Hans van den Broek is a Dutch banker who moved to New York because of his English wife Rachel. They have a little son, but after a few years, Rachels takes their son with her and moves back to her parents in London. Meanwhile, Hans makes the acquaintance of Chuck, a West Indian businessman and hobby Cricketer. Still some years later, Hans follows Rachel to London, their once-crumbling marriage is restored, but: Chuck has been found dead in New York, no suspects are named.

This is about what happens to the protagonists in O'Neill's novel Netherland. As said, it is mostly set in New York, more specifically: in the years leading up to and following the attacks of 9/11 and the subsequent war on terror. This is a lot of action, but it only serves as a backdrop against which Hans' own life remains suspiciously unchanged. The wild and insecure post-9/11 years are also compared to flashbacks to Hans' youth in calm and wealthy Den Haag.

While there is not much action or plot on a physical level, there is a lot of development going on in Hans' perception of himself and the world around him. We have a coming-of-age story of sorts. Hans is already an adult at tthe beginning of the narration, but he only truly grows up through his dealings with people outside his banking-and-law-bubble.