“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Nether Say Nether Again

Joseph O’Neill’s debut, NETHERLAND, has been attracting a lot of very positive comment, with one excitable reviewer suggesting that it’s already a Booker Prize contender. Naturally, being insatiable nosey-parkers, we had to take a gander, and we discovered that the blurb elves have been wibbling thusly:
In early 2006, Chuck Ramkissoon is found dead at the bottom of a New York canal. In London, a Dutch banker named Hans van den Broek hears the news, and remembers his unlikely friendship with Chuck and the off-kilter New York in which it flourished: the New York of 9/11, the power cut and the Iraq war. Those years were difficult for Hans - his English wife Rachel left with their son after the attack, as if that event revealed the cracks and silences in their marriage, and he spent two strange years in the Chelsea Hotel, passing stranger evenings with the eccentric residents. Lost in a country he’d regarded as his new home, Hans sought comfort in a most alien place - the thriving but almost invisible world of New York cricket, in which immigrants from Asia and the West Indies play a beautiful, mystifying game on the city’s most marginal parks. It was during these games that Hans befriended Chuck Ramkissoon, who dreamed of establishing the city’s first proper cricket field. Over the course of a summer, Hans grew to share Chuck’s dream and Chuck’s sense of American possibility - until he began to glimpse the darker meaning of his new friend’s activities and ambitions … NETHERLAND is a novel of belonging and not belonging, and the uneasy state in between. It is a novel of a marriage foundering and recuperating, and of the shallows and depths of male friendship. With it, Joseph O’Neill has taken the anxieties and uncertainties of our new century and fashioned a work of extraordinary beauty and brilliance.
Lovely. Not really Crime Always Pays material, thought we, but lovely nonetheless. But lo! Then we discovered Brian Lynch’s review in the Sunday Independent, the gist of which runs to-wittishly:
“We never discover the identity of the murderer – this is a whodunit without a who – but that is part of the purpose of the book: the political violence of our times, the personal unease that follows from it, but above all the constantly shifting and strange glamour of the world cannot be explained, only apprehended … Already, NETHERLAND has been compared to THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The comparison is apt, but add in something of the ironic intellect of John Banville and a good dash of the coarse energy of the early Saul Bellow and you will get a better idea of how rich this book is.”
Hmmmm … the Bellow / Banville / Fitzgerald references suggest a literary tome, but the murderer / whodunit element suggests crime fiction. So which is it? Or – yipes! – could it be one of those increasingly popular crossover ‘lit crime’ bukes which thrive on employing crime fiction tropes, the likes of which have been popping up here, here, here and here? Only time, that notoriously prevaricating doity rat, will tell …

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