Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Making book on the Booker
Congratulations to Joseph O’Neill whose new novel, Netherland, has been long-listed for the Man Booker prize. It was published in May to exuberant reviews (“rave” doesn’t begin to cover it) in the daily New York Times (by Michiko Kakutani) as well as snagging the front-page of the New York Times Book Review and elsewhere.
In the Review, senior editor Dwight Garner called it “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.”
He went on to say: “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.”
Just after the long-list of 13 titles (known as the Booker Dozen) was announced yesterday (29 July), bookmakers William Hill opened the betting with Netherland their 3/1 favourite. Salman Rushdie’s The Enchantress of Florence was second with odds of 4/1.
In a news release listing the opening odds on the list, William Hill spokesman Graham Sharpe said, "Although Salman Rushdie is the man in form having won the Booker of Bookers, that book is now over 20 years old and his recent work has not been winning literary awards. However, Joseph O'Neill's novel, Netherland has been creating a real buzz and is also being suggested as the first novel to become a serious contender for the Bookie Prize - the William Hill Sports Book of the Year and for that reason we believe it is a worthy favourite.”
(Cricket among Commonwealth expats living in New York is one of the principal settings for the novel.)
I first encountered Joe O’Neill when I read a laudatory review of his second novel, The Breezes, in the Guardian Weekly. In those pre-Amazon days, I called a bookshop in central London and ordered a copy over the phone.
That novel—about a fortnight in the life of a family (the Breezes) who endure “misfortune of absurd but tragic proportions” (Amazon.co.uk)—was funny and poignant, and I felt compelled to write a fan letter.
At the time (the late 1990s), Joe—an Irishman, largely raised in the Netherlands, working as a barrister in London, but latterly living in New York City—was completing Blood-Dark Track, his investigation into secrets in the lives of his grandfathers—one Turkish, the other Irish. I read the book, and interviewed him about it by phone for an article I wrote for Spotlight, an English-language magazine published in Munich.
I met him for dinner when I was in New York on business in early 2002, at which time he said he was working on something to do with cricket. But since then, he has also been a regular contributor to The Atlantic and New York magazines.
Even if it weren’t for the personal connection, I’d be rooting for Joe to win the prize—for the £50,000, sure, but also because he’s a good writer, and Netherland (said she, having just started reading it) is terrific.
The short-list will be announced on 9 September, and the winner on 14 October.