than we do in reading O'Neills cricket episodes. 

There is a lot of interesting New York life in the Chelsey hotel where our Hans lives while his apartment is de-dusted from the 9/11 debris.  There is also a lot of nothing taking place. 

For those of us who finished it there was a sense of waiting for it to get better, but we agreed we were glad we finished it.  Comments around the table were as follows.  (Mr. O'Neill, take comfort in the fact that you won a PEN/FAULKNER award and earned the New York Times Book Review, Best Book of the Year while you read these comments.)

"It was indulgent"

"He's masturbating with the words"

"The writing gets in the way of the story"

"Reading this made me realize I miss "chapters". "

We also felt the author jumped back and forth in time more often than a LOST episode.  As Christine paraphrased;  "as I was standing at the window, I was reminded of a party I attended with my wife where I saw a butterfly that reminded me of a dark time in my past."  Holy CRAP man, be reminded, but whoa, skip the complex Visio diagram to get us there. 

As an offering of the "masturbating with words" example we share with you a SINGLE SENTENCE:

I suspect that what keeps us harmless from them is not, as many seem to believe, the maintenance of a strict  frontier between the kingdoms of the fanciful and the actual, but the contrary: the permitting of a benign annexation of the latter by the former, so that our daily emotions always cast a secondary otherworldly shadow and, at those moments when we feel inclined to turn from the more plausible and hurtful meanings of things, we soothingly find ourselves attached to a companion far-fetched sense of the world and our place in it.

I bet you do!  We think it means that we are helped along in our lives by having our head in the clouds somewhat.  Our daydreams get us through, or something like that.   I stopped reading at "the annexation of the latter by the former."

This book did win awards and has been recommended by organizations and individuals that we revere but it is likely not one we will be recommending anytime soon.