Home > Publication and Reception Histories > Joseph O'Neill, Netherland

Joseph O'Neill, Netherland

Biography and Literary Career

Joseph O'Neill was born February 23, 1964 in Cork, Ireland. Born into a half Irish and half Turkish family who moved around a lot, O'Neill has lived a life focused on many diverse cultures.  As a toddler, O'Neill lived in Mozambique as a toddler, and Turkey until the age of four as well as Iran.  From the age of six he lived in the Netherlands.  O'Neill has since lived in New York since 1998 and teaches at Bard College.

O'Neill attended the Lycée français de La Haye and the British School.  For his writing career, he focused primarily on poetry until the age of 24.  O'Neill read law at Girton College, Cambridge, and became a barrister at the English Bar, practicing business law for ten years.

O'Neill has, so far, written three novels:

This Is the Life – 1991
The Breezes – 1996
Netherland – 2008

As well as one memoire:
Blood-Dark Track: A Family History - 2001

O'Neill is most certainly not shy about being interviewed.  In the July 13, 2009 "Interview With Joseph O'Neill" by The Elegant Variation, the interview states:

TEV: How do your books begin? Do they begin with a voice or with a theme?

Joseph O’Neill: This reminds me of those philosophy questions about whether existence precedes essence.
My books certainly don’t begin with a voice, though I immediately look for one. I mean the big question in the beginning is, “How do I find this voice? And what is the voice?” (thinks)

I think I start with one idea. In Netherland, it was cricket in New York. Then there is an accumulation of sentences, and often just single words. Words that interest me. And I sort of build it up like a poem. Then you see what you’ve got, what patterns have emerged, and you see what meaning has been generated by your notes. As opposed to starting off with some theory of everything and trying to cram it into a book.

TEV: So, then there is a moment that occurs where you suddenly begin to feel like you are getting your hands around it?

Joseph O’Neill: Yeah, and then you start thinking about your characters. In other words there is this pre-psychological, pre-characterological impulse, which has to do with language. In the case of Netherland, as I’ve said, I was very concerned with voice. I wanted to create this very intimate relationship between the reader and the voice of the book. Almost a romance. That’s risky, of course. Not everybody likes to be hit on. But you want to take risks.

Likewise, O'Neill has done multiple video interviews, one of which is available from the following link:



Netherland Publication History:

Netherland was originally published May 20, 2008 by Patheon Books.  To work is available in paper-back, hard-back, large print, kindle, and audiobook versions.  Through GoodReads, I was able to find translations avable in Russian, Swedish, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Italian, and Spanish.

According to a September 17, 2009 New York Times piece, a movie version of the work might be made, and possibly directed by Sam Mendes.

The work has recieved the Man Booker Prize Nominee for Longlist (2008), PEN/Faulkner Award (2009), Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award (2009)

Netherland Reception History:

Critically, Netherland has been very well received. It was featured on the front cover of the New York Times Book Review when it was published in May, 2008.

Dwight Garner of The New York Times wrote, "It’s impossible, though, to stop scanning the horizon for something else — the bracing, wide-screen, many-angled novel that will leave a larger, more definitive intellectual and moral footprint on the new age of terror. Joseph O’Neill’s “Netherland” is not that novel. It’s too urbane, too small-boned, too savvy to carry much Dreiserian sweep and swagger. But here’s what “Netherland” surely is: the wittiest, angriest, most exacting and most desolate work of fiction we’ve yet had about life in New York and London after the World Trade Center fell. On a micro level, it’s about a couple and their young son living in Lower Manhattan when the planes hit, and about the event’s rippling emotional aftermath in their lives. On a macro level, it’s about nearly everything: family, politics, identity. I devoured it in three thirsty gulps, gulps that satisfied a craving I didn’t know I had." (Garner. May 18, 2008)

James Wood of The New Yorker Blog wrote in his "Ten Favorite Books of 2008" piece, "Joseph O’Neill’s novel “Netherland” (Pantheon) was consistently misread as a 9/11 novel, which stints what is most remarkable about it: that it is a postcolonial re-writing of “The Great Gatsby.” (Wood)

Public reviews, however, were a bit less overwhelmingly positive. 

Goodreads: 3.39/5 (11,670 ratings)
5 Stars: 1435 – 14%
4 Stars: 3321 – 33%
3 Stars: 3218 – 32%
2 Stars: 1420 – 14%
1 Star: 476 – 4%

“I want to say something about this novel because although it impressed me and I respected O'Neill's skills as a writer, I didn't find it that enjoyable. There's a pleasing boldness to the syntax and diction, and there were a few passages that felt, well, wise, and when I gave myself some time to really dig into the text, I was impressed by the fluid time shifts and how the story felt unstructured and impeccably structured at once. But, the novel never pulled me in; I never really felt inside of the story. It felt a bit too over-manicured, a bit too studied. A bit too perfect, perhaps?” (Edan. 3 Stars)

“This book is not about 9/11. It is just about some people who lived near it. At times it is hard to follow due to the stream-of-consciousness style it is written in. What makes that worse is that when a jump was made, I hardly cared due to the fact that I was not invested in this sad man's life” (Joshua. 1 Star)

“I don't know, I might get back to this. I like the side characters, the writing is nice, but God, middle aged apathy and anomie is just about the most boring subject imaginable, pretty much on par with teenage vampire romance.” (Ken-ichi. 2 Stars)


Amazon: 3.3/5 (200 Ratings)
5 Stars: 66
4 Stars: 35
3 Stars: 32
2 Stars: 29
1 Star: 38

“I noticed that most of the 5 star reviews were from people in NYC. Similarly, of the 6 blurbs on the back cover, 5 were from distinctly New York publications (New York Times, NYT Review of Books, New Yorker, etc.) New Yorkers love their city, and 250 pages of praise of all of the wonders and wonderment of an outsiders view of NYC seems to strike a happy chord with them. As a non-New Yorker, though, I was mostly bored.  What little plot there is could be decribed in a paragraph, and it isn't relevant anyway. The writing is smooth and clean, but not particularly poetic or beautiful. Which leaves 250 pages describing how wonderful NYC is. If you recognize the places and people, you'll probably enjoy it. If not, then like me, you're likely to find it boring.”  (D. C. Palter “literary curmudgeon”.  3 Stars)

In both the Amazon and GoodReads reviews, there were mentions of the readers "not getting it", as well as feeling a dissonance between the characters in the novel and themselves.  However, Amazon also had 5-Stars as the majority by nearly double any other amount, which is interesting.

Work Cited

Edan. GoodReads.com. 28. Nov. 2008. Web. 

Itzkoff, Dave. "'Netherland' to Become a Film, and Mendes May Direct". The New York Times.  September 17, 2009. Web.

"Joseph O'Neill, The New Immigrant Experience". NPR. 26 November 2008.

Joshua. GoodReads.com. 23, July. 2008. Web. 

Ken-Ichi. GoodReads.com. 3, Nov. 2010. Web.

Palter, D. C..  “Of New York, For New Yorkers.” Amazon.com 28. Dec. 2008. Web. 

Sarvas, Mark. "The Elegant Variation – The Joseph O'Neill Interview". The Elegant Variation. July 16, 2009. Web.

Wood, James. "Ten Favorite Books of 2008". The New Yorker Blog. December 15, 2008. Web.