by Joseph O'Neill
Forget cricket, Netherland is above all a love story. It is about a couple living the high life in New York for whom the events of 9/11 and their traumatic aftermath call into question the value of their relationship. Hans, a Dutch man by birth and temperament, is tolerant to a fault – too tolerant for his barrister wife, Rachel. Frustrated by his passivity and feeling emotionally unsupported, she abandons him in NYC, returns to England and finds comfort in the arms of a “doer”.
Hans, meanwhile, keeps himself occupied by taking up cricket, a sport at which he excelled as a child in Holland. Due to the popularity of basketball, cricket has never been anything but a marginal sport in the US. However, Hans joins a team in Staten Island composed of Caribbean and Asian immigrants, and finds a certain solace in his regular games. Through these he becomes involved with an extraordinary man, Chuck Ramkissoon, a Trinidadian visionary with a dream of building a world-class cricket stadium in New York, but whose underworld dealings find him in deep water (literally!).
The novel got even me, a sportsphobe, marginally interested in cricket, or at least, better able to understand its attraction. But the appeal of the book is really Hans - outsider, absentee father, ingénue, lost soul – and his interior quest to find his place in the world. O’Neill reads like early Richard Ford: the same beautifully-crafted sentences and sudden phrases that come out of left field and knock you for six.