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Gentlemen and Players - Joanne Harris

Joanne Harris is not exactly a new author to me, I've heard of her, seen the film Chocolat etc. but not read any of her books. Why? I'm not sure really. I liked the movie of Chocolat well enough, just didn't feel inspired to rush out and read the book or any of the other food inspired books by the same author, set in France. So why, when I spotted Gentlemen and Players in a charity shop, did I decide to buy it? Well, it sounded different to her usual fare and I was intrigued - it was as simple as that really.

It's quite a difficult book to describe without giving away spoilers. The setting is a small English public school for boys known as St. Oswalds. There are two first person narrators and two timelines. The first timeline begins as the school gets a new caretaker who takes up residence in the lodge with his only child, nine years old, and known to us as 'Snyde'. Snyde begins to explore the lodge's surroundings and, eventually, to trepass in the school grounds and then gets to know the inside of the school like the back of his hand. Unhappily attending a local comprehensive, it eventually becomes Snyde's dream and obsession to attend St. Oswalds. A uniform is stolen, and with a thorough knowledge of the school to help, Snyde slowly but surely becomes a St. Oswald's boy by bunking off school or going sick at various times. It's when Snyde, aged eleven, meets Leon Mitchell in the corridors of St. Oswalds that things take a more sinister turn. Leon is a couple of years older, much more worldy-wise, a beautiful boy in fact. Snyde falls hopelessly in love.

The second timeline, woven in with the first, is fifteen years later. We're told that Snyde has joined the staff of St. Oswalds but there are four or five new members of staff this September and we're not told which Snyde is. Something terrible happened fifteen years ago and Snyde, in disguise with a new identity, is out for revenge. We meet many of the members of staff that were familiar to Snyde back then, in particular Roy Straitly, close to retirement, head of classics, but sensing that Latin is now a subject looked upon as old-fashioned by the rest of the staff and that his head-master is trying to pension him off. Slowly but surely things start to go wrong at the school. Articles go missing, computers get viruses and show images they shouldn't and then a boy, allergic to peanuts, nearly dies when a peanut is dropped into his can of fizzy drink. He's one of Roy Straitly's 'boys', as was a certain Leon Mitchell, and Roy is very protective of his class members and remembers each and every one he's taught. Something is very wrong at St. Oswalds and eventually it dawns on Roy that someone is trying to bring the school down. But who?

Pageturner. Pure and simple. Absolutely unputdownable. Read it.

I suppose I should say more. ;-) I didn't know I had a taste for this kind of psychological crime yarn. It was like watching a train crash in slow motion as the author slowly reveals a bit more and a bit more and you get more and more involved with the characters and their motives. There's a huge secret which I partly cottoned onto about halfway through but not the 'whys' or the 'wherefores' and my enjoyment wasn't spoilt at all by that. Harris creates a wonderfully insular setting. You can almost feel St. Oswalds, smell it, know it, love it as Snyde did. The school is really a third main character and because of that you can almost understand and empathise with what Snyde does. I'm not a serious crime reader in any way, shape, or fashion so this must have been a bit special to hook me the way it did. It was. Read it.


Just as a point of fact, she is from my neck of the woods, Barnsley *g*
I didn't know that. The book is set 'somewhere up north' so I suppose that would figure.
I really liked 'Chocolat' and have several more of her books on my shelves. But I didn't have this one, and your review certainly makes me want to read it now! (If you're looking for more psychological crime yarns, I thoroughly recommend 'House of Stairs' and 'A Fatal Inversion' by Barbara Vine.)
I think I'm going to have to read Chocolat now (my husband loved it). And the other one of hers that takes my fancy is Five Quarters of the Orange. I'll see what the library has tomorrow.

I've made a note of the two Barbara Vines because *yes* I would like to read more in this vein but had no idea where to look for info. Thanks for that.
Oh, I adored this book too - and even more because, where I was least expecting it, Bodie and Doyle turned up on the tv in the caretaker's house, iirc! *g* Joanne Harris has been one of my favourite authors for a long time. I think Blackberry Wine is perhaps my favourite, but I also liked Coastliners, and Five Quarters of the Orange... I've not read Lolipop Shoes yet (if I even got the title right, but it's on my list!
Bodie and Doyle turned up on the tv

I knew there was something else I meant to mention! I'd been rereading my CG story because I'm about to start on the final part and when saw Bodie and Doyle's names in the book I thought I was hallucinating! LOL. Anyway, I'm certainly going to read more of her work now.
I'd previously only read CHOCOLAT by her, but I also enjoyed GENTLEMEN AND PLAYERS a great deal. The only thing I remember being grumpy about it -- and it's something that drives me bonkers in other books -- was her tendency to try to hype up the tension with the "had I but known . . ." throwaway line!
Yes, I agree with you about that and it's so common and rather annoying. It's one of Stephen King's 'thou shalt nots' in his excellent book on writing, if memory serves.
Now this looks interesting.
I'm sort of thinking it might be the kind of thing you'd enjoy. :-)

I shall be writing soon, btw. Rather busy, but also spending a fair bit of time rereading CG with a view to starting on that after we've had R for a long weekend (Fri. to Tues.)
It does look like it - thank you.

No worries at all. Ah, yes, good luck with that. And I hope your visit with R went well.

BTW, did you see the final of Celebrity Master Chef? I was very happy with the result.
I did yes, wasn't it excellent. Soooo pleased with the result. I honestly didn't think they would give it to Liz but when they were debating couldn't really see what else they could do. She was honestly the one who had come the furthest, worked the hardest and who deserved to win. Yay for justice for once. :-)
I thought you would be, and me too.

I agree; to my mind right up to the debating it was still any of the three - even Mark who walked out, because he did come back.

But once they did focus on the whole 'who has come the furthest' is had to be her.

And she was so delighted and so surprised.

Thank you so much for recommending it to us, as it's not the kind of thing we usually watch - we don't tend to watch celebrity versions of things.
My pleasure. I just had a feeling that you and J would enjoy Celebrity Masterchef as much as P and I do. Their 'celebrity' status doesn't really matter that much because half the time I don't know who they are, so it's as though they're ordinary members of the public. Of the final three, for instance, the only one I actually knew previously was Andi. Glad you enjoyed it anyway.

(Catching up on back LJ while R is at a party.)
*Nods* Oh, yes. We didn't know many of them either, so as you say it doesn't make that much of a difference.

Was it just J and I or did you and P get the impression that actually the tasks they had to do during the final week were harder in many ways than the tasks the non-celebrities did?

I hope R enjoyed her party.