By Joseph O'Neill
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The search for a soccer player is the engine of the plot, but what Godwin is really about is power: those who have it, those who don’t and those who scheme to get it.
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Soccer, like life, may be a beautiful game, but as in life, part of the beauty relies upon a key ingredient: cooperation. Introduce disharmony and the luster is tarnished. Readers will find plenty of corrosion in Godwin, Joseph O’Neill’s intellectually challenging new novel centered, at least ostensibly, around the world of football.

Godwin shifts between two narrators. The first is Lakesha Williams, one of the co-founders of the Group, a Pittsburgh cooperative for science and medical writers who want to be self-employed without the insecurity of freelancing. She’s dealing with an HR issue regarding writer Mark Wolfe, who got into a scuffle with a security guard and gave too-honest feedback to a client who didn’t receive a grant. Mark is a misanthrope who fantasizes about a future “when our kind no longer roams Earth and we shall at last have some peace.”

Mark is also our other narrator. In his private life, he lives with his wife, Sushila, and has a half brother named Geoff, a slippery character and aspiring sports agent who lives overseas. Geoff contacts Mark with an unusual request: He wants Mark to come to England and help him find Godwin, a “special prospect” from somewhere in Africa whom Geoff wants to sign.

These two seemingly disparate stories converge in satisfying ways and include characters who may at first seem secondary but take on greater significance, among them a French scout who may know where Godwin is; Mark’s mother, who he feels robbed him of an inheritance; and a Group member who ingratiates herself into a position to affect the collective’s operations.

Netherland, O’Neill’s brilliant 2008 book, was not just a story about a Dutch expat protagonist’s incipient passion for cricket but, more than that, a commentary on postcolonialism. Similarly, while the search for a soccer player is the engine of Godwin’s plot, the book is really about power: those who have it, those who don’t and those who scheme to get it. O’Neill’s excellent novel builds to a cynical ending that may not comfort, but it’s an undeniably appropriate finish to a story of what can happen when idealism snags on the lure of capitalism.

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By Joseph O'Neill
ISBN 9780593701324

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