EDIBTB reader Haleh recently sent me an email with high praise for a book she is reading: Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris. Haleh is a prolific and critical reader, so I know it must be good. (I am going to overlook the fact that Harris wrote Chocolat, the book from which the horribly overrated movie was made. Ugh). From Amazon:
For generations, privileged young men have attended St. Oswald’s Grammar School for Boys, groomed for success by the likes of Roy Straitley, the eccentric Classics teacher who has been a fixture there for more than thirty years. This year, however, the wind of unwelcome change is blowing, and Straitley is finally, reluctantly, contemplating retirement. As the new term gets under way, a number of incidents befall students and faculty alike, beginning as small annoyances but soon escalating in both number and consequence. St. Oswald’s is unraveling, and only Straitley stands in the way of its ruin. But he faces a formidable opponent with a bitter grudge and a master strategy that has been meticulously planned to the final, deadly move.
This isn’t a book I would have picked up on my own at the bookstore, but the more I read about it the better it sounds. Here is a long user review from the Classic Book Club site. A few excerpts:
It is an unusual style, and at times I found it difficult to follow, but there is no denying it is perfect for capturing the reader’s attention. This is definitely a book I intend to read again, now fore-armed with knowledge of the character’s history and place in the story.
The novel displays revenge as a very strong and overwhelming force… Revenge is as strong as love for not allowing us to see the truth clearly.
There is a fantastic twist in the book. I began to get a suspicion of the truth towards the end of the book and then could see clues plainly displayed everywhere – they were obviously being displayed throughout the entire book, but so subtly that, unless you guessed the twist, they weren’t apparent. Extremely clever!
From the Vidalia’s Books blog:
It’s a new school year at St Oswald’s Grammar School for Boys, bringing with it the annual batch of new teachers, one of whom is a relentless psychopath intent on destroying this bastion of upperclass education. Roy Straitley – eccentric, intelligent, beloved Classics instructor – has been a fixture at St Oswald’s for almost thirty years. Devoted to the school and to his boys, Straitley eventually is the only obstacle preventing the ultimate ruin of the school, staff and students. The story unfolds through three voices:
- the malicious, vengeful and cunning new arrival
- Snyde, the child that the once was our villain
Gentlemen and Players underscores the class differences inherent in the British social system – differences that the young Snyde felt acutely and that produced the monster plotting the utter annihilation of St Oswald’s and those who love it. Snyde’s story is particularly riveting, and the mystery as to the identity of the grown-up evil-doer is maintained until the very end. Straitley’s voice is truly a treat to read – he’s a witty, stubborn old luddite with a soft heart. Harris’ writing really brings him to life. I could hear his accent and inflections as I read the words on the page. Gentlemen is beautifully composed. Characterization is excellent, the plot is compelling and if you’re not really, really attentive to detail, the end is quite surprising.
Here is a review from The Washington Post which is also quite favorable.
I skimmed a few other reviews but they seem to contain spoilers, so I won’t link to them from here.
Please weigh in (sans spoilers!) if you have read Gentlemen and Players.