" a post-9/11 masterpiece" states The Observer and how I wish they hadn't because during my rather start-stop-start reading of Joseph O'Neill's Netherland I have been deeply exercised over exactly how you define a "post 9/11" novel.
What are the criteria?
Have they now been established somewhere?
Fracture and displacement, dispossession, loss of freedom, vulnerability, a sense of unbelonging, a reappraisal of life, reappraisal of a place we thought we knew. Those are the obvious themes which spring to mind to an English reader living in rural Devon UK , but to be honest I'm not really sure and had this not been blazoned across the front cover I might have been able to read this book free of all baggage and assumptions and perhaps enjoy it more.
In the end I realised it had tarnished the read completely, pigeon-holed a book and told me which themes I should notice long before I felt ready to address them, if at all.
The book gets off to a flying start and I was swept up in the lives of Rachel (English) and Hans (Dutch) and son Jake, New York high flyers who are busy coping with the stresses in their marriage seemingly exposed by the events of 9/11 and life camping out in a hotel.
Rachel and Jake return to the UK leaving Hans alone as they seek to work out a way forward in their marriage and Hans falls in with the unlikely enterpreneurial big guy prone to shady dealings, West Indian Chuck Ramkissoon and his dream of bringing the game of cricket to New Yorkers. There are cricket clubs in New York apparently but Chuck dreams of the world game coming to the Big Apple.
Suddenly and somehow, and this is sadly happening with a quite a few of my longlist reads this year, the book plummeted into ennui.
I don't know New York and perhaps those who do would find themselves buying into the essence of the city so clearly mapped out as Hans drives Chuck around, an essence which I'm sure rests in these pages somewhere, but for some reason I felt quite remote from it all. Perhaps the alienation was intentional but this wasn't about sharing this great city with me and that was sad because I thought I was going to love this one. U.S. reviewers are making Gatsby-like comparisons and elevating Netherland into the realms of a classic which all makes me feel something has just passed me by and I hate that feeling.
Chuck for example just seemed to flob around on the page and never really came to life for me, Hans eventually irritated with his existential meanderings, Rachel likewise as she potters about in another relationship, whilst Hans brings new meaning to part-time fathering with his fortnightly trans-Atlantic contact sessions with Jake.
Even the search for Gatsby-esque moments eluded me and there's a book I love.
So then I'm in a really dangerous nit-picky place because as my mind wanders I turn to the minutiae of the book in my hand and notice silly things like the fluctuating size of the typeface.
Is it my glasses or does everyone else's copy do likewise?
So that's how easily distracted I was as I read, though I did eventually persuade myself to pick up the book at a low enjoyment point and to its credit it kept me going to the end albeit flatly, but shouldn't a really good book avoid that dip?
Shouldn't a Booker book absolutely avoid that dip?
Can someone explain what I have missed?
Is it important?
In Netherland's favour,some stunningly good 'words-in-the-right-order' moments, here's just one,
'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.'
But sadly not enough to bring it all together here or get this one onto my Booker shortlist at this stage, which all probably makes it an odds-on favourite to win and William Hill seem to agree.