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Sunday 24 March 2019

Obama favourite O'Neill in IMPAC's shortlist

John Spain Books Editor

WHAT does US President Barack Obama read when he gets tired of briefing papers? He likes a good novel, especially if it's by the Irish writer Joseph O'Neill.

In April last year, Mr Obama told the 'New York Times' that he was spending his evenings reading O'Neill's 'Netherland' and that it was "an excellent novel".

So it's not a surprise that O'Neill's captivating book, set in post-9/11 New York, is one of the eight novels that have been shortlisted for this year's €100,000 Dublin IMPAC award, the world's most valuable annual literary prize.

O'Neill, who was born in Cork in 1964 to a Turkish mother and an Irish father, went to school in the Netherlands and university in Cambridge where he learned to love cricket.

He has lived in New York for the past 12 years and the unlikely combination of that city and cricket feature in his book.

The story revolves around a Dutch financial analyst living in Manhattan who grows alienated from his wife and son.

His wife goes back to London, leaving him alone. He finds a sort of redemption among the many immigrants in New York from cricket-playing countries.

The title of the book reflects the kind of nether-world that New York became at that time and the city's Dutch origins.

It was hailed by the American critics as the best post-9/11 novel.

The novel was tipped for the Booker but was overlooked by the judges, something the IMPAC may well put right.

O'Neill is likely to be one of the favourites for the award, along with Zoe Heller whose previous books include the bestselling 'Notes on a Scandal'. Also a strong candidate will be Marilynn Robinson, one of the best contemporary American novelists.

This year's winner will be announced in June.

Irish Independent

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