By September 26, 2010 0 Comments Read More →

Reading in the Netherland

Recently the joint book group of the Kansas City Star and the Kansas City Public Library met to discuss the latest selection, Netherland by Joseph O’Neill. There are occasions when readers feel they are putting as much effort into reading a novel as an author did in writing it. Such was the case with this PEN/Faulkner Award winning book. netherland

No one could state emphatically that they loved the post-9/11 novel, and only one person said she didn’t care for it, but all commented on the author’s exquisite prose style. More than one reader stated that she kept going back to reread a particularly well-crafted sentence or one that strung together numerous memories and thoughts. Everyone said that this book required focus and effort to read, simply because O’Neill’s writing was so captivating.

Early in the conversation someone pointed out that there didn’t seem to be much of a plot, yet the book moved along at a reasonable pace. Paulette called Netherland a “novel of ideas” and remarked how easy it was to become caught up in the author’s use of language. Paula pointed out how difficult it was to connect to the narrator and main character, Hans. Other readers agreed that many secondary characters were much easier to like and identify with than Hans. Leigh noted that Hans was disconnected from his own life and then mentioned that the book showed how disconnected Americans were from immigrants, and in some cases each other after 9/11. Another reader said that she felt the author may have felt disconnected too, and this is why the theme shows up in so many different places and characters.

Terry noticed that for a novel about cricket, readers certainly didn’t learn much about the sport. The group discussed why the author might frequently reference a sport unfamiliar to Americans and decided this was another way to illustrate the theme of disconnection. Carol brought everyone’s attention to the end of the novel when Hans is spurned into action and reconnecting with his wife. She felt that Chuck was the catalyst for this change in Hans and that Hans had even tried to keep Chuck at arm’s distance.

The group found the pockets of humor in Netherland in all the colorful secondary characters: Chuck, the Trinidadian with the gigantic American Dream, Vinay, the food critic and Carl, the driving instructor.

By the end of the discussion all were pleased to have read the novel. One reader said it’s not the type of book she usually reads, but she appreciated a book that was haunting, prompted concentration and had staying power in a reader’s memory.

Netherland isn’t an easy book to discuss, but it is certainly a worthy addition to any short list of titles for consideration in 2011.



About the Author:

Kaite Mediatore Stover refuses to give up her day job as director of readers' services for The Kansas City Public Library to read tarot cards professionally or be the merch girl/roadie for her husband's numerous bands. Follow her on Twitter at @MarianLiberryan.

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