Joseph O’Neill

LifeWorksCriticismCommentaryQuotationsReferencesNotes

Life
1964- ; b. Cork; grew up in Mozambique, Iran, Turkey and chiefly the Netherlands; grad. in Law from Cambridge University (UK); worked as a barrister in business law, London 1990-98; m. Sally Singer, Vogue editor, with whom three sons; moved to New York, 1998, lving at the Chelsea Hotel; contrib. to The Atlantic Monthly; issued This Is the Life (1991) and The Breezes (1996); also Blood-Dark Track (2001), a family history recounting the imprisonment of two grandfathers, one Turkish and one Irish, in WWII, which Seamus Deane called ‘a remarkable work’ in The Irish Times;

issued Netherland (2008), a novel about a Dutchman living in New York in the wake of the 9/11 atttack on the Twin Towers whose friend at the Staten Island Cricket Club is murdered - a novel which appeared on the cover of the NY Times (Sunday Book Review) and was praised by the literary editor Dwight Garner as ‘the wittiest, angriest, most exacting and most desolate work of fiction’ about the event; winner of PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award, 2009; O’Neill’s his story “The Referees” was shortlisted fort Sunday Times / EFG munificent short-story prize, Jan. 2015.

New York Times
Photo: New York Times

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Works

Fiction (novels)
  • This Is the Life (London: Faber 1991), 224pp.;
  • The Breezes (London: Faber 1996), 192pp.;
  • Blood-dark Track: A Family History (London: Granta 2001), xiii, 338pp.;
  • Netherland (London: Fourth Estate 2008), q.pp., and Do. Netherland (London: Harper 2009)
Reviews
  •  “Bowling Alone,” review of  Beyond a Boundary, by C. L. R. James, in Atlantic (Oct. 2007), pp.122–29;
  • “Finds and Flops: New Fiction”, review of Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, in Atlantic (May 2005), 25 April. 2010) [available online];
  • “The Last Laugh”, review of Flann O'Brien: The Complete Novels, in  Atlantic (May 2008), pp.89–92.

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Criticism
Studies
  • Stanley van der Ziel, ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary: Globalization and Tradition in Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland, in Irish Review, 45 (Autumn 2012):, pp.60-76;
  • Stanley van der Ziel, ‘Beneath the Surface: The Subterranean Modernism of Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland, in Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, 56, 2 (2015), pp.207-22 [see summary].
Reviews & interviews
  • Dwight Garner, review-article of on Netherland in “The Ashes” [“Sunday Book Review” column], New York Times (18 May 2008) [available online];
  • Katie Bacon, ‘The Great Irish-Dutch-American Novel’, interview with Joseph O’Neill, in Atlantic (6 May 2008); [available online];
  • Michiko Kakutani, ‘Post 9/11, a New York of Gatsby-Size Dreams and Loss’, in New York Times (16 May 2008), “Books” [available online]; Christopher Tayler, ‘“Howzat?”’ review of Netherland, by Joseph O’Neill, in Guardian (14 June 2008) [available online];
  • Alan Hollinghurst, ‘Underground Men’, review of Netherland, by Joseph O'Neill, in New York Review of Books (25 Sept. 2008), pp.54-56.
  • ;
  • Travis Elborough, ‘All Over America’, interview with Joseph O’Neill, in Netherland (London: Harper 2009) [Sect.: “P.S.: Ideas Interviews & Features”, pp.1-9].
  • Zadie Smith. ‘Two Paths for the Novel’, review of of Netherland by Joseph O'Neill, and Remainder by Tom McCarthy, in New York Review of Books (20 Nov. 2008), 89-94.

[ Note: There is an Irish Times interview-article c.2011 indcating that the Chelsea Hotel, was his actual home with his family in New York. ]

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Commentary
Stanley van der Ziel
, ‘Beneath the Surface: The Subterranean Modernism of Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland, in Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, 56, 2 (2015), pp.207-22 - summary: ‘Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland has often been read as an old-fashioned Realist novel happily oblivious to the technical innovations brought to bear on the novel in the twentieth century by Joyce, Proust, and Woolf and their postmodern followers. This essay argues that O’Neill is not unaware of the legacies of modernism and postmodernism, but that like many of his most distinguished contemporaries, he simply refuses, in Netherland and elsewhere, to write in a style that is outwardly or flamboyantly experimental. Because for all the apparent smoothness of the narrative surface of Netherland, O’Neill self-consciously engages throughout not only with the theoretical foundations of Realism itself but also with many of the key concerns of modernist and postmodernist literature.’ (Available at Taylor & Francis website as .pdf - via password; also available direct; accessed 17.03.2015.)

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Quotations

[ An extract from Netherland appeared in the “First Chapter” series of New York Times (15 May 2008) - available online. ]

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Notes
This Is the Life (1991): ‘A first novel from young Irish writer O'Neill, a barrister in London, whose hero is a sort of legal Lucky Jim at sea in the law. James Jones is one of those dreamy young men, secretly nurturing great ambitions but never quite able to pull them off, who lurks in every profession. An indifferent law student, Jones has been transformed by reading a book by famous international lawyer Michael Donovan. Thereafter, he reads everything Donovan writes and, after graduation, becomes Donovan's “pupil” at his chambers. For six months, Jones works closely with his idol, a man obsessed by law and oblivious to everything else - but to Jones's great disappointment, he is turned clown by the chambers at the end of his pupilage and has to join a small and undistinguished law firm. While he does unglamorous, nitty-gritty legal work, he embarks on a tepid relationship with Susan, as plain and undistinguished as himself, and tries to forget about the stimulating work he did with Donovan. But to Jones’s surprise, Donovan, rumored to have recently suffered a nervous breakdown, suddenly asks Jones to represent him in his divorce - a divorce Donovan does not want. Jones, who at last feels he’s getting closer to Donovan and fame, finds the man as elusive and puzzling as before. And given his penchant for getting things wrong, Jones not only fails to understand what is really going on but is nearly fired. His own subsequent breakdown leads him to admit that he’s been too much the dreamer: “No one was going anywhere. No one, not even Donovan, had anywhere to go.” Witty and perceptive - but too drawn out, too carefully crafted, and too repetitive to really stun. Promise, but without pizazz.’ (Kirkus Review; given in COPAC - online; accessed 07.01.2010.)

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Netherland (2008): A Dutchman called Hans van den Broek, working as an equities analyst for a large merchant bank, lives in New York with his wife and son. Keen to fit in in his new land, he aims to get a driving licence and joins a cricket club on Staten Island. In the wake of 9/11 [terrorist attacks] they are forced uptown by the events in Manhatten, moving from their TriBeCa flat to the Chelsea Hotel where his marriage with British-born Rachel falls apart. He is trying to understand whether the situation is pre-apocalyptic or near-apocalyptic while is wife simply wants to return to England, far from George Bush. Then Chuck Ramkissoon, a West Indian and the one man with whom he forges a friendship in the Staten Island Cricket Club, is pulled out of a New York canal with his hands tied behind his back.

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