In Which I’ll Just Bleed So The Stars Will Have Something Dark To Shine In

Think Fantastic

by Molly Young

by Joseph O’Neill
256 pages
Pantheon Books

A good novel and a good ping-pong match share many qualities: virtuosity, grace, unpredictability and wild maneuvering. They are also impossible to recount and boring to hear about. This is an apologia, by the way. I am not sure how to review Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland without sounding as feverish and flatfooted as I would describing a ping-pong match. But anyhow.

The novel is narrated by Hans van den Broek, an equities analyst at a Manhattan merchant bank. He is Dutch-born, married to an irksome English lawyer and transplanted to New York on business. The pair settle down in TriBeCa just in time for 9/11, which shoos them into temporary residence at the Chelsea Hotel. They have gobs of money, a young son, and a pair of ill-matched reactions to the trauma of the hour.

read the first chapter here

As the two metabolize their fears, the marriage quietly falls apart. Hans’ wife flies back to London with the couple’s son while her husband remains alone in the States, floating like plankton from one borough to the next and playing matches in an amateur cricket league. On the cricket field he meets Chuck Ramkissoon, a Trinidadian immigrant who becomes the Gatsby figure of the text. Ramkissoon is a mash-up of huckster, entrepreneur, orator, sportsman and criminal.

the james wood review here

It is difficult to deliver a plot summary of Netherland, which is memory-bound and thick with allusion. Like all good novels, it is a few things at once without halting to be strictly one or the other at any moment. There is the marriage thread, the cricket thread, the Chuck thread. And so much to say about each one. The thorniness of discussing the novel is directly related to the wonder of it, which is something experienced from page to page as a sequence of astonishing sentences rather than an account of any particular Theme.

O’Neill answers a number of questions without explicitly posing them. One, that is is possible to write a splendid novel about New York. Two, that it is possible to summon 9/11 and its reverberations with delicacy, candor and efficacy. Three, that it is possible to update the Gatsby narrative without sinking beneath the weight of the comparison.

Like Nick Carraway, Hans is a seemingly affectless narrator, sturdily moral and unglossy. Also like Nick, he’s a recessive character – a pair of eyes attached to a brain whose task it is to behold the central figure of the text and to fail beautifully at understanding him.

o’neill’s wife vogue editor sally singer

A few other similarities arise. O’Neill’s novel is also about weariness, retrospection and ambition. It is tender. This may have less to do with a conscious literary borrowing than with O’Neill’s intuitive sense of atmospheric pressures, which feel now as they appear to have felt in the ’20s to writers like Fitzgerald.

O’Neill’s novel is a book of micro- and macro-pleasures: from descriptions of pink watery sunsets and the insertion of unexpected words (‘gormlessness’!) to circling and inexorable approaches of death, childhood, geography, love, fatherhood, and other big fish. It is a lovely book, in short, and slim enough that you can read it twice, as you’ll want to, without losing too much sleep.

Molly Young is the contributing editor to This Recording. She lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Her website is Magic Molly, and her shiny new tumblr is here.

he reads reviews


“Traffic in the Sky” – Jack Johnson (mp3)

“Between the Crooked Sea” – Katkhuda (mp3)

“Cotton Eyed Joe” – Karen Dalton (mp3)

“Spitting Venom” – Modest Mouse (mp3)

“Everything Went Numb” – Streetlight Manifesto (mp3)

“Ship the Majestic Suffix” – Danielson (mp3)

from here

“Chelsea Hotel” – Josh Ritter (mp3)

“Chelsea Hotel” – Leonard Cohen (mp3)


We love the future.

I don’t know I don’t care.

Morgan Clendaniel of Good magazine taking his shirt off.

2 thoughts on “In Which I’ll Just Bleed So The Stars Will Have Something Dark To Shine In

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