The book jacket of the hard-bound edition is entrancingly deceptive. Printed on what feels like watercolor paper, it shows a colored vignette of men in white playing cricket on a village green watched by spectators relaxing in the shade of a spreading chestnut tree. It could well be the nineteenth century, except that the skyline in the background is Manhattan, and Joseph O’Neill’s novel is set in the first years of the present century. Written in a style of such lucidity that it might almost be an autobiographical memoir, it is the narrative of three years or so in New York City. The protagonist Hans van den Broek, a Dutch-born financial analyst, thirtyish and near the top of his profession, arrives there at the start of the millennium with Rachel, his English wife, herself a high-powered lawyer. But after the attacks of 9/11, Rachel returns to England with their infant son. Hans stays on.
If a novel could win an award for best cinematography, this would take home the gold. Amor Towlesâ€™s sophisticated retro-era novel of manners captures Manhattan 1938 with immaculate lucidity and a silvery focus on the gin and the jazz, the nightclubs and the streets, the pursuit of sensuality, and the arc of the self-made woman.