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Joseph O'Neill, Netherland Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions:
1.  How does Netherland work as a 9/11 novel? For the majority of the works we have read in class, 9/11 is touched on usually towards the climax. However, much like Falling Man, 9/11 is seen to be the catalyst for the main character’s development, as well as the cause of much of the story’s progression. Does 9/11 seem to matter for the work?

One of the popular reviews mentioned in the reception of Netherland stated, “This book is not about 9/11. It is just about some people who lived near it.” This is presented as a negative, though I would argue that this exemplifies exactly what O’Neill desired for his work. Not necessarily a “9/11” work, but a work about “people who lived near it”. How does the work, and really most of the works that we have read for class, function as a “9/11 novel” without necessarily focusing primarily on 9/11?

2.  On that note, I am curious of the function of the Walt Whitman quote at the start of the novel:
“I dream’d in a dream, I saw a city invincible to the attacks of the whole of the rest of the earth;
I dream’d that was the new City of Friends”
Though it was left out, I find the conclusion of the poem to be of importance as well:
“Nothing was greater there than the quality of robust love – it led the rest;
It was seen every hour in the actions of the men of that city,
And in all their looks and words”
For a work that seems to hold relationships, whether positive or negative, in very important light, I am curious how the poem functions as the introduction to the work. Both as an introduction to a work about human interaction as well as an introduction to a post-9/11 novel.

3.  Having popular reviews state that they “did not get it” or that they could not relate to the characters is not a new opinion of the works for the class. However, I am curious if it is simply the language or the characters of the work, or a mixture of both, that would cause this reaction. Though there are a mixture of races and ethnicities present, I could imagine that a middle-aged, white, cricket playing main character might be a bit hard to empathize with. Especially when these qualities, (voices of others, emphasis on whiteness, “It’s not cricket”) being so pronounced. I am simply curious how Netherland functions in relation to other works this semester in which empathy for the characters becomes an issue for the readability of the work.

4.  O’Neill, as described at the start of this presentation, stated, “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?’” Netherland, to me, seems to be very invested in the literal “voice” of its characters, (cricket players’ mixture of languages and broken English, Hans’ son being tongue-tied, etc.) Is there more to this creation of “otherness” through language, or is it simply a form of comparative description for the characters? What does it mean for the division through the inability to communicate in the work? Specifically for Hans’ role to only “listen” and “utter only solid things” (40), as the main focus.

I am specifically interested in this question, as I chose to read the work and then listen to the audiobook version. The differences in language use is very pronounced and “othering”.

5.  In Bethanne Patrick's interview on Youtube, the idea of "colonizing America" is discussed. O'Neill states, "It's a book which describes a very globalized New York City", and states that while he is not very interested in his novel as a "post-colonial" work, but "it is told by a Dutchman, who belongs to a country which itself was a great colonizer… these people are trying to colonize the United States". This idea is very interesting, as Hans is, going by specifically appearances, a wealthy outsider in his cricket world. I am curious how this idea of "recolonizing America" is available in the work, and what it means for this question to be asked in a 9/11 novel.

6.  (VERY TENATIVE QUESTION) Truthfully, I don't think it matters much to the work or to our class, but the work is repeatedly compared to The Great Gatsby, which says much of how the work is received. While I see where this idea is coming from, I am not entirely sure what it does for the work, if anything. Has anyone else noticed this comparison?