Let's face it, the Dutch are known more for their stoicism than for a volatile personality more in keeping with their southern neighbors. It's not surprising then, that this story (written from the vantage of Hans van den Broek) is rather introspective in nature. In the tension and apprehension of a post 9/11 New York he finds himself in a marriage that is going steadily south and doesn't know how to deal with it as he and his wife become slowly estranged. Until he ultimately decides to move back to London to be with his wife and son, he fills his time with an unusual friendship which revolves around cricket and an interesting cast of dark skinned foreigners to whom cricket is a way of life.
O'Neill's writing is elegant and thoughtful prose - quite lovely. His descriptions of places New York, London, Holland, Trinidad, Arizona all paint an accurate portrait for anyone who has visited on lived in those places. While his intricate details of cricket may seem boring to some, I found it interesting to discover there was so much more to the game than I ever knew. As a schoolboy, I tried to stay out of the way of that red missile whenever it came my way.
This is a quiet, thoughtful story of a man who loses himself in the post-traumatic stress of New York City then finds healing and himself once more.
With all of Nederland's glowing reviews I was certain this would be the novel to break me out of my 2011 funk, which basically consists of myself making poor reading choices again & again & again. Sadly, when all is said and done I'll be adding this to the growing list of unremarkable books I've read thus far this year.
I wanted to like this, I really did, but I could only take so many pages of monotonous stories about the sport of cricket before I began losing interest. Being a major fan of baseball I was initially intrigued to learn the history of cricket and how the sport is played, however after seemingly endless pages discussing the soil & grass consistency of the perfect cricket playing field, I've come to to determination that cricket has to be the most boring sport known to man...yes, even more boring than golf.
Worse still is the fact that Hans van den Brock may also be the most boring lead character in any book I've ever read. Having moved around quite a bit in my life, once for a girl who at the time I believed was the "love of my life", I can appreciate the overwhelming sense of loss and loneliness that one feels when their relationship crumbles and you find yourself alone in an unfamiliar city. I can also relate to Hans's need to cling to something familiar in an attempt to find happiness in dark times (in his case cricket, in my case a coffee shop). I completely get it. I do.
With that said however, this doesn't necessarily equate to a compelling read. I found Nederland to be incredibly dry and tedious, filled with a bunch of boring characters living out a boring existence, playing a boring sport and thinking about boring stuff. Plain and simple. This isn't to say that all is lost. I found the passages describing the lifestyle of New York's large immigrant population extremely interesting. Additionally, O'Neill's writing style is beautiful at times, especially when he describes his characters' views of the world around them. It's for this reason that I've decided to give O'Neill one more chance with one of his future novels, provided that he writes about something a tad more intriguing than basket weaving or paint drying.