Fiction has an entrepreneurial element, akin to the inventor’s secret machine, elixir, or formula. Many novelists have had the experience of falling upon the perfect scene or situation or character, the one that will breed meaning and metaphor throughout the book. Gogol surely knew that he had invented a devastating symbolic structure when he came up with the story of a devil figure who travels around Russia buying up the names of dead serfs; he carefully garaged his secret—in a letter, he warned his correspondent not to tell anybody what “Dead Souls” was about. When we read “Herzog,” we think: how brilliant and simple, like the best of inventions, to have turned something we all do (writing letters in our heads to people we have never met) into a new way of representing consciousness. And when we read “Midnight’s Children” we feel that Salman Rushdie has found a powerful controlling image in the impending midnight of Indian partition, the clock’s hands meeting in prayer.

I don’t know whether Joseph O’Neill jumped out of his bath in Manhattan shrieking “Eureka!” when he realized that, of all the possible subjects in the world, he had to write a novel about playing cricket in New York City, but he should have. Despite cricket’s seeming irrelevance to America, the game makes his exquisitely written novel “Netherland” (Pantheon; $23.95) a large fictional achievement, and one of the most remarkable post-colonial books I have ever read.

more from The New Yorker here.