Thursday, December 25, 2008

A few passages from "Netherland" by Joseph O'Neill

"Netherland" is one of this year's best novels, a distinctly New York story centered on a Holland born and raised London banker who worked in New York during four years encompassing pre and post 9/11. Rather than comment, what follows are a few passages from the book.

page 64 --- "Perhaps the relevant truth -- and it's one whose existence was apparent to my wife, and I'm sure to much of the world, long before it became apparent to me -- is that we all find ourselves in temporal currents and that unless you're paying attention you'll discover, often too late, that an undertow of weeks or years has pulled you into deep trouble."

page 89 --- visiting his old neighborhood in Holland -- "I found it idiotically distressing that a sharp finger whistle could no longer summon them(his childhood friends) outdoors into a playful twilight. An ancient discovery was now mine to make: to leave is to take nothing less than a mortal action...The pleasantness of my Holland was related to the slightness of its mysteries. There obtained a national transparency promoted by a citizenry that was to all appearances united in a deep, even pleased, commitment to foreseeable and moderate outcomes in life."

page 178 --- "Londoners remain in the business of rowing their boats gently down the stream. Unchanged, accordingly, is the general down-the-hatch, who-are-we-fooling lightheartedness that's aimed at shrinking the significance of our attainments and our doom, and contributes, I've speculated, to the bizarrely premature crystallization of lives here, where men and women past the age of forty, in some cases even the age of thirty, may easily be regarded as over the hill and entitled to an essentially retrospective idea of themselves; whereas in New York selfhood's hill always seemed to lie ahead and to promise a glimpse of further, higher peaks: that you might have no climbing boots at hand was beside the point ... We are in the realm not of logic but of wistfulness, and I must maintain that wistfulness is a respectable, serious condition. How, otherwise, to account for much of one's life?"

page 215 --- "My work, that morning, went passably--I was a panelist in a conference discussion with the could-mean-anything title 'Oil Consumption: The Shifting Paradigm'--and, better still, finished well ahead of schedule."

page 253 --- at the London Eye -- "My son's voice calls out. Daddy! Turning, I see my family and its superlong shadows. We are all beaming. Reunions in unfamiliar places have this effect, and maybe the great wheel itself is infectious: the stupendous circle, freighted with the circumferential eggs, is a glorious spray of radiuses."

page 256 --- "Which makes me remember my mother. I remember how I turned and caught her -- how could I have forgotten this until now? -- looking not at New York but at me, and smiling.
Which is how I came to face my family with the same smile.
'Look!' Jake is saying, pointing wildly. 'See Daddy?'
I see, I tell him, looking from him to Rachel and again to him. Then I turn to look for what it is that we're supposed to be seeing."

One could say that good book reviews can never be completely objective, that they must be to some extent personal. The choice of these passages, masquerading as a book review, has my fingerprints all over them.



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