Nevermind Netherland

If I had done my research, I could have saved myself the time I wasted reading Netherland by Joseph O’Neill. All the reviews that have raved about it go on and on about the lushness of the prose and the beauty of the blah blah blah. I don’t know what the blah blah is because I can’t bring myself to go back and read the reviews. What I do know is that had I paid closer attention I would have noticed that nobody mentioned the plot. Why is that? Because the book doesn’t have one. It’s a plotless mediation on loss, love, blah, post-9/11 New York, whatever, cricket, and some other stuff I don’t care about.

A lot of the reviews have compared O’Neill’s books to The Great Gatsby which leaves me stunned. Stuff happened in Gatsby. In fact a series of things happened and each of those things had something to do with the stuff that came after it, and in the parlance of the modern writer it had what we like to call a plot — a delicious, glorious, beautiful plot. A plot is that which keeps us turning pages, because we care to see what happens to the people we are reading about. Netherland was sorely lacking that and thus also lacking my affection.

Beautiful writing, which there is plenty of in O’Neill’s book, can only get you so far. As much as I hate to be this person, I need a plot in a novel. I’m willing to go without plot in short stories because I’m only giving up an hour of my time, but a novel needs to have more than pretty writing to keep me going.

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4 Comments

  1. christa 20.Jul.08 at 1:47 pm

    interesting. i always wonder if i need plot. for example, i like charles baxter but have read two of his books and can never really remember the plot. i always just remember that i like how he writes.

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  2. Jodi 20.Jul.08 at 1:51 pm

    If you like, I will send you my copy of Netherland and you can try it out. Just e-mail your address.

    Reply
  3. maitresse 21.Jul.08 at 10:36 pm

    I am curious as to why a self-described writer would have so little use for good writing. Maybe the characters or the “mediation on loss” (I assume you meant “meditation,” no worries) weren’t sufficiently compelling?

    I recommend you take a look at Min Jin Lee’s Free Food for Millionnaires– that’s a book I just couldn’t put down, but the “plot” is not the point. Maybe it will help you clarify your response to Netherland?

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  4. Jodi 21.Jul.08 at 10:43 pm

    I can appreciate the good writing, but it takes more than that to drag me through a 200+ page book. I guess I come from the Vonnegut school of thought, where pretty writing just isn’t enough. I want pretty and interesting. I don’t think a reader should have to settle for one or the other.

    Like I said, I can handle the lack of a plot in a short story and get by with just the good writing. But the whole point of a novel, at least to me, is a story that has some sort of direction. Netherland lacked direction and just wandered around aimlessly.

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