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By Joseph O’Neill
New York: Pantheon Books, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-307—37704-3 256 pages

Bob Corbett
June 2016

Hans van den Broek is the main character. As the novel opens he is being interviewed by a reporter in New York about the death of Khamraj Ramkisson. Broek knows him as Chuck Ramkisson. His remains were found in a canal. Thus begins the strange story Hans Broek, his life, marriage, separation and his connection to and friendship with Chuck Ramkisson. In a significant much way this is like two very different novels, perhaps even three. There is the story of Hans, his marriage and love life with his wife Rachel. Then there is a very different and virtually unconnected story of his life in the world of cricket, and his meeting with cricket buddy, Chuck Ramkisson and his strange relationship with this shady fellow. I say “perhaps even three” stories, since the friendship with Ramkisson is sort of two very different stories: their connection to cricket, and secondly their strange relationship as friends beyond the world of cricket.

Broek was born and raised in Holland and first played cricket there. Later on he moved to England with his work in the world of the stock market and continued his serious connection to the world of amateur cricket. He met his English wife, Rachel; they married, have one child, and had both taken jobs in Manhattan.

As the novel opens he, his wife and son are living in what is for them a rundown place even though the rent is some $6,000 a month. This is because their luxurious apartment was very close the World Trade Center and is just a short time after that bombing. They haven’t yet even been BACK to the building, much less living there. Their apartment building wasn’t directly bombed or harmed, but the area is one of which they are simply terrified.

In 2002 Chuck met Ramkisson, who claimed he was from Trinidad, but his partner says he’s from U.S. In any case, he is a cricket nut, a respected cricket referee and a very shady businessman! Somehow, but the reader isn’t aware of how, he is shady enough to have gotten himself killed in some sort of underworld murder.

But the story flips back and forth between Chuck and Ramkisson and a virtually unrelated story of his marriage, which isn’t going well. After a year in New York his wife leaves him and takes their young son, Jake back to London. Chuck is saddened, but seemingly not overwhelmed by this move and actually goes back to London every other week to visit with his wife and son.

Eventually Broek moves back to London, working for the same company. However, by this time his wife has taken a lover and the lover has become a good friend of their son. Broek is clearly both sad and jealous. He and his wife definitely have a very strange relationship. Broek himself tells us:

“Rachel saw our reunion as a continuation. I felt differently: that she and I had gone our separate ways and subsequently had fallen for third parties to whom, fortuitously, we were already married.”

The novel is a strange one. There are two very different stories going on at the same time, each one is interesting in its own way. The novel has more about the sport of cricket than most manuals on the game would contain, and the marital relationship is one of the most unusual I have ever read about.

Overall, I found the novel quite fascinating. It was very different in both structure and content of any novel I’ve read in memory. Somehow author O’Neill made it “work” for me and I just kept reading and reading while admittedly often asking myself: what in the world sort of story is this? In the end I’m not sure I can really answer that question, but I know I had a very good time and kept reading hour after hour and have come away satisfied.

Bob Corbett


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Bob Corbett