Thursday, February 12, 2009

Never Netherland

In a couple of recent posts, Wyatt Mason defends Joseph O'Neill's Netherland against a friend's charge that it's overwritten, and Mark Athitakis excerpts an interview with O'Neill that praises the deliberateness with which he labored over the novel for seven years.

I'm on the side of Mason's friend. I found Netherland precious and boring. Here's a sample passage, selected somewhat at random, in which the narrator Hans reflects in his detached and verbose way on his separation from his wife:

I was determined to open myself to new directions, a project I connected with escaping from the small country of fog in which, at a point I could not surely trace, I'd settled. That country, I speculated, might have some meaningful relation to my country of physical residence, and so every second weekend, when I traveled to London to be with my wife and son, I hoped that flying high into the atmosphere, over boundless massifs of vapor or small clouds dispersed like the droppings of Pegasus on an unseen platform of air, might also lift me above my personal haze. That is, I would conduct a retrospective of our affable intercontinental dealings and assemble the hope and theory that the foundation of my family might after all be secure and our old unity still within reach. But each time Rachel materialized at her parents' door she wore a preemptive expression of weariness, and I understood that the haze had traveled all the way to this house in west London. 

Ugh. So overworked and humorless. And too many adjectives. 


meyermeyer said...

I tried over Christmas break to read Stendhal's The Red and the Black . Your assessment of Mason is my assessment of Stendhal, and Austin, and Flaubert, and Bronte, George Eliot, most Romantics, all Victorians. I'm missing something, I know, but when there is such a lengthy list of authors who are necessary to read and interest me, I can't force myself to go back and read those "necessary" pieces I missed in high school in college. I guess that makes me a bad person. Though I feel worse because I can't eat green peppers. Curious.

framiko said...

I've never read anything by Stendhal, and I'm not a big fan of Madame Bovary, though Flaubert seems to be considered the founder of modern fictional narration. I read Pride and Prejudice a long time ago and have little memory of it, but someday I'd like to read more Austen. I do like Hardy (Tess and Return of the Native); and after having been bored by Hard Times and Oliver Twist, I read Great Expectations a couple years back and really enjoyed it. Middlemarch was great (Adam Bede not so much), as were Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, in my opinion. In these novels, the subject matter and characters are equal to the ornateness of the style, and there's humor in a lot of the roundabout sentences. In Netherland, I felt, O'Neill too often chews more than he bites off, and the narrator's troubles didn't seem worthy of all the loquacious angst.

As far as green peppers go, I agree: You're missing out.