You and I are having a tough tourney so far. Four books to this point and none that either one of us is really excited about, although I’m going to have to let you carry the water on Netherland
, as it was the only book in the ToB I didn’t read a word of. The reasons for this are mostly arbitrary, as it was one of the books I was looking forward to reading. It still is, but it will have to happen post-tourney as I simply ran out of time. If O’Neill makes it back in the Zombie Round, maybe I will have read it by then. But probably not. I’m tired.
I remember emailing you as I was reading A Partisan’s Daughter
to say that I was enjoying it (I read this one before you did) and then emailing you again when I was done saying I was disappointed in the ending. I guess I enjoy puzzle stories with (or about) unreliable narrators and I enjoy stories with ends that are ambiguous or don’t tie up so neatly, but here I didn’t much go for the combination of the two. De Bernieres is a very good writer, I think, but when it was over I was sort of flummoxed and disappointed. Of course that happens more likely than I should admit.
recently won the PEN/Faulkner award. It was one of the most highly praised novels of the year and a Google search of Netherland Gatsby yields about 100,000 hits, the first of which
is Michiko Kakutani’s rave in the New York Times
, where the book’s appeal remains a near total mystery to me, I think I at least understand why Netherland
has collected so many garlands. With its articulate and erudite narrator delivering encomiums to the city’s boroughs, it’s essentially porn for hyper-literate New Yorkers, i.e., the sort of people who review books for the New York Times
If sentences like this one (describing Times Square)
And whereas others felt mocked and diminished by the square’s storming of the senses and detected malevolence or Promethean impudence in the molten progress of the news tickers and in the fifty-foot visages that looked down from vinyl billboards and in the twinkling shouted advertisements for drinks and Broadway musicals, I always regarded these shimmers and vapors as one might the neck feathers of certain of the city’s pigeonsas natural, humble sources of iridescence.
sound kind of magical, then this is the book for you.
I, on the other hand, am largely in agreement with Kate Schlegel. I found the whole book kind of phony. Our narrator is a Dutch-born, commodities analyst and yet he sees the city with the eyes and soul of a poet. The novel is kind of textbook of New York provincialism, something you and I discussed previously
, and I felt like pulling just about every sentence at both ends to straighten them out at least a little.
I’m not saying that Netherland
is a bad book, it just isn’t nearly as good a book as our privileged circles would have us believe. If reviewers are going to break out the Gatsby-card, I think they’ve got to ask themselves if they really think people will be reading this book 80 years from now. I have to believe even the most ardent fans of Netherland
wouldn’t claim this.
In the inaugural ToB, because I am a cretin, I did De Bernieres a dirty by advancing I am Charlotte Simmons
past Birds Without Wings
in a 2nd Round match-up, so I’d like to be able to say that I agree with Judge Schlegel’s final verdict, but as many qualms as I may have about Netherland
, in the end I just think that A Partisan’s Daughter
is not a very good book. I was with it for the first half, but De Bernieres writes himself into a corner that he gets out of by pretending the corner wasn’t actually there. It’s a cheat and it bugs me.
One of the more interesting parts of this experience was reading 15 books in a row and thinking about them all in relation to one another. I suppose all awards judges go through a similar thing, but we weren’t just trying to decide which is our favorite novel or which are our five favorites. We were trying to decide which was our 9th favorite. And our 13th favorite. It was different from any reading experience I ever had, and I found my opinions of books changing, sometimes radically as I moved deeper and deeper into the contenders. Where a City of Refuge
kept climbing in my personal standings well after I had read it, A Partisan’s Daughter
kept getting lapped down the stretch. It’s an appropriate fate I guess for a book that, in my opinion (and yours I think), just didn’t finish well.
Here at the ToB we give preference to major award winners in the seeding process and if O’Neill had won the PEN/Faulkner before we made out the brackets, Netherland
almost certainly would have been a number-one seed (it likely would have taken A Mercy
’s place). It could be interesting when this is all over to look back and see how things might have been different.