For anyone who doesn’t know what bout of books is, take a look here first.
Day 1 got off to a rip-roaring start. I read 150 pages of Netherland by Joseph O’Neill, found some new and fascinating blogs to follow and participated in the first twitter chat (after which my tbr pile invariably grew). Days 2 and 3 however were much slower affairs and I’ve still a little under 90 pages of Netherland yet to read.
Of course this sets me back on reaching my reading goals but that’s not what bout of books is about. It is about challenging yourself, of course, but if you’re reading, you’re winning. In this regard I probably won’t achieve my goals (of finishing three books) but I’m already ahead of my usual reading pace of one book a week as tomorrow I will be starting On Beauty by Zadie Smith.
So what did I think of Netherland so far? Well, in brief, the story is about a Dutchman, Hans, living in New York just after the 9/11 bombings who’s British wife leaves him, taking their young son Jake with her. The book follows Hans through his lonliness, in particular, how he uses cricket to try and cope with (and understand) the disappearance of people from his life. It is certainly a well written piece and you feel his lonliness and loss dripping off the page. In fact the author is at pains to remind us that Hans is essentially rootless in this world. He’s an only child, his parents have passed away, he lives in a hotel and when he visits his wife and child it is to his wife’s childhood home that they come (where he finds himself unable to connect). For me, this is one of the strengths of the novel. Also embedded in the novel is a theme of immigration and the struggles of being a stranger in a distant land, which is effectively done.
One part of the book that I didn’t really like though is that there are long passages of text that are more about space than they are about theme or story. Several sections document Hans driving through the city landscape but I didn’t feel like I was getting any sense of place from this. There were far too many sections that read like ‘and then he went here, turned left, round the block again, passed X street, then Y avenue…’ etc etc.
Also, on the blurb at the back of the book, there is a suggestion that this book is also a murder mystery/thriller. However, I think this is somewhat misleading. Netherland is firmly situated in the literary tradition and readers expecting a fast-paced thriller should, I feel, look elsewhere.