Well, the summer reading season’s on, even though I’m teaching a (mostly non-NYC) summer grad seminar for the next six weeks. And despite the fact that I’m sadly only a few pages into Richard Price’s Lush LIfe (which I finally picked up last Sunday) I couldn’t help stopping by my neighborhood bookstore today to buy Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland. This is notable in part because it’s the only time in recent memory (not counting the Harry Potter series, of course) that I’ve paid close enough attention to purchase a book on the very day it was released.
It will probably be late in the summer before I have something intelligent to say about these two new New York novels, so I’ll just remark now that I’m not sure, yet, what to make of the media attention these books have received in the last few months, and often in the name of “the New York novel.” Is there something about our current moment (other than the obvious post-9/11 moment we’ve not yet escaped) that makes audiences particularly receptive to a New York novel? Or is it just typical NYC narcissism — and the fact that a lot of the media I consume is local or otherwise NYC-centric — that makes these books stand out from all the other novels released this year? Are there other new novels receiving equal press that just aren’t on my radar?
In any case, Netherland, I’ve come to understand from the reviews, is a post-9/11 novel that makes the city’s
multi-borough, multicultural subculture of cricket a major vehicle for
contemplating cosmopolitan friendship in the new millennium. Here’s a quick roundup of the commentary that has me so hopeful about it: Dwight Garner, a senior editor at the Times Book Review, declares upfront that this is not “the bracing, wide-screen, many-angled novel that will leave a larger, more definitive intellectual and moral footprint on the new age of terror,” but nonetheless names it “the wittiest, angriest, most exacting and most desolate work of fiction we’ve yet had about life in New York and London after the World Trade Center fell.” The curmudgeon-critic James Wood, writing in this week’s The New Yorker, marks it as the best postcolonial novel in recent memory and suggests that “[p]erhaps Joseph O’Neill is the writer this city has been awaiting: born in Ireland [to an Irish father and Turkish mother], reared in Holland, educated in England, and resident in Manhattan.” And New York Mag, noting that “Netherland Is Everywhere,” wonders how long it will take before the hipsters start playing cricket in droves. Everyone makes the requisite nod to The Great Gatsby.
Can it possibly live up to the hype?